Hosting a five-nation conference with more than 1,000 participants tests Tucson's mettle because the Old Pueblo does not havethe dedicated facilities for such large-scale international conferences.
But City Hall accepted the challenge to cobble together meeting space and hotel rooms for U.S. government officials anddelegations from Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, who will be filling downtown with South American flair from Tuesday through Dec. 4.
It's the sixth stop of the U.S.-Andean Free Trade Agreementnegotiations, and Tucson, never before a host city for major international trade negotiations, was offered the exposure through the suggestions of U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., the leading spokesman onfree trade in Congress.
"From my viewpoint, this is almost completely because of Jim Kolbe," said Kendall Bert, director of the Tucson Office of Economic Development and co-chair for organizing thetrade conference. "The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is very impressed with the work of Kolbe over the years. The question (about hosting the negotiations) came to us from Kolbe's office."If successful, these negotiations will bring the number of countries the United States has free trade agreements with from six to nine.
Meetings will take place at the Tucson Convention Center andneighboring Radisson City Center, and delegates will be scattered about greater downtown to sleep at the Radisson, the Clarion Santa Rita Hotel & Suites, the Riverpark Inn (formerly Pueblo Inn), theInnSuites Hotel & Suites, Marriott University Park Hotel and the Doubletree Hotel at Reid Park.
"We don't have 1,000-room hotels," Bert said. "Our first question was, can we do this?"
Mary Okoye, thecity's director of intergovernmental relations, went from hotel to hotel to find rooms for the conference. She is the other co-chair for organizing the conference, which was done in less than two...