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May 14, 2013 8:40 PM by Nathan O'Neal

City to continue negotiations to possibly sell, lease El Rio for Grand Canyon University

TUCSON - The city council voted to proceed with negotiations to possibly sell or lease El Rio Golf Course to Grand Canyon University on Tuesday after a closed-door executive session.

The city loses more than $8 million operating its golf courses with El Rio costing the most. Originally, the council was deciding whether to privatize El Rio or turn part of the course into a park. A third idea surfaced that could allow the sale or lease of the property to develop a GCU campus.

"It's the beginning of a conversation," said Councilmember Regina Romero. "We need to find solutions for golf. It has been draining our budget for the last six years and this could probably be a win-win."

If the council were to approve either a sale of lease to Grand Canyon University -- a for-profit private Christian school -- it would use up nearly the entire course.

However, some folks are upset about what this could do to nearby neighborhoods. The campus could have up to 6,000 students by the year 2020.

"You're talking about however many thousands of students and it would completely change the character of the neighborhood," said Sal Baldenegro, a community activist in the El Rio Coalition 2.

Margaret McKenna, who has lived in Barrio Hollywood for her entire life, has her doubts about GCU.

"We'd rather see it as a park of as a golf course but not sold to a for-profit university," McKenna said. She was especially upset with how the idea developed which included a closed door executive session for council members Tuesday.

"There has been no transparency. There has been no information given to us in the neighborhood," McKenna said.

However, Romero said that isn't the case.

"It's not a closed door decision-making where neighbors and nobody is going to be able to have a voice," Romero said. "Everybody should be able to have a voice.

Following the executive session, Romero asked the city manager to release as many details about the GCU proposal as possible so that the public can be fully aware.

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