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May 29, 2013 11:48 AM by Sean Mooney

Westside barrio residents object to Grand Canyon University

TUCSON - Tucson's public golf courses currently operate in the red, running a $8.2 million deficit at last count, half of that attributed to El Rio Golf Course on the West Side.

One of the options city officials have considered is leasing or selling, El Rio to Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University for a satellite campus. But the proposal has sparked major opposition from neighbors in Barrio Hollywood.

Cecilia Cruz-Baldenegro is the chairperson for the El Rio Coalition II. She says the group opposes any new development of the 114 acres where El Rio Golf Course and Joaquin Murrieta Park are located.

"If it's not a golf course it can be a park, if it's not a park it can be open green space", Cruz-Baldenegro said, "but that's what's on the minds and that's what the coalition wants."

But reaction from people who live in the neighborhood is mixed. El Rio neighbor Steve Koch says he would welcome the project, "I'm 100 percent for it", he said, "we have a golf course losing half a million dollars a year, it's a no brainer." Lety Figueroa, another resident of the area, disagrees, "It'd be a great opportunity to bring jobs here, but don't take away a park."

City Council Member, Regina Romero was initially an advocate of the GCU project said in an Op-Ed article published in the Arizona Daily Star that the project, "...could create more than 1,000 jobs at salaries averaging $60,000. Over the next five years, it could bring more than $500 million in growth to Tucson's economy." But in a surprising turnaround Romero went on to say, "After hearing sincere concerns from my friends, allies and colleagues on this issue, I have decided against pursuing the opportunity further."

Opponents argue the project has been pushed through and requests for public records have been ignored.

City council member Paul Cunningham says although he believes the project is worthwhile he now thinks the city will have to find a different location, "It is definitely something worth exploring,' said Cunningham, "but as of right now, I don't think the El Rio site is going to play out."

El Rio Coalition II plans to hold a press conference in front of city hall right before the Mayor and Council regular session on Wednesday afternoon.

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