The Tucson, Arizona city council has rejected a proposal that would locate a satellite campus of decidedly Christian Grand Canyon University on a site that is currently home to the city’s El Rio Golf Course.
Councilwoman Regina Romero, who represents the El Rio area, initially backed the repurposing of the historic public golf course on the city’s West Side. When she recently withdrew her support, though, the project was effectively dead in the water.
“The culture of our council has been to defer to the ward representative on something like this,” Mayor Jonathan Rothschild told the Arizona Daily Star.
“Despite the many positives of Grand Canyon’s move to El Rio, I have always believed in listening to everyone,” said Councilwoman Regina Romero, according to the Arizona Daily Independent. “After hearing sincere concerns from my friends, allies and colleagues on this issue, I have decided against pursuing the opportunity further.”
The primary problem with the El Rio golf course is that it has been hemorrhaging cash for years. Tucson’s public golf courses face a total deficit of $8.2 million, reports KVOA. El Rio is responsible for half that shortfall.
A satellite campus of Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University would eliminate a liability and, at the same time, boost the economy of Tucson — the sixth-poorest metropolitan area in the country, according to a Daily Star op-ed penned by Romero.
Specifically, the nine-figure construction project would provide jobs, as the Daily Star notes. The resulting new campus could employ as many as 1,000 employees by 2020 and have a $60 million payroll.
There’s also education. Grand Canyon’s eventual enrollment target for the satellite campus is 6,000 students. Additionally, the school has said it will provide generous scholarships to local students.
Grand Canyon University has too many political strikes against it, however. For starters, it’s a private, Christian school with a notably evangelical streak. School rules prohibit “fornication and homosexual acts,” among much else. The school’s anti-gay stance did not sit well with local LGBT activists, asserts the Daily Independent.
Grand Canyon is also a for-profit institution, a fact which did not sit well with Congressman Raul Grijalva, a staunch opponent of for-profit schools. As it happens, notes the Daily Independent, Councilwoman Romero’s husband is a Grijalva staffer.
Another huge obstacle for Grand Canyon is that a number of community organizer-types just aren’t particularly interested in developing the space thanks to a strange brew of local politics. In the 1960s, Hispanic activists protested in the streets and in front of the then-private El Rio Country Club, demanding that the city turn it into a public park (and improve neighborhood infrastructure). Eventually, the city made the course public and built an adjacent park.
Cecilia Cruz-Baldenegro chairs a group called El Rio Coalition II that opposes any development.
“If it’s not a golf course it can be a park,” Cruz-Baldenegro told KVOA. “If it’s not a park it can be open green space.”
“We want to save the golf course and if not, we want a park, a park that was promised to our community 40 years ago,” added Sal Baldenegro Jr. (the son of one of the original protestors) told Inside Tucson Business.
Meanwhile, Grand Canyon University officials are now looking for more welcoming construction sites.
“I don’t think we’ve given up on Tucson at all,” Bill Jenkins, public-relations chief at Grand Canyon told the Daily Star. “You’ve got a million people down there. It’s a good market.”
Jenkins added that “the megachurches in the Tucson area are excited about the prospect of us coming.”
A different location within the Tucson city limits appears unlikely, though. The scuttlebutt, according to the Daily Star, is that the Christian university is now considering a site in Oro Valley, a pleasant suburban town about six miles due north of Tucson.
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