Steve Kozachik to resign from Tucson City Council, oversee Mosaic Quarter sports complex

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik is known for running. His sneakers pound sidewalks all over town, when they’re not cranking the pedals of his bike. 

But he won’t be running for re-election next year; he’s stepping down early to become Pima County’s manager of the planned massive Mosaic Quarter sports complex on the South Side, which county officials say could generate billions in local economic activity.

“This is going to be such an amazing development for this region… it could be transformational from an economic development standpoint,” he told the Tucson Sentinel.

Kozachik, who represents Ward 6 in Midtown, will resign from the Council on March 31, and begin working for Pima County on the public-private partnership.

“The county has offered me the opportunity to be their point of contact in managing that project, along with assisting with annual updates and execution of their Integrated Infrastructure Plan. But once Mosaic gets started that’ll constitute a significant amount of attention,” he said in a written statement.

“This is a big deal,” he told the Sentinel on Monday morning. “I wouldn’t (leave my seat) to go be a manager at a Circle K.”

What the Devil won’t tell you: Vaya Koz Dios: Kozachik calls it quits on Council after a solid 14-year ride

First elected in 2009 as a Republican, he switched to the Democratic Party in his next race in 2013, mostly over the issue of gun buybacks.

Beyond some prodding in primaries, he’s faced little opposition in any of his re-election runs. Kozachik declined to accept political donations in his recent runs, and spray-painted a handful of his own campaign signs — and been easily returned to office each time.

The new position, which will pay $106,000 annually, means Pima County will be the third area government body Kozachik has worked for.

A longtime University of Arizona sports facilities associate director, he was pushed out of that job in November 2020 when his criticisms of college administrators’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic became more pronounced. Kozachik began working for UA athletics in 1988.

Kozachik, 70, is one of the longest-tenured members of the Council. Ward 5 Councilman Richard Fimbres, who represents the South Side, was also first elected in 2009. Mayor Regina Romero’s first election was in 2007, when she was elected to a Council seat serving Ward 1 on the West Side.

Kozachik told the Sentinel that despite his regular blasts on topics such as the Regional Transportation Authority, zoning issues, and migrant shelter challenges, Pima County Administrator Jan Lesher didn’t caution him to dial things down in his new job.

He’ll be too busy for that, he said.

“I’m gonna be knee-deep in this Mosaic Quarter project,” he said. “There won’t be anything particularly public-facing about my job; we’re building this from the ground up. I won’t have time for a side gig, I won’t be able to keep stirring shit up.”

“While employed in the UA Athletics Department I was doing this sort of thing,” he said in his email newsletter Monday. “We expanded the football stadium, added the jumbotron, remodeled all of the McKale locker and concessions rooms, built the Kasser aquatics facility, the Roby gymnastics building, the Hillenbrand softball stadium, and the Jefferson gymnasium. The Knott MQ project will be all of that, and more.”

Mosaic Quarter: County officials forecast billions in economic activity

Last week, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the first set of leases for Mosaic Quarter, a sports and entertainment complex that will include the 175,000-square foot MQ Iceplex, as well the 131,000-square foot MQ Field House.’

“They’ve got all their permits ready, and will be breaking ground in about a month,” Kozachik said. “Knott is connected with youth sports groups nationwide and is already booking events.”

Construction for the Iceplex will likely be completed by December 2025, and the Field House will be completed by May 2026.

The Iceplex will serve as the home for the University of Arizona’s hockey team, the Icecats, who currently play at the Tucson Convention Center.

The Field House will host the UA’s new women’s hockey club team.

The county bought the property in 2014 on the south side of Interstate 10. In 2020, the county opened Kino Sports Complex South, which includes soccer fields and pickleball courts. The county sought proposals for building out the remainder of the site that same year.

Along with the two buildings devoted to sports, the Mosaic complex will also include a natural gas-fired central utility plant and a solar parking canopy array.

Lesher told the supervisors in a memo that the project will include three phases, and eventually the development will include 3 hotels, 14 restaurants, as well as “public gathering spaces and outdoor entertainment venues.”

Pima County officials said the Mosaic Foundation, a nonprofit that will partner with local groups and organizations, will be a “key aspect” of the project.

Pima County officials said Mosaic Quarter Phase 1 could generate $8.3 billion in new local spending, as well as $917.7 million in tax revenue for the state of Arizona, city of Tucson and Regional Transportation Authority.

Kozachik said the breadth of the plans mean an opportunity to “correct a mistake of putting Kino baseball field out there” decades ago.

“There will be synergies to build off,” he said, raising the prospect of baseball spring training returning to Tucson for a weekend series.

Appointment to fill Council seat

Under the City Charter, Kozchik’s seat will be filled for the remainder of his term — which runs through the beginning of December 2025 — by an appointee chosen by the mayor and Council. The regular election next year will determine who holds the position for the next full term.

Monday, several potential appointees were already expressing interest.

Nina Trasoff, who held the Ward 6 seat for one term before losing to Kozachik in 2009, said “if asked, I would serve.”

Trasoff said she would only be interested in filling the position on an interim basis, and would not seek to be elected again in 2025.

Miranda Schubert, who pulled 27 percent in a three-way primary against Kozachik in 2021 (the incumbent got 57%; Andres Portela got 15%), told the Sentinel that “of course!” she will apply for the appointment.

Shaq McCoy, who works for Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz as a constituent services and policy advisor, also expressed interest in the appointment.

“I’m exploring it,” McCoy said.

Mayor Regina Romero congratulated Kozachik on his new job in a statement posted online.

“For the last 14 years, Councilmember Kozachik has served the residents
of Ward 6 effectively,” she said. “His attention to detail, neighborhood needs,
infrastructure projects and more has been valuable to the work of our
Council. He comes to each meeting prepared and ready to ask the hard
questions. I am confident Steve will do a great job moving this
regionally significant project forward.”

“I will be working closely with my Council colleagues to determine the process for filling the Ward 6 Council seat,” Romero said.

“I’m grateful to Steve for all the years and passion he has poured into his role on the Council,” Ward 4 Councilmember Nikki Lee said in an email to the Sentinel.

“He has led on some very important initiatives, and I’ll miss having him as a Council colleague. His extensive expertise in leading massive projects makes him such a great choice to lead the Mosaic Quarter project, and I wish him all the best in his new chapter,” said the Southeast Side Democrat.

Councilman Kevin Dahl said the news came as surprise, and called Kozachik’s retirement from the city a loss.

“We’re losing talent and experience,” said the Ward 3 representative. “I haven’t known anyone so hard working and I appreciate him as a colleague on the council.”

“And, good for him, it’s the right job for him and he’ll do well,” Dahl said. “Lucky for Pima County. This really is a win, win, lose. It’s a win for Pima County, it’s a win for Steve, but it’s a loss for us.”

Dahl said the city will have to move forward to select his replacement.

“With the new salaries, I hope it make the position more available to people who couldn’t do it before. It’s much more equitable, so good for Tucson, and we’re expecting to have a larger number of great candidates this time,” he said.

“He’s been an incredible public servant,” said Councilman Paul Cunnigham. “He’s contentious and he takes an incredible effort to learn about issues, and their nuances. He’s done a great job as a city council member. It’s tough to lose him.”

The Ward 2 Democrat said Kozachik’s move to Mosaic Quarter is a “position that’s in his wheelhouse. That’s his background and that’s what his passion is for. This is an opportunity not only for him but for Pima to get that complex on track from a fiscal standpoint.”

Kozachik told the Sentinel he was proud of the accomplishments he and his staff have accomplished over the past 14 years, pointing to the “preservation of the Benedictine” monastery during an apartment redevelopment project, the end of racing at Tucson Greyhound Park, the Sunshine Mile stretch on Broadway, and “near to my heart, getting the Afghan (refugee) family out of Turkey and reunited here.”

“The region has challenges,” he said. “We could see street releases of migrants by the hundreds soon. It’s not going to be an easy lift.”

His replacement “better be a quick study,” he said. “They can’t come in with a personal agenda; they need a broader focus.”

Why keep working at age 70?

“I ran 15 miles this morning; I’m still up and active,” he said.

“I don’t mean to sound mushy or hyperbolic, but this is the most amazing project this region has ever seen,” he said.