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May 19, 2006, 9:00 AM
Now that he has a new development agreement with the city, Don Bourn has submitted a somewhat updated look for his condo development on the downtown "Thrifty block," although it won't break ground for nearly a year:


Bourn unveils look for condos
By Rob O'Dell

Developer Don Bourn has unveiled a new look for his Downtown condominium project, but the project is still nearly a year from breaking ground. The new design for the five-story building features brick, glass and rusted steel, Oscar Turner, project manager for Bourn Partners, said during a kickoff event Wednesday. He said the goal was to make the building appealing from the street and to make in fit with the surrounding buildings.

Though the groundbreaking won't happen for close to a year, Wednesday's event was intended to kick off the project, now that the development agreement with the city has been finalized, Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko said. He said the next step is design and permitting.

Bourn said his project is about quality over quantity and that, because Tucson's Downtown is relatively small, "a handful of great projects can make a great Downtown." He said the project is geared toward those seeking urban lifestyles. The project calls for a five-story structure with roughly 40 condos, one floor of underground parking and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space on Congress Street between Stone and Scott avenues. Bourn's proposal closely matches his original proposal for the project. After initially proposing a five-story building, he scaled up and called for building a development up to 14 stories and 95 condos. Under that plan, the neighboring Bank One Annex building would have been demolished.

Bourn abandoned that proposal based on feedback from the public and after City Council members denied his request for $4 million worth of incentives and warned Bourn that they would seek a new developer if progress on the project stalled. The city sold the land to Bourn's company in June 2004 for $100. Bourn pressed to have existing buildings on the block, including a pre-1900 structure built by pioneer rancher George Pusch, torn down quickly, only to leave the property vacant for 18 months.

Also speaking at the project's kickoff were Bourn's partner David Fina, Mayor Bob Walkup and Councilwoman Nina Trasoff. "It took at lot of guts, because it hasn't been an easy road," Trasoff said. "In a year or two, we're going to see something magnificent."

May 19, 2006, 2:04 PM

May 22, 2006, 9:48 PM
That would be a really neat bridge, but sorry to burst the bubble, it will never happen. Tucson is too regressive in thier growth and politics to let it happen. The city government will find a way to shoot it down in Cowboy fashion. Having lived in both Tucson and Phoenix I can tell you that is a Phoenix like project, not a Tucson one. The money to do it in Tucson will have to come from a private investor. What would a private investor get out of a project like that? It will never happen.

May 22, 2006, 9:49 PM
One more thought, Tucson will not even build highways, let alone bridges over highways!

May 30, 2006, 9:58 PM
Tucson continues to face multiple challenges in its efforts to redevelop its struggling downtown, including a lack of clear guidelines for developer incentives and competitive bidding processes, vague developer plans and agreements, and the uncertainty of future tax incremental funding (TIF) from the state.

(NOTE: several studies done for Phoenix indicated that most of the successful downtown redevelopments surveyed, including those in Denver and San Diego, had TIF support. For more info., see http://www.coppersquare.com/business/)


Downtown renovation subsidies criticized
By Rob O'Dell

You've probably heard the cry from city officials and Downtown boosters: Rio Nuevo is coming! Rio Nuevo is coming! "Downtown redevelopment is just around the corner" has been the mantra for years. So with all the talk, where is it? And why can't developers seem to build anything Downtown without healthy subsidies from city taxpayers?

Other than housing projects on the fringe of Downtown, no new structures bigger than a parking garage have gone up in the city's core in decades. And even the parking garage was a public-private partnership. Builders say city deal sweeteners are needed because of Downtown's lack of appeal. But critics say the city's approach to Downtown revitalization — giving sweetheart, often no-bid, deals to developers with little or no competition — is a major reason for lack of progress.

"Don't want to take the risks"
Developers cite market forces as the reason for the lack of Downtown redevelopment, and the fact that they can make more money with less risk by building in parts of town that are more convenient to their customers. "Downtown has never been financially lucrative. The private sector has not gotten in because they don't want to take the risks," said Humberto S. Lopez, president of HSL Properties Inc., who is proposing a $185 million redevelopment of the Hotel Arizona, which will include a request for Rio Nuevo funding.

They also heap most of the blame on the city, with its layers of bureaucracy, wanting to micromanage properties. Many also point the finger at the city's Rio Nuevo office for slowing things down before it was restructured and stripped of some duties by City Manager Mike Hein. In turn, some Tucsonans blame the developers, who "all seem to have their hands out," in the words of Roy Martin, a Downtown lawyer and advocate of preserving historic buildings in the Downtown area.

No defined process
One thing most seem to agree on is that the lack of a set process for bidding on and buying city land Downtown hurts all the parties involved. Land, in short supply and expensive, is a key piece of the city's plan to lure builders Downtown. "There is not a publicized process for buying real estate from the city," said commercial broker Mike Ebert, noting that there isn't even a public list of city-owned properties on the market.

Donovan Durband, executive director of the Tucson Downtown Alliance, said there needs to be a fair, open and consistent process used to sell city land Downtown. He said taxpayers deserve an open process; the developers want to feel they are being treated fairly and have confidence in a predictable process; and the city wants to avoid being put into awkward positions when someone approaches it about buying or being given property. Durband said that in the past, all three sides have been dissatisfied with the process.

"Tremendous loss of money"
Louis Barassi, a lawyer with an interest in Downtown development, said the problem with the city selling or giving land for a project is too often the city fails to get specifics about what the developer will do, and when. Then, locked into the agreement, it leaves the developer free to ignore city expectations later. That results in a "tremendous loss of money and property by the city," he said. And not having a competitive process, Barassi said, "really is detrimental to the private sector, in my view."

Several proposed large Downtown projects have been launched when a single developer approached the city about a piece of property and was accepted as the only one with whom the city would negotiate. Barassi said that identifying developers and giving them the land, instead of using a competitive structure based on the best project, means the city is dealing with fewer developers with fewer financial qualifications, less ability and less clout.

He said that giving one developer a sweetheart deal leads to a vicious circle in which the next developer wants a sweet deal because the last developer got one. "It's just one loss after another," he said. "A lot of just bad deals are being put through."

City manager cites problems
Hein agreed, adding that the process of awarding a project to a developer without a competitive process, and without all the financial aspects of the deal being fleshed out, has put the city at a disadvantage. He also acknowledged that subsidizing one developer can lead to a snowball effect, with others asking for taxpayer money. Some of the projects that have been awarded or considered without having the details fleshed out include: revamping the Rialto Theatre block; a public-private partnership called the Depot Plaza to redevelop the Martin Luther King apartments; the Thrifty block, being developed by Don Bourn; a now-dead high-rise proposed by Bob McMahon and Don Martin; a planned condominium tower proposed by Jim Campbell on the former Greyhound bus station site; and 2.8 acres where the Nimbus Brewery and Town West Design Development are proposing a high-rise and brewery complex. "It has encouraged other people to come in and ask for exclusive rights," Hein said. "Nimbus is probably the last occasion where I would expect something like that to happen."

"Gambling" Downtown
There are a variety of reasons why building Downtown is more expensive, including the need for underground parking, vertical construction and site constraints, Lopez said. The increased cost, coupled with the fact that Downtown has been near-dead for decades, makes developing there equivalent to "gambling," he added.

Doug Biggers, who is working on developing the Rialto block and the Depot Plaza, said it's tough to build Downtown with skyrocketing construction prices, a slowing housing market and skepticism that Tucson can revitalize it urban core the way other cities have done. He said there is also the question of which developer is going to take the risk and stick his neck out first.

Hein said he realizes the margins for projects are thinner Downtown, which is a driving force behind the city asking the Legislature to extend the Rio Nuevo special taxing district from 10 to 40 years. A final Senate vote on the request is expected this week. Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko said the extension would give the city extra money for projects such as a new arena, and it also "shows that the city is not just begging for projects Downtown but is making investments and taking risks, too."

Jun 14, 2006, 2:08 AM
A call for historic preservation in downtown Tucson:

The Marist College building, adjacent to St. Augustine Cathedral,
at West Ochoa Street and South Church Avenue, continues to deteriorate.

Tarp not enough to save 90-year-old building
City, church officials discuss rehab, future use

By Rob O'Dell

The torn blue tarp that adorns the Marist College building in Downtown Tucson looks like it belongs on the top of a temporary tent. Instead it is the protection from the elements for a crumbling 90-year-old historic adobe building that is deteriorating before everyone's eyes. The tarp, put up last year to protect the building after a piece of it fell off during the last monsoon season, has since split wide open, exposing a crater in the northwest corner of the structure, which is the only three-story adobe building in Southern Arizona, said local architect Bob Vint.

Another monsoon should arrive within weeks. Hoping to save the building from another pounding from Mother Nature, City Councilman Jose Ibarra has put up $24,000 of his ward office money to study how much it will cost to rehabilitate the building and make it safe to occupy. The study should take about three months, and Ibarra wants the city's Department of Urban Planning to do the study to ensure that it is done in a timely manner. The study will "tell us how bad a situation it is," Ibarra said, adding, "We have to do all we can to preserve historic structures Downtown."

"The building is exposed and is only protected by the tarp," Ibarra said, noting that monsoon season is again almost upon us. "We need to get going on this, protect the building and not allow it to fall into more disrepair." John Shaheen, the property and insurance director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, said the building is in its last days. He said the city and the diocese must move quickly and not get caught up in the details on what it may be used for in the future.

"If we don't do something to save it, the point will be moot," Shaheen said of the building. "We're up against time." He estimated it could take $2 million to $3 million to refurbish the building, adding that the president of the Friends of St. Augustine Historic Preservation Project, a private fund-raising group, has been trying to raise money for the project. To date, he said, the group has not raised a substantial amount, only about $70,000.

Shaheen said the church would love to use the building as a museum celebrating the history of Catholicism and other religions in Tucson. However, he said the diocese is open to allowing the building for a public use should the city fix it up — talks he said the diocese has already started with the city. "This is one of the last buildings of its kind around," Shaheen said, noting that many Tucsonans went to Catholic school there. "To lose it would be a tragedy." Ibarra also said talks have been ongoing about what to use the building for, and said it will be designed for some kind of public use should it be refurbished.

The building, at West Ochoa Street and South Church Avenue, adjacent to St. Augustine Cathedral, was once a Catholic school that operated from 1915 to 1968. Vacant since 2002, the building suffered its first major blow last year when the corner of the building peeled off during the rain.

Vint said the diocese hired contractor Means Design and Building Corp. to brace the building last year to keep it from falling apart. Vint said Means is one of the most qualified contractors in the region to work on historic structures and that the building has been well-stabilized with steel beams. He said now that the building is stabilized, the city and the diocese should work toward saving it, because the building is definitely worth keeping. "We don't have anything else like it," Vint said. "It's the biggest mud adobe building in these parts."

Jun 16, 2006, 6:21 AM
Tucson continues to face multiple challenges in its efforts to redevelop its struggling downtown, including a lack of clear guidelines for developer incentives and competitive bidding processes, vague developer plans and agreements, and the uncertainty of future tax incremental funding (TIF) from the state.

One of the bigger problems Tucson development faces is the very low rents. Tucson rents are among the lowest in the country. It makes it hard for rental developments to "pencil out". And when it comes to condos, I don't think there's the "empty nester" market you find in larger cities. It seems like in Tucson, so many of the older folks are from the midwest and have no concept of highrise living--they wouldn't even consider it.

Jun 16, 2006, 7:12 AM
Good assessment, Don. I agree completely. I have long had a love/hate relationship with Tucson. I disagree that people view Phoenix as a backwater city to Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, et al. Phoenix is truly emerging as a burgeoning first-tier city, or at least second-tier if you consider NY, Chicago, Washington, LA and San Fran as the only true first-tiers.

You're dead-on that building a cross-town freeway in Tucson will not put us on the verge of Phoenix-to-be. Like you said, the economics and demographics here will never precipiate another Phoenix. Tucson will always play second fiddle to Phoenix and most people are very happy about that.

Can I give you a slightly different perspective?

I'm a snowbird. My primary home of 24 years is in downtown San Francisco in a midrise condo building a block from City Hall. I love urban life and in the SF threads here I glory in the highrises under construction and about to be. Tomorrow I think I'll go watch them pour the foundation for a 645' tower.

But a few years back SF's grey, drippy winters started getting to me so I bought a little place in Green Valley where I can escape them. I had no interest in any part of Phoenix. Phoenix seemed to me like LA without the beach. Tucson seemed of manageable size with the UA and its students to give the place some youthful vigor (and smarts), and enough money to provide good shopping, good restaurants and a reasonable amount of "culture".

I don't see Tucson as a backwater to anywhere. I see it as a place with huge potential that should aspire to the Palm Springs model. With a number of existing resorts and spas, it already does to some extent. But I think it could build on that. More resorts, fancy hotels, spas. Attract more tourism by emphasizing the outdoor lifestyle available in the winter--golf, bicycling and all the rest. To this end, it needs to try to pretty itself up some. Parts of Tucson are depressingly bleak and brown whereas even other desert towns (again, like Palm Springs) have much more extensive low-water-use greenery like palms and oleander everywhere to make things look lush.

People who come to the desert to play don't want to come to a big, sprawling city a la Phoenix. They want a little boutique paradise that takes care of its appearance and has plenty to keep them entertained. To that end, the Flandrau Science Center bridge over I-10 would be a great addition and something that could be featured on innumerable adds about the wonders of playing in Tucson's desert to be aimed at folks in Minneapolis and Chicago and even New York in January.

The most important recent development in Tucson from my perspective isn't a condo or lofts or whatever, it's probably La Encantada ( http://www.tucsonattractions.com/encantada.htm ), a high end shopping center with tenants like an Apple Store, Crate & Barrell, a gourmet grocery (A.J.'s) etc. To me, the willingness of these merchants to finally come to Tucson means they perceive enough people here with MONEY and that's what will attract more development.

One more thing. Tucson does need better public transit even though most people there will always drive. But since it's a major retirement area--thats' also part of the image I see for it--and lots of old folks give up the car keys before they are ready to give up living, they need a way to get around; even get into Tucson from places like Green Valley to go to the doctor, plays and the opera, and out to eat. And these people can afford fairly high transit fares if they would help create the service--money isn't the issue for them.

Jun 16, 2006, 5:07 PM
I couldn't agree more BTinSF. I have been going to Tucson since a young age, and for the longest time I thought of Tucson as Albuquerque with Palm Trees (and unbearable summers). However La Encantada as well as numerous other projects have actually elevated my perception of Tucson as a more beautiful city than my home town. But the key to Tucson's future, is transportation mainly mass transit. In that regard Albuquerque is way ahead of Tucson. Albuquerque is now adding ABQ Uptown which is bringing retailers like Pottery Barn, Apple, BCBG, and many more not yet announced. I believe both ABQ and Tucson if they plan well, and control sprawl will become two of the most popular cities of the Southwest. Both ABQ and Tucson have much more beautiful natural surrounding than Phoenix and we just need to ensure that we don't continue to swallow up the beautiful desert around us.

Jun 16, 2006, 5:16 PM
a high end shopping center with tenants like an Apple Store, Crate & Barrell, a gourmet grocery (A.J.'s) etc.

La Encantada's greatest catches is St. John (a luxury catch that I have no idea how Tuscon got) but has helped La Encantada get Tiffany's, which is opening later this year. Its becoming the major mall in Tuscon with these two ultra-luxury stores paving the road to a future of more luxury.

I think Tuscon is a great place to just relax. Most people in Phoenix look down on it, and most high schoolers choose ASU over it cuz "there is nothing to do in Tuscon." But I have found it to be very relaxing and nice

I am unfamiliar with ABQ's mass transit, what does it have?

Jun 16, 2006, 7:05 PM
That would be a really neat bridge, but sorry to burst the bubble, it will never happen. Tucson is too regressive in thier growth and politics to let it happen. The city government will find a way to shoot it down in Cowboy fashion. Having lived in both Tucson and Phoenix I can tell you that is a Phoenix like project, not a Tucson one. The money to do it in Tucson will have to come from a private investor. What would a private investor get out of a project like that? It will never happen.

I'm always perplexed to read this anti-Tucson stuff. Their downtown is a mess but they have done a number of things right. There is housing close by and lots of interesting architecture. The problems - which are very similar to those in Phoenix - is a car-based template that makes urbanism difficult to impossible. It's like trying to breed a city from parking lots and freeways. You can't do it.

Tucson is very alert to the mistakes metro Phoenix has made - and is continuing to make - in promoting any and all sprawl. Unfortunately, the mistakes of the past have very long half lives and continue to haunt our better efforts to construct real cities. We end up building behemoth parking garages in our downtowns only to make the urban landscape more inert. We scrape buildings to create parking lots, in effect killing the city to bring in more cars. And we widen roads for the sake of traffic only to make the urban experience more alien to pedestrians. What's lost is any functional streetscape. In other words, the city itself.

I don't see any point in making life easier for drivers. You can have a city or you can have something like Phoenix. While Tucson is frustrating to get around in, there's at least the possibility of a real city emerging once gas becomes prohibitively expensive, or the Southwestern cities contract in size due to water shortages (not to mention global warming). Don't be afraid to kick a little sand into the gears of the Growth Machine. It deserves it.

Jun 16, 2006, 8:09 PM
Albuquerque's mass transit system includes ABQ Ride, which last year added Rapid Ride which is the accordian type buses that travel on high traffic routes with fewer stops to increase efficiency and on time performance. The goal for the first year was to have 75,000 riders on Rapid Ride and I believe they came in 2 times that for the first 6 months. The combination of both bus systems make commutes very easy for those willing to park their cars. In 3 weeks Rail Runner express will begin service from Bernalillo to our North down to Belen in the South. http://www.nmrailrunner.com/ In 20908 the city will begin construction on our new light rail/street car project up and down Central connecting to shopping in Uptown and the Airport. Over 1000 new lofts have been built in the city's core, and there will be new loft construction in the uptown area, which is what will make the rail projects successful. And with all our new interchanges/flyovers at Coors and I-40 and the I-25/I-40 (Big I), getting around town in so much easier. Tucson could really benefit from projects like these as well as Phoenix.

Jun 16, 2006, 10:09 PM
^Tucson and Albuquerque are very similar cities. Their size, the presence of major universities, and "green" political sensibility are commonalities. They each have sprawl, air quality and water issues. One salient difference: the state each city is in. Arizona is much more conservative and makes it difficult for cities to control growth (Tucson has actually tried with its Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan). Land speculators and car dealers more or less control the political process in Tucson now.

Another obvious difference is Tucson's dependence on just one interstate highway. The freeway travels both north/south and east/west, so the development of a crosstown freeway was not prioritized. Now, with the city built up, and traffic snarled, many people regard it as the only solution for their transportation woes. But it would be expensive, kill dozens of Tucson neighborhoods, and essentially cement Tucson's suburban character into place.

Tucson will be building a streetcar line from downtown to the university medical center, about four miles or so. The voters turned down light rail, however, so major street arterials still bear most of the burden. They will be widened under a transportation initiative approved last month. But nearly everyone sees this as merely buying time. At some point, Tucson will have to come to grips with a deferred decision: either focus growth inward, or sprawl according to the preferences of newcomers. If it's the latter, Tucson will opt for freeways.

Jun 17, 2006, 3:28 AM
most high schoolers choose ASU over it cuz "there is nothing to do in Tuscon."

I don't know. It's at least 2 hours closer to the border and the stream of cars down I-19 on Friday/Saturday evenings suggest the UofA students who are bored in Tucson have found something to do.

But, as a matter of fact, although I finished college in 1967, I find the proximity to Nogales, Sonora another plus for Tucson. Several restaurants and much shopping I enjoy there.

Jun 17, 2006, 3:39 AM
Now, with the city built up, and traffic snarled, many people regard it as the only solution for their transportation woes. But it would be expensive, kill dozens of Tucson neighborhoods, and essentially cement Tucson's suburban character into place.

Tucson should probably forget about a crosstown freeway, but it could very possibly emulate what San Francisco has done with the former Central Freeway (which was damaged so badly in 1989 that it had to be torn down): http://www.sfgov.org/site/octavia_blvd_index.asp?id=235 . Something like this could be done on one of the crosstown streets like Speedway which are very wide. All that's needed is to eliminate as many of the grade-level intersections as possible (and possibly elminating a few by simply not allowing them to intersect the through-traffic lanes) by building underpasses or overpasses or something like that. I think that a grade-seperated intersection was part of a previous transportation plan that was defeated and the merchants at the intersection screamed, but it's a way to speed traffic flow across town without actually building a freeway and destroying neighborhoods.

Jun 17, 2006, 4:07 AM
It's always encouraging to hear about new redevelopment businesses that get off the ground without public subsidies, and often in spite of bureaucratic red tape and archaic planning and zoning requirements:

Built without city money
By Becky Pallack

Long before the brew-ha-ha over Nimbus moving Downtown, another local microbrewer was busy relocating on the outskirts of Downtown without much notice or city help. Businessman and brewer Dennis Arnold is renovating the old Tucson Prime Meats warehouse, more recently Tucson Warehouse & Transfer Co., on East 16th Street at South Toole Avenue. Arnold has spent seven years and $500,000 creating Barrio Brewing as an expansion of his Gentle Ben's Brewing Co. He twice gave up on the idea because of problems with city zoning rules, Arnold said, but he expects to open by the end of August.

Another local microbrewery, Nimbus Brewing, has been pitched as the primary tenant in Town West Design Development's proposal to build a $40 million high-rise with condos and a brewery on a 2.8-acre lot in a warehouse district on another edge of Downtown, at North Stone Avenue and West Franklin Street. Because the large-scale idea includes a $2.65 million in city subsidies, some of which would be passed on to Nimbus, it has come under scrutiny.

Barrio Brewing hasn't worked with the city's Rio Nuevo office, and received no city money. It is between Armory Park del Sol and the Ice House Lofts, neither of which received city funding. Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko said private-sector investments that don't require government help are a positive indicator. He said he is working to clarify some of the regulatory processes that impede development.

City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff agreed the brewery is a great independent effort. "I'm sorry it's taken so long, but I'm really pleased that they're about to open," Trasoff said. "I think there's a different attitude now, a commitment to working as hard as we can to facilitate these kinds of projects Downtown."

Cold room a big plus
The old warehouse — with its corrugated metal walls and big truck bays — may not look like much to most people, but it's Arnold's dream. "It's a building only a brewer could love," said Arnold, 46, a Tucson native who is president, owner and oftentimes brewer at Gentle Ben's. That's because the warehouse came with a 4,000-square-foot cold room, where he'll move his microbrew equipment from the campus-area eatery to the new brewpub at 800 E. 16th St. in the coming weeks. He started renovating the building in January.

Barrio Brewing bought the building in 1999 — the year Tucson voters approved funding Rio Nuevo — for $280,000. Then it took three years to resolve zoning issues associated with a wholesale brewery, the category it falls in because Arnold plans to sell 80-gallon kegs of beer back to to Gentle Ben's. Several different plans were presented to the City Council over a couple of years. The solution: The city allowed the brewery to have two different zones in the same building.

Then there was the parking problem. The city's rules required a set number of parking spaces per square foot, adding up to 360 parking spaces, while the restaurant will only seat 80 people, Arnold said. A variance allowed it to cut the parking number in half, but with no available lots in the neighborhood, the Barrio Brewing idea stalled.

Arnold said he and his wife, Tauna, "were just ready to write it off." Finally, in 2004 with new owners at Rainbo Baking, 827 E. 17th St., Arnold leased some parking spaces, and Arnold could show the city board he met its requirements. "It took us three years to line up parking we'll never use," he said.

By the end of 2005, they were ready to give up again. Arnold said their architect went to the city offices to take back his plans when he was told the plan was approved. "You get so blindsided by the wrestling match between logic and law," Arnold said. He figures he has put $500,000 into the project, including the cost of the building and renovation. Councilman José Ibarra called the delays disappointing. "Here is a small business that wants to participate Downtown and they've had to wait this long to open," he said. "It really shows us that we need to fully embrace such projects and fast-track them."

"I'm glad they've been persistent," said Donovan Durband, executive director of the Tucson Downtown Alliance Inc, a non-profit business group. With the 17th Street Market a block away, it could become a destination spot, he said. Jason Mullins, owner of Rocks & Ropes, a block away at 330 S. Toole Ave., said he hopes the restaurant will attract more traffic and business to the outskirts of Downtown.

The building still has a way to go. On Wednesday, stacks of lumber sat where the bar will be and workers were redoing parts of the building's electrical systems. Arnold said he will make his August opening date with an eclectic menu in the $5 to $10 range. Gentle Ben's, 865 E. University Blvd., isn't going anywhere. In fact, the 800-seat restaurant will get a pizza kitchen where the brew tanks used to be, and possibly a private meeting room in the cellar, Arnold said.

Jun 17, 2006, 4:21 AM
I went to hear Jon Talton speak Wednesday and he mentioned the absurd obstacle courses the city bureaucracy makes small businessmen negotiate. It makes me think that both downtowns, Phoenix and Tucson, ought to be enterprise zones where the red tape is curtailed as much as possible. Parking, in particular, needs to addressed in ways that facilitates rather than hinders the opening of small businesses.

When I was at UofA back in the 1970s, Gentle Ben's was already an institution. Good to see it's still running, keeping students lubricated and a positive force for downtown too. Tucson is so close to really being cool.

Jun 17, 2006, 5:24 AM
Tucson required 360 parking spaces for a brew pub?? I can think of 3 or 4 such places in SF with a total of ZERO spaces for all of them. People who insist on driving there (not a good idea to go have a bunch of brews anyway), park somewhere else, but using public trans (I know, Tucson doesn't have that) is encouraged.

What I get out of all this is that Tucson needs to start thinking like a grown up city. I can see that the owner of the brewery would probably want some parking because in reality most of his customers are probably going to drive and want a convenient place to park, but making him have more than he thinks he needs?? I frankly can't comprehend why they would do that.

Jun 18, 2006, 12:52 PM
Maybe Tucson officials will get serious about elimiinating some of the roadblocks to new redevelopment downtown. (And if the city does decide to build more parking structures, hopefully they will have street-level retail like the new Pennington garage, fostering a more pedestrian-friendly ambiance.)

Downtown building rules in flux
Goal is to quicken development as City Council reviews standards

By Rob O'Dell

Parking, parking, parking. It's what residents complain there is a lack of Downtown. And it's what developers say the city requires too much of, blocking their projects from being built quickly and successfully. On Tuesday, the City Council will take the first steps toward solving the parking conundrum as part of a plan to ease some zoning and development standards Downtown and speed the review of developers' plans.

The hope is they will speed up the seemingly watch-the-paint-dry pace of many projects Downtown and expedite mixed-use development in the city's core. A new Downtown zone being considered will allow developers to bypass some of the constraints they say have been impediments to building Downtown — including parking, loading zones and set-backs from the street.
Reduced parking requirements are just the start. A second incentive will come later this summer to let developers to pay a fee instead of having to build parking with their projects at all.

The new rules will allow developers to get a quick review from the city's development services director, instead of taking their projects to the city's Board of Adjustment to get a variance. Jaret Barr, the assistant to City Manager Mike Hein, said the city's code is geared toward suburban uses and doesn't have sections for tall urban buildings in it. As a result, he said the city has very little wiggle room to get around its own development code — which he said holds up the development of larger buildings because they don't meet the design code for suburban use.

Barr said the goal is not to waive all standards for Downtown development, but instead to allow for smaller waivers of the code "when it makes sense." He said that could mean cutting a few parking spots or waiving the set-back restrictions.The new rules will be reviewed in a year to gauge their effectiveness.

Randi Dorman, one of the developers of the Ice House Lofts, 1001 E. 17th St., said she and her partners may have already been under construction on another mixed-use project with more than 30 condominiums and retail space at the corner of South Stone Avenue and Broadway if the new rules had already been in place. Instead, she said the development was hindered by the fact the project needed a separate loading zone even though there is a loading zone adjacent to the site on Stone Avenue. Additionally, the developers wanted to provide only one parking spot per condominium instead of the two that are required by code.

They needed a variance for each. But that takes time. Dorman said she and her partners couldn't wait. "It should have been a no-brainer," Dorman said. "If there's any hope of succeeding Downtown, the code needs to be changed," Dorman said.

Dennis Arnold, the owner of Gentle Ben's near the University of Arizona Main Gate, is also opening Barrio Brewing southeast of Downtown later this year. He said he has seen both the good and the bad of what the new rules — dubbed an overlay zone — can do. Arnold said he had terrible parking problems that nearly caused him to give up pursuit of Barrio Brewing because the parking requirement based on the size of his building was 360 parking spaces, while the restaurant portion will seat only 80 people, Arnold said. A variance cut the parking number in half, but Arnold said the proposed new rules could have been a help.

But there is a potential backlash from changing the rules, he warned, pointing to the UA Main Gate area where similar rules were put into place years ago, as an example. "Originally, it is a good idea, but at some point it will be come abused like it has in the West University area," Arnold said of the new rules. "There's a point where it kind of goes backwards. … I've seen it in action." He said Tucsonans don't want to pay for parking, and the lack of parking requirements in the Main Gate area has hurt tenants and caused a great amount of turnover there. Arnold said an overlay zone can help jump-start an area, but said the relaxed standards need to be scaled back once the area gets to be more successful.

City-built garages a possibility
Relaxing the restrictions on Downtown development is just the first planned foray into helping developers build Downtown. A second planned incentive is to waive the parking requirements for projects entirely, and allow developers to pay a $10,000 in-lieu fee for every required parking space they don't build. Barr said he expects the issue to come up later this summer.

Councilman Steve Leal said the goal is to waive the parking requirements and have the city build three or four parking garages strategically around the Downtown area to provide adequate parking. Humberto Lopez, owner of the Hotel Arizona, said parking is the single biggest obstruction to building Downtown, and said the idea of the city providing the parking garages so developers don't have to is a real way to spur development Downtown. Arnold said that as long as it's an open discussion that taxpayers are subsidizing private development by building parking garages for their customers to park, then building them is not a bad idea.

Jun 19, 2006, 3:31 PM
Tucson has the most boring DT "news". Seriously, the articles above are appreciated by us local skyscraper aficionados, but, dang, somebody get me outta this boring 'burg!

Jun 19, 2006, 11:30 PM
Tucson has the most boring DT "news". Seriously, the articles above are appreciated by us local skyscraper aficionados, but, dang, somebody get me outta this boring 'burg!

Please don't any Tucson natives hunt me down for saying this, but I stopped reading the AZ ("Red") Star or listening to local TV news because pretty much the only thing they ever report, often filling the front page of the newspapers, are the latest info on what the Arizona Wildcat players had for breakfast, whether or not they've had bowel movements in the last 24 hours and other details of the UofAZ sports teams that I couldn't care less about. Frankly, I don't even care if they win. It's nice having the UofAZ in town and it's one thing that brought me to Tucson, but a great university is more than athletics, people. And even in a university town, there's more news to report than who won and who lost at basketball and football (and baseball). In Tucson, I look forward to the weather report. At least that's something different (if also boring).

Jun 20, 2006, 5:58 AM
Please don't any Tucson natives hunt me down for saying this, but I stopped reading the AZ ("Red") Star or listening to local TV news because pretty much the only thing they ever report, often filling the front page of the newspapers, are the latest info on what the Arizona Wildcat players had for breakfast, whether or not they've had bowel movements in the last 24 hours and other details of the UofAZ sports teams that I couldn't care less about. Frankly, I don't even care if they win. It's nice having the UofAZ in town and it's one thing that brought me to Tucson, but a great university is more than athletics, people. And even in a university town, there's more news to report than who won and who lost at basketball and football (and baseball). In Tucson, I look forward to the weather report. At least that's something different (if also boring).

Even as a die-hard sports fan and u of a student, I find this annoying as well. Its great that so many people are passionate about it, but it kind of makes the town feel way too small, in a bad way.

Jun 20, 2006, 6:36 AM
^^^ I doubt that any of us ever assumed that creating an urban environment out of a basically suburban template would be easy or simple, as clearly demonstrated by the growth patterns of Arizona's "cities" over the past several decades. Creating exciting, functional urban centers is undoubtedly more intricate and complex than just building more skyscrapers. And, unfortunately for fans of this forum, waiting for tall buildings to rise out of the Arizona desert can be rather akin to watching paint dry.

Of course, the development process in the real world is almost always messy and never linear, so we can expect a fair amount of frustration as we bemoan the errors of past and wince at the mistakes and missteps in current events. Regarding Arizona, in particular, urban enthusiasts must cultivate a high degree of patience, since the economic and political powers-that-be seem more interested in making a fast buck out of the sprawl machine rather than thoughtfully and collectively creating dense, thriving urban centers (although in the long run, the latter would certainly be just as lucrative).

So while we wait for the next new high-rise project to top out, we can stop to ponder and discuss the necessary elements that comprise truly great cities and an authentic urban fabric. Yes, perhaps much of the process in this learning curve can be somewhat dull and tedious, and often very time-consuming, but all of the necessary pieces must come together to make it work: in fact, a true synergy must arise out of the sum of the parts to really create the urban "magic" we all yearn for.

This will obviously take many more years to accomplish in Tucson and Phoenix, but a more highly informed and aware populace, as advanced by much of the discussion on these forums, will surely contribute to the unfolding of that dream. Perhaps, as the saying goes, the journey of how we get there and make it all happen is ultimately more important than the final destination.

Jun 20, 2006, 12:52 PM
^good points. The difference between Phoenix and Tucson is not one of kind but degree. The megasprawl in metro Phoenix ensures a few crumbs will drop into the central core. Not many, but enough to whet our appetite. Tucson's sprawl is not nearly so voracious and the result is a kind of anorexia downtown. Whether Tucson ever sees significant high-rise construction again is open to question. My preference would simply be for density. The old game plan - a few high rises to show the folks back in Iowa how studly we are - has left downtown looking like a neutron bomb went off. Who cares if another vertical mausoleum gets built? Lets build cities, not grave sites.

Jun 20, 2006, 4:47 PM
As much as it hurts to say it, Tucson really doesn't need highrises downtown (other than, perhaps, one or more highrise hotel-resorts). What it needs downtown is HOUSING. Some really nice low/midrise apartment buildings would be a good start. They'd have to have the kind of amenities that few buildings away from downtown offer: nice pools (of course), fitness centers, concierges, handball courts, maybe even pottery classes on-site for the older folks. That way, they could hope to attract people who want and can afford that level of service--retirees, busy business and professional people. In SF, that type of building even attracts a few wealthy students whose parents buy or rent them a unit to live in while going to college.

Once you get housing downtown and some people walking around, you should get some businesses to serve them. But every city with an active downtown has lots of people living there. And even car-crazed Los Angeles has realized that without housing downtown, there is no streetlife--only an office core that dies when the business day is over (or the weekend starts).

Jun 20, 2006, 11:50 PM
^The housing question is an interesting conundrum, as it is often one of the last pieces to fall into place in a vibrant urban core for cities than once had it, and are trying to bring it back.

Of those willing to purchase new condos/lofts or rent apartments in redeveloping urban areas, many are often the creative class (artists, writers, entrepreneurs, etc.), as well as others such as single professionals and empty nesters who prefer to live in an urban, "lock-and-leave" environment. These new "urban pioneers" move into areas that generally do not yet have the full range of amenities one would expect in a vibrant urban center, with the hope that those amenities will be forthcoming in the near future. (Ironically, many artist enclaves that thrived for years in fairly decrepid, inexpensive urban warehouses and lofts were ousted once the rents in those areas became unaffordable with the onslaught of redevelopment.)

Cities like San Francisco and most European capitals are fortunate in that they have had all the requisite amenities in place for quite some time, and generally in large variety and quantity; thus, they can attract a wide variety of residents to their urban cores. For cities who's centers have lost their prior vitality, and are now in the throes of redevelopment, the process of recreating that urban fabric can be rather challenging.

Even downtown Los Angeles--currently experiencing a veritable explosion of new apartment and condo residents--won't have an adequate, full-size supermarket until late next year, and the area still suffers from a serious homeless problem and relatively sparse street-level retail and entertainment options (although that will undoubtedly change once more residents arrive). Of course, you can see the proverbial chicken-and-egg syndrome here, since all the various pieces depend on each other to thrive and succeed.

So, one might ask, what is the preferred redevelopment sequence to revive a withered and foundering urban core? Although there is no set formula, many cities begin by adding more office towers, cultural and sporting venues, convention facilities and hotels, with the residential, retail, and entertainment sectors to follow (certainly downtown Phoenix and Los Angeles have followed this pattern). Ideally, they would all come online simultaneously, but that is probably wishful thinking. Of course, putting those final pieces in place and having it all work together synergistically is more elusive than it might sound, but is certainly an interesting game being played out between municipalities, developers, and residents around the country.

With housing, for example, the obvious questions for developers are: how much are these urban pioneers willing to spend to live in these redeveloping areas that still lack many desirable perks and amenities, and how many of them are there in this market? There are many factors to consider here, but certainly two major ones are relative cost and income levels. These two factors alone make me question the depth of the high-rise condo market in Phoenix, for example, as the cost per square foot of new high-rise condos and lofts is double or triple that of the metro area's average single-family home. Also, most of the current or proposed product is aimed at the luxury segment, for which there are a limited number of local buyers, and even fewer who might be considered urban pioneers.

The same factors would also apply to Tucson, although there are no viable high-rise housing projects currently in the pipeline, and many of the existing downtown housing projects and proposals are targeted as relatively affordable units, more commensurate with the area's income levels. (Of the new downtown projects, I particularly like what is being built in the Mercado District, which aims to recreate some of the barrio-style neighborhoods that were bulldozed in the disastrous downtown redevelopment of the late 60's/early 70's. http://www.mercadodistrict.com/.

With these and other thoughtful residential projects, additional density can be added to existing neighborhoods, and more of downtown Tucson's original historical flavor can be restored to an area of the city that should once again thrive and prosper.

Jun 21, 2006, 4:50 AM
There are many factors to consider here, but certainly two major ones are relative cost and income levels. These two factors alone make me question the depth of the high-rise condo market in Phoenix, for example, as the cost per square foot of new high-rise condos and lofts is double or triple that of the metro area's average single-family home. Also, most of the current or proposed product is aimed at the luxury segment, for which there are a limited number of local buyers, and even fewer who might be considered urban pioneers.

Am I wrong to see this as just the progression of development among high-rise condos? Meaning, since the profit margin is larger on luxury condos the developers will look there first and then once its dry they will move down the income levels, making progressively smaller profits.

Jun 21, 2006, 7:18 AM
^Yes, developers will understandably gravitate toward offering higher-end products with their heftier margins. However, studies done for Phoenix (and I would include Tucson, as well) show that the majority of demand is on the low end, so the current proliferation of luxury condos in this unproven market is rather curious.

Unfortunately, with spiraling construction and land costs, the low-end condos may not be sufficiently profitable...we'll just have to see how the market shakes out. If that is the case, we'll continue to see more low-density, single-family suburbs at the metropolitan fringes, where costs are substantially cheaper--at least until either enough incentives are created to spur more infill and redevelopment housing in the inner city, or builders are finally required to pay fees approximating the true cost of sprawl development.

Jun 21, 2006, 8:15 AM
Cities like San Francisco and most European capitals are fortunate in that they have had all the requisite amenities in place for quite some time, and generally in large variety and quantity; thus, they can attract a wide variety of residents to their urban cores. For cities who's centers have lost their prior vitality, and are now in the throes of redevelopment, the process of recreating that urban fabric can be rather challenging.

In San Francisco, that isn't as true as most people would think. Most of the recent development, including residential buildings as high as 700' presently under construction, is occurring in an area known as "South of Market" which historically was mostly light industrial uses. The industry has largely moved on and in recent years a lot of the vacant space was used for dance clubs and other nocturnal fun that the folks in Tucson are better not asking about. But there was no "residential infrastructure" because there wasn't a lot of housing. There was, for example, no supermarket, no drycleaners, no branch banks, few restaurants, no coffee shops (vital to any SF hood) and so on. These were all in other parts of town--north of Market St. or farther south and west in the Mission District. So the city made it a priority--virtually a requirement for approval of projects--that they include first floor retail and that the largest one among the first group built include a supermarket. The city did its part by putting in a branch library--and all this was planned before anybody moved in.

This is that building and the market, a Safeway, is on the ground floor of the corner at the bottom of the photo:


Maybe Tucson needs what in SF is called the Redevelopment Agency which is a body created by state law (I think a city ordinance could work too) with the power to override a lot of red tape and to work with developers to make things happen. In SF, it's main purpose seems to be to get around Nimby's who have a lot less power to block Redevelopment Agency projects, but in Tucson it might just be useful to recruit developers, plan and help assemble necessary parcels.

Personally, I don't have enough of a feel for the evolution of Rio Neuvo to understand why it hasn't had a body like the Redevelopment Agency pushing it because it seems very much like what would be a Redevelopment Agency project in SF. Maybe that's what's needed.

Jun 21, 2006, 8:21 AM
Am I wrong to see this as just the progression of development among high-rise condos? Meaning, since the profit margin is larger on luxury condos the developers will look there first and then once its dry they will move down the income levels, making progressively smaller profits.

As I see it, the problem in Tucson is not where on the income scale they start. They don't seem to be starting at any income level and if the goal is to get people living downtown to create a neighborhood there, higher income people have more money to spend and will be more attractive to other businesses as a customer base.

Everywhere in the sun belt there is demand for higher end condo buildings. In Daytona Beach where my family lives, they are popping up like mushrooms and often pre-sold to "snow birds" who want a place they don't need to worry about when they leave for the summer. I don't understand why Tucson should be any different. Many of the same sorts of people from even some of the same places (Canada, upper midwest) come to Tucson every winter.

Jun 22, 2006, 9:19 AM
Rio Nuevo, Tucson's downtown redevelopment district, got a big boost on Wednesday when the AZ legislature finally approved an extension of the district's original tax incremental funding (TIF) support. Tucson didn't get the 30-year extension it wanted, but the additional 12 years (until 2025) will provide an estimated $600-800 million more for downtown redevelopment, an amount that must be matched by city tax dollars.

Senate sends extra $600M Downtown
Revamped tax extension renews funding for new developments, Rio Nuevo

Rob O'Dell

Rio Nuevo was close to becoming a river of gold Wednesday as the Senate voted to give Tucson an extra $600 million to redevelop its Downtown. The city didn't get everything it wanted. It wanted a 30-year extension of the special taxing district that would have brought in $1 billion. It got 12 years, but with a more liberal interpretation of how the tax is calculated than the legislators were previously considering, making it worth at least $600 million and maybe up to $800 million.

The revamped extension passed the Senate 17-12, with one member not voting. The House, which had already approved the 30-year extension, was still considering the shorter Senate version late Wednesday. The path to the vote was cleared in a two-hour meeting in Senate President Ken Bennett's, R-Prescott, office that included City Manager Mike Hein, Senate Majority Leader Tim Bee, R-Tucson, and Senator Toni Hellon, R-Tucson.

What emerged from the meeting was the 12-year compromise. Bee, who offered the amendment on the Senate floor, said it was basically a win-win for the city and the state. He said it gives the city the money to revitalize Downtown while also addressing Bennett's concerns. "Considering the option of not having the bill move forward," it's the best deal that could be made, Bee said.

Bennett said the original bill would have cost the state $1.4 billion and "that's an amount that is unacceptable to this body as a whole." He said what has held the bill up for months was determining "how much money they really need" to make Rio Nuevo work and figuring out "what's the best mechanism to get there." Bennett said the amendment "cut down the drain on the state's general fund, but provided the city with what they needed." Hein said the amendment gives the city about $350 million in current money — without factoring for inflation and growth — that it can go to the bond market with right now. He said there aren't any plans to do that for at least a year.
Hein said the compromise was "fair for the state and fair for the city of Tucson."

Many Phoenix Republicans were cool toward the amendment, and there was an audible groan from some legislators when the bill was announced on the Senate floor. Some Valley legislators were jeered by their colleagues for voting in favor. Senate members had to be called back from Casa Grande and Queen Creek to ensure the votes for passage, Hein said. Bennett told skeptical Republicans in their caucus meeting that "a lot of this was political and economic negotiations," and that he wanted to trim the district's life span to be as short as possible.

That didn't satisfy Republicans such as Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, who said Tucson's district was set up differently than intended. "They set this up, we feel, illegally," Leff said, noting that the district includes the El Con and Park Place Malls as its tax generators although they are far from Downtown. Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said a better name for the bill should have been "Rio Dinero."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve Huffman, R-Oro Valley, called the bill's passage "a real win. This bill gives our community the means to revitalize Downtown," Huffman said, adding that it is enough money to provide the projects the community expects. Huffman said he agreed to concur with whatever version came out of the Senate and said everyone knew the final negotiations would happen in the Senate. "It was just about getting something Bennett would accept," he said.

The 12-year extension would push the district's life until 2025, for a total of 22 years. It will keep the base year for calculating how much state tax money the district can keep as 1999. That was important in minimizing the dollar drain by cutting the extension to 12 years. The 30-year extension included a change in the base year that would have reduced the city's take per year, even though it generated more over the full term.

Although the district was approved by voters in 1999, it wasn't triggered until 2003 when the money started flowing in. The original 10-year district was estimated to bring $124 million to Downtown. The city must match the state sales tax it receives with either spending or projects in Rio Nuevo, and can't spend the money on a new city hall or use eminent domain for projects in the district. "This bill gives our community the means to revitalize Downtown."

Jun 22, 2006, 2:13 PM
Ok, Tucson, now do something with the money. The city hasn't done jack sh*t DT since the late 90's when Rio Nuevo moved forward. I sincerely hope they haven't had a line of credit until now bc I seriously can't see how a dime has been spent yet. Tucson politicos (both sides) are pathetic. SOMEBODY MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN! Ok, peace out...

Jun 22, 2006, 6:53 PM
Hein said the amendment gives the city about $350 million in current money — without factoring for inflation and growth — that it can go to the bond market with right now. He said there aren't any plans to do that for at least a year.

This tells you a lot. Everybody knows interest rates are going up. So they are going to wait a year before they float bonds based on this revenue, practically guaranteeing they'll have to pay a higher interest rate on the bonds when they do issue them. In this market, they should should have been ready with those bonds the instant the bill became law. Tucson too often acts like it's got more in the minor leagues than its baseball team.

Don B.
Jun 27, 2006, 2:18 PM
This news article explains a lot about Arizona's conservatism when it comes to taller buildings:


Downtown project 'too damn tall' - Critics fight 7-story development; council decides its fate tonight

By Rob O'Dell
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 06.27.2006

For many, the proposed $30 million Presidio Terrace condominium project is a test of whether the City Council will support high-density residential development Downtown or bow to neighborhood critics. For those critics, the Presidio Terrace is just "too damn tall" and out of character for the adjacent historic area, which sits north of City Hall and the Tucson Water building between North Main and Granada avenues.

The council will weigh into the fray tonight, as it considers final approval for the high-rise complex featuring 72 lofts and nine townhouses along with a cafe, a neighborhood store, and roughly 240 parking spaces. Because of the protests from surrounding landowners, the council needs a "super-majority" of six out of seven members to approve the plan. The project needed a variance — approved by the zoning examiner in May — to go 100 feet high, because the zoning only allowed for 65 feet.

Peggy Noonan is the developer who won a competitive process for the right to develop on the L-shaped property just north of the Tucson Water building. She paid "fair-market value" of $750,000 for the land, which the city had been using for parking. The city has agreed to pay her $2 million for 90 parking spots in the garage to replace the spaces lost by turning the lot into homes. Noonan said she has met repeatedly with concerned neighbors, and although the council of the El Presidio Neighborhood Association has given its approval to her plan, not all the neighbors could be won over. She said her architect, Bob Vint, has terraced the buildings so the tallest part of the structure is farthest away from the houses in the area, and also planned for two-story town homes across the street from the historic Hiram Stevens and Edward Nye Fish homes, which date to the 1860s, to ensure the development fits with the area.

But Tom Pashos, a nearby resident, is unconvinced. He said the seven-story building is "too damn tall" and "just completely out of place." "We're looking for something reasonable," Pashos said. Langdon Hill, the landowner whose protest caused the need for a super-majority of the council because he owns a large portion of the adjacent land, would not comment Monday.

Despite the protests, several council members typically most sympathetic to neighborhood concerns are strongly in support of Presidio Terrace. Councilman Jose Ibarra, a strong advocate of neighborhoods on the West Side and Downtown, said if the council votes down the project it will send a "terrible message." He said the developer has bought the land and is pursuing the project without city subsidies — except for the $2 million parking payment — and is bringing housing Downtown, which he said is key for revitalization.

"I strongly believe this is the biggest test case if this mayor and council fully supports Rio Nuevo," Ibarra said.

Councilwoman Nina Trasoff said most residents support the plan, and said on balance the good far outweighs the bad with the project. "This is the type of private development we're encouraging Downtown," she said.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said although it's clear the project doesn't have unanimous support, she will be supporting it because she believes it will bring people Downtown and help Rio Nuevo.

Some of the residents opposing the project have raised concerns about Noonan's Reliance Construction Inc. as a way to oppose the project. Her company has been involved in 11 lawsuits since 2000 in Maricopa County, where she has done a number of housing projects, including the Lofts at Fillmore in Downtown Phoenix. Four subcontractors won judgments against her for non-payment totaling more than $70,000 between 2001 and 2003, while the Lofts' homeowners association won a $25,000 judgment against Reliance in 2005 for attorneys fees. Noonan also won about $370,000 from the Lofts at Fillmore, the owner of the project, and its insurance company, who she said didn't pay her, leaving her unable to pay her subcontractors and triggering the lawsuits. Noonan's husband, Dennis Foster, has also filed for bankruptcy for a food service business he owned called Foster Vial, which has also done business under the name Reliance Commercial Services, a similar name to Noonan's firm. Noonan said the two firms are different, and her husband is not part of her development company. Pashos called the distinction between the companies "so convoluted and nebulous." Other residents are less troubled by the project including Margaret Hardy, a former Presidio neighborhood president.

"I personally believe it's going to be a change in a positive direction," Hardy said.

● Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4240 or rodell@azstarnet.com.

Pathetic that a seven-story building could generate so much debate.


Jun 27, 2006, 9:48 PM
wow that article depresses me.

Jun 30, 2006, 5:08 AM
Certainly a move in the right direction:

Council unanimously approves seven-story Downtown project
By Rob O'Dell

Presidio Terrace got its supermajority plus one additional vote Tuesday, as the City Council unanimously approved the contentious Downtown loft and town-house project. About 30 residents turned out for the meeting, with about half telling the council the building is an important cog in redeveloping Downtown. The others told the council it will be too tall for the historic neighborhood just north of the site.

The project needed a supermajority of the council — six out of seven in favor — for approval because such a significant proportion of the surrounding landowners opposed the zoning changes needed. The council approved it 7-0 with no comment. Steve Farley, a state congressional candidate who was a backer of the recent voter-approved regional transportation plan, said the project was a test of whether the city is serious about its Rio Nuevo Downtown revitalization plan. He questioned whether the city would ever approve any high-density projects Downtown if it couldn't approve this one. Manufacturer and developer Don Martin, who is not involved in this project, said the issue was not about the building's seven stories, but about the unanimous decision needed to "send a clear message to the community that our leadership is 100 percent committed to Downtown revitalization."

Residents opposed to the project had a different take. Joyce Tracy, a nearby resident, said the council does not realize the importance of historic neighborhoods Downtown. She said Rio Nuevo was supposed to take history into account, and this project doesn't. "We should be respectful to history," Tracy said after the meeting. "I'm afraid we'll be sorry in the future if we don't."

Presidio Terrace, which will be north of City Hall and the Tucson Water building between North Main and Granada avenues, needed a variance, which the zoning examiner approved in May, to go 100 feet high. The zoning allowed for only 65 feet. The project features 72 lofts and nine town houses along with a cafe, a neighborhood store and roughly 240 parking spaces in an underground garage.

Although Developer Peggy Noonan, who won a competitive process for the rights to develop the land, paid "fair-market value" of $750,000 for the land, the city has agreed to pay her $2 million for 90 parking spots in the garage to replace the public parking that would be lost by turning the lot into homes. The involvement of public land and public money in the process had Tucson lawyer Louis Barassi raising questions about Noonan's business past. Barassi cited the fact that Noonan's company had been involved in several lawsuits in Maricopa County since 2000, which included four subcontractors winning judgments against her for nonpayment. Noonan told the Star that the project's owner failed to pay her, and after she won a lawsuit against the owner of the project, she paid the subcontractors.

In other business, the city approved its compensation plan for employees, giving many of them an extra 1.5 percent raise than had been called for. All non-public-safety employees — other than those who are considered highly compensated — will get about a 4 percent raise for the fiscal year that begins Saturday. Public-safety employees will get cost-of-living raises of 4 percent, while highly compensated employees — those at the deputy director level and above who make nearly $100,000 a year or more — will get a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase.

The recommendation considered for the past few weeks called for a 2.5 percent raise for all civilian workers. A new proposal by the city manager called for 3 percent raises. The council went 1 percent further and will now have to find $500,000 to $1.1 million for the raises from its already-approved budget because it went over the amount called for in the budget.

Jun 30, 2006, 5:26 AM
If there's a real urbanist principle here, it's to preserve historic buildings whenever possible. But infill development needs to reflect other concerns. Getting residential downtown is more important than the demands of would-be suburbanites. Yes, their houses are wonderful. No, theirs is not the final word for development nearby.

Chicago's Gold Coast is a point of comparison. The 19th Century townhouses there are as glorious a collection as you'll find in that genre. But it's in the midst of dynamic city, and the city has encroached into the neighborhood. Preservation is critical to Chicago's architectural and historic diversity. But it would be false history - something akin to a New Urbanist fantasy - to build only matching infill projects. So, you find condo towers on the same streets. Somehow, the result is not at all displeasing. In fact, it's fascinating to see new and old together. If there's one thing you do like to see, it's worthwhile architecture, and that is still a crapshoot for the most part.

I'm glad to see Tucson moving on this. The area directly north of the downtown core really needs it.

Jun 30, 2006, 8:30 AM
If there's a real urbanist principle here, it's to preserve historic buildings whenever possible. But infill development needs to reflect other concerns.

Chicago's Gold Coast is a point of comparison. The 19th Century townhouses there are as glorious a collection as you'll find in that genre.

Here's another example, perhaps more relevent to Tucson:


This is Mission San Francisco de Asis, more commonly known as Mission Dolores because it once sat beside a lagoon named (by Gen. Anza--from Tubac) Nuestra Senora de los Dolores. It was built in 1776. It is where the city of San Francisco began but now it sits in the heart of the dynamic Mission District or neighborhood. Most of the development near it is fairly low rise, but it is quite dense.

Here's another example:


The beautiful 19th century church seen in front the Four Seasons Condo/Hotel in San Francisco's Yerba Buena area has been incorporated into a great new development which also includes 2 museums and an open plaza.

Jul 3, 2006, 3:34 AM
http://img123.imageshack.us/img123/6475/p10100676la.jpg (http://imageshack.us)

Here's the parking lot where Presidio Terrace, the seven story loft condo building will go. The next block over is the nine story Redondo Towers apartment building, dating from the early 60s.

Jul 3, 2006, 3:11 PM
^Stupid NIMBYs, there is a 9-story building next door and they are bitching about a new 7-story building? Gimmie a break, and I thought Phoenix had the worst NIMBYs....yesh. Thanks BTinSF for the old/new architecture comparison. If done right, new architecture can blend in with the old, and should be expected in an urban-type setting.


Jul 3, 2006, 5:26 PM
....Residents opposed to the project had a different take. Joyce Tracy, a nearby resident, said the council does not realize the importance of historic neighborhoods Downtown. She said Rio Nuevo was supposed to take history into account, and this project doesn't. "We should be respectful to history," Tracy said after the meeting. "I'm afraid we'll be sorry in the future if we don't."

Does she realize it's a parking lot now? Her quote implies that they would be tearing down a historic neighborhood to build this. I for one would much rather have a beauitful, expansive view of a parking lot than seeing a 7-story tall condo tower across the street from a 9-story tower. :rolleyes: Some people just need to grow up.

to paraphrase:

We need to be respectful and preserve our historic parking lots! :tantrum:

Jul 3, 2006, 8:51 PM
I've posted some other pics of the Presidio neighborhood in City Photos, a few of Armory Park.


Jul 5, 2006, 7:55 AM
Take a look at the new plan for the town of Sahuarita: http://www.sonoran.org./programs/land_and_water/data/Sahaurita_Vision_June06.pdf

Comments extremely welcome!

Jul 11, 2006, 3:57 AM
Now that more TIF support is coming from the state, the focus and prioritization of Rio Nuevo projects is again a hot topic for downtown redevelopment (this article generated lots of reader comments, if you're interested: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/rionuevo/136723):

First things first for Rio Nuevo
With funding secure, city turns attention to finishing up research, paring options and getting projects under way

By Rob O'Dell

The city is hoping four major Rio Nuevo projects will continue the momentum gained for its Downtown redevelopment project when the Legislature extended the special taxing district by 12 years and more than $600 million. For some Tucsonans, Rio Nuevo has shown little progress since voters approved it in 1999. To avoid a sequel to the first unsatisfying attempt, the city has outlined four projects it hopes to have plans resolved by December that will help lead the way for more development.

Most immediate will be a $9 million project with the Arizona Department of Transportation to build an expanded underpass under Interstate 10 at West Clark Street to better connect the West Side to Downtown. Then there are the two projects city officials said are the most important: Deciding the fate of the University of Arizona's "Rainbow Bridge" Science Center and a proposed new 12,500-seat Downtown arena. The fourth is to go out to bid for a residential and commercial project on 12 acres on the West Side between the Santa Cruz River and the proposed Mercado at Menlo Park.

"One of the reasons the science center and the arena float to the top is that they are significant footprints Downtown," said Rich Singer, the director of the Tucson Convention Center, who heads the arena and science-center projects for Rio Nuevo. The city needs to make intelligent decisions on the science center and arena projects, Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko said, because "they are linchpins for other decisions and they cost a lot of money."

City Manger Mike Hein said the city will begin moving on the Clark Street underpass project that will widen the underpass from 120 feet to 225 feet. The Congress Street underpass is being widened as well, he said, as part of the I-10 project that the state will begin accepting bids for Aug 31. Next up is the science center, which Hein said will be the subject of a healthy public debate over finances, aesthetics, values and economic benefits in the next 60 days.

After the science-center plan is resolved, Hein said the next issue to discuss is the arena. Finally, he wants the 12 acres on the West Side to go out to bid before the end of this year. "Much is determined by the UA science center," Hein said. "That's why I think it's important to bring closure to that project."

Alexis Faust, the executive director of the Flandrau Science Center, said she and her staff are working with four models for the science center: the $350 million rainbow arch bridge that holds the science center up with suspension cables, a $250 million stripped-down bridge without the arch, a red brick facility without a bridge on the east side of the freeway and a more "iconic" building without a bridge on the same site.

Faust said she didn't have cost estimates on the two options without the bridge across I-10 and the river. She said the UA is examining each option's construction cost, economic impact, operational costs, the university's fund-raising ability to generate money for each option and the effect the each model would have on the Rio Nuevo's tax increment financing district. But for the first time, she said building a science center on a bridge is a tough task and it might be a good idea to think about not including a bridge in the project. "It's very difficult to put a science center on a bridge," Faust said. "I wouldn't be crushed to give that up."

On the arena, Singer said the city needs to finish a partially completed study on the financial feasibility of the arena, and whether the city-built arena would show a profit or loss and how large that would be. Additionally, Singer said the city needs to finish conceptual designs of the arena to help determine its final price tag. Singer said he is likely to have a final recommendation for the arena to City Council in six months.

Councilman Jose Ibarra said he was encouraged that there is is plan and a set of priorities for Rio Nuevo, because "one of the biggest knocks on Rio Nuevo was there was no plan."

City officials said the University of Arizona's Science Center, which as proposed includes a $350 million Rainbow Bridge, is the most important of the four projects to resolve after the $600 million Rio Nuevo extension was passed by the Legislature. The UA is considering four proposals for the center, which include two with a bridge and two without.

After the science center, city officials said the second most important issue to resolve is to determine whether to build a 12,500-seat arena Downtown. The city needs to finish a financial feasibility study and a preliminary architectural designs to determine the arena's price tag. The City Council could get a recommendation in six months.

An immediate concern of the city is to earmark $9 million in Rio Nuevo money for design and construction to widen the West Clark Street underpass from 120 feet to 225 feet as part of the state I-10 widening project.

As the fourth project to get resolved, the city wants to go out to bid on a dozen acres on the West Side that are slated for mixed-use residential and commercial development. The 12 acres sit south of Congress Street, west of the Santa Cruz River and east of the proposed Mercado at Menlo Park mixed-use project. City officials want to go out to bid by December.

Jul 11, 2006, 4:14 PM
I always would have bet Tucson didn't have the flair to build that bridge and, without it, Rio Nuevo becomes a lot less interesting to me. Tucson seems to search out the dullest, least creative way to accomplish everything. I think this is because there are too many fingers in the pie. They should have found a way to isolate development of Rio Nuevo from the unimaginative hack politicans running the place.

Jul 14, 2006, 7:27 AM

Tucson No. 7 on Forbes list of overvalued housing cities
By Joseph Barrios
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.13.2006

Tucson is keeping big-name company with New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco in an unfortunate Top-10 list: It puts us among the country's most overpriced places.
Forbes.com has ranked Tucson the seventh most overpriced place in the United States, just behind New York City at No. 6, and just ahead of Los Angeles at No. 10. Essex County, Mass., ranked first.
The article calls Tucson a "surprise newcomer" to the list and cites the recent run-up in real-estate prices.
"Though our data shows that job growth is healthy, salaries don't seem to be keeping up with the high living costs. And while housing prices may still be low compared with the hottest areas of the country, the housing boom pushed them up considerably," it says.
The story also says Tucson, while showing promise through the corporate presences of America Online and Intuit, ranks poorly in pay and in the bottom third in housing affordability, citing National Association of Realtors figures. Those figures say the median home price increased by 25 percent to $248,600 from the first quarter of 2005 to the first quarter of 2006, according to the Forbes article.
The article ranked 112 metro areas based on cost of living, job growth, housing affordability and salaries.
Where housing is concerned, the list doesn't appear to consider that manufactured housing is a low-cost alternative to single-family homes and that Tucson routinely has some of the lowest rental rates in the country, said Marshall Worden, of the University of Arizona's Office of Economic Development.
"When you think about affordability, when you think about things being overpriced, you have to think about the entire housing stock," Worden said. "I think the article is misleading. It misrepresents the complexity of housing markets."
A message left with Forbes.com and the article's author, Lacey Rose, was not returned Wednesday.
Tucson wasn't anywhere near the top 10 last month when data purveyor Global Insight and National City Corp. released its most recent ranking of the most overvalued housing markets. The Old Pueblo didn't even make the top 50 list of metropolitan areas, although that report did conclude that Tucson's housing market was "extremely overvalued" by about 36 percent and at risk for a price correction.
The report said that 39 percent of all single-family housing valuation in America is also extremely overvalued and at risk for a price correction. The study examined 317 U.S. real-estate markets and considered differences in population density, relative income, interest rates, and historically observed market premiums or discounts.
While the Forbes.com article calls Tucson overpriced, the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Association cost-of-living index consistently ranks Tucson near the national average, said Paula Stuht, vice president of economic development for the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Those rankings are based on surveys that look at groceries, utilities, housing and rental prices and other costs.
Stuht said to take the Forbes study with a grain of salt.
"I think a very, very large grain of salt makes sense because they have a very specific mission, they're proving one small statistical factor. They're proving our housing prices shot up faster than wages went up, and that is true. Wages don't tend to jump as fast," she said.
The list highlights good issues but isn't necessarily meaningful, said Pat Patton, chief economist with economic development agency Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. He said it was nice that Tucson was being lumped in with "elite" cities like Los Angeles and New York, but called their method of calculation "kind of arbitrary."
"In an absolute sense, you just have to be kind of careful how you use some of these," Patton said.
But rankings come and go.
In May, Forbes Magazine ranked Tucson 22nd out of the 150 best places to jump-start a business or career. Our ranking may have been even higher but for Tucson's last-place ranking at 150th place in the crime-rate category.

Jul 14, 2006, 9:34 PM
I looked around Tucson real estate when I was there a couple of weeks ago. I got the feeling prices are lower than in Phoenix by maybe 15 to 20%. I'm not sure how Tucson's valuations compared prior to the Great Investor Onslaught that occurred in Phoenix a couple of years ago. I saw a few near-downtown bungalows that were decidedly cheaper vis a vis their counterparts in Phoenix.

As much as I love to think about the market, I really don't know how it works. I'm bored by the technical arcana. The Sky-Is-Falling School is usually as wrong as the Sky's-the-Limit School. But my sense is that Tucson's values may be more solid than those in Phoenix since they didn't get the same investor land-rush.

One thing I do believe is that Arizona is somehow tethered to California real-estate prices. We're usually about 50% of coastal prices, and near parity with the Inland Empire. I think this tandem market is getting tighter and tighter. One thing you're beginning to see are two-income households where one job is in a different state. The fly-backs are on the weekend and given the relative closeness - and cheapness - not considered ornerous.

Don B.
Jul 14, 2006, 9:51 PM
^ Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) are at $396,000 for the median housing price. Phoenix is considerably less, about two-thirds as high.


Jul 18, 2006, 6:34 PM
I looked around Tucson real estate when I was there a couple of weeks ago. I got the feeling prices are lower than in Phoenix by maybe 15 to 20%. I'm not sure how Tucson's valuations compared prior to the Great Investor Onslaught that occurred in Phoenix a couple of years ago. I saw a few near-downtown bungalows that were decidedly cheaper vis a vis their counterparts in Phoenix.

As much as I love to think about the market, I really don't know how it works. I'm bored by the technical arcana. The Sky-Is-Falling School is usually as wrong as the Sky's-the-Limit School. But my sense is that Tucson's values may be more solid than those in Phoenix since they didn't get the same investor land-rush.

One thing I do believe is that Arizona is somehow tethered to California real-estate prices. We're usually about 50% of coastal prices, and near parity with the Inland Empire. I think this tandem market is getting tighter and tighter. One thing you're beginning to see are two-income households where one job is in a different state. The fly-backs are on the weekend and given the relative closeness - and cheapness - not considered ornerous.
What were you looking for? Commercial or residential? cw


Jul 30, 2006, 9:24 AM
Rainbow Bridge not likely to overcome prohibitive price tag
By Rob O'Dell

Unless the University of Arizona has a large pot of gold at the end of its planned Rainbow Bridge, it appears the $350 million proposal is all but dead. Tucson's Rio Nuevo director, Greg Shelko, said, "It seems to me the university might consider what its Plan B is" because he doubts the university will get hundreds of millions in Rio Nuevo redevelopment funds. Three City Council members agreed the city is unlikely to give more than $30 million or $40 million, in addition to the $20 million it already committed to the project.

While new UA President Robert Shelton has yet to weigh in on the project, the university's former president, Peter Likins — who was a big supporter of the bridge — said there would be enough money if the city wanted to contribute a large portion of its resources, but noted that may or may not be the wisest course for the city to follow. So far, the UA has about $100 million in identified funding, leaving it well short of the $350 million price tag, which seems likely to increase given the inflation hitting all types of construction.

"The problem is whether the university can raise the money," said Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, who said she supports the project if the money can be found. "We can't invest our entire Rio Nuevo pot or even a third of it for one project."

Time, funding both short
If the university has to raise the $200 million-plus it needs from another source, it doesn't have a lot of time because it wants to build the science center in tandem with the widening of Interstate 10, Shelko said. Bids for the widening will be opened next month, with construction starting early next year and lasting more than three years. Because of those time constraints, Shelko said the university is pushing to get a funding request in front of the City Council soon, possibly by September. Since the city is putting in money and owns both parcels of land where the bridge would touch down on either side of the freeway, the final decision is the city's to make, Shelko said.
Likins agreed much of the decision rests with the city. He said everyone supports a science center, but added, "The question of what architectural setting is a separate question and basically it's the city's decision."

Mayor Bob Walkup said the Rainbow Bridge and the science center have been spun into one project, adding "I'm not absolutely sure that's true." He said the science center has robust support, but the Rainbow Bridge "hangs in the balance." Despite these obstacles, Flandrau Science Center Executive Director Alexis Faust said splitting the two may be problematic, and any talk of the Rainbow Bridge's demise is premature. She said the university will release a report in the next two weeks on three options it is considering:
● The $350 million Rainbow Bridge, an arch bridge that holds the science center up with suspension cables as it spans I-10 and the Santa Cruz River to connect Downtown to the West Side.
● A $250 million stripped-down bridge and science center without the arch that would connect different buildings on the east and west sides of the freeway.
● A $175 million basic science center entirely on the east side of the freeway Downtown.

A preliminary draft of the report provided to Star showed the UA concludes neither the stripped-down bridge nor the basic science center would bring in enough money to cover their annual operating cost and debt services, making them a financial drain. And neither would be the kind of "anchor attraction" needed to draw people into Downtown and Rio Nuevo's planned collection of other museums and attractions. The study found the Rainbow Bridge would bring in far more visitors and tax receipts than the other options.

Other designs may be possible
The study also suggests the UA would consider not moving its science center Downtown if Rio Nuevo had no east-west connection and no anchor attraction, such as the Rainbow Bridge. Faust, however, said that there may be a model outside the ones studied by the university that could work, and that "it's not an all-or-nothing thing on our side." Faust added she had not heard anything on the amount of money the city is willing to kick into the project, but said she doesn't know how much city money is needed because there isn't a budget yet for the science center.

However, a group made up of Downtown business concerns opposed to the Rainbow Bridge decided recently not to openly fight the project, believing it would die anyway. Members of the Congress Street Stakeholders decided last week not to send a letter they had prepared to outline concerns with the project. "We thought we'd just let it die a natural death," said Richard Oseran, a member of the group. "It's just not going to happen. I don't think the UA has the money to build it with the price tag they're talking about."

Leslie Tolbert, a UA vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development, said Shelton could speak out about the project sometime in the next two weeks. Tolbert said Shelton, who could not be reached for comment last week, is really enthusiastic about a science center, but wants to make up his own mind on the Rainbow Bridge. "As soon as he knows what he wants to say, he will say it," she said.

Councilman Steve Leal said the $150 million to $250 million that the UA needs to complete the bridge may be too tall a task, especially given its other fund-raising projects, such as a new medical school in Phoenix. "The city can only increase our contribution to $50 or $60 million," Leal said "It just leaves a huge gulf."

Shelko said he's unsure if there is either the political or community will to spend $350 million or more on the Rainbow Bridge, and as a result "it would be prudent for them to explore other options." "My only hope is they come out with more than the Rainbow Bridge or nothing," Shelko said, adding that he would be extremely disappointed because it would be a real departure from the original project. He said the only action the council has ever taken on the project was in 2003 to commit $20 million in Rio Nuevo money for a $100 million science center. "Just because we gave them $20 million, I don't think that was carte blanche to do anything," Shelko said.

Aug 3, 2006, 8:29 PM
Louis Vuitton is on the way
Mexican shoppers help to attract upscale stores to La Encantada
By Levi J. Long
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.29.2006
advertisementIn a nod to upscale Tucson shoppers, the House of Vuitton will soon bring its French couture to the Old Pueblo.
Louis Vuitton, the Paris-based retailer and designer of upscale handbags, watches, luggage and other accessories, has signed an agreement with La Encantada shopping center to open a 3,000-square-foot store. It's expected to open by late September.
"It's a huge coup for Tucson. Louis Vuitton is one of the world's most renowned luxury brands around," said Kai Hsiao, senior manager at La Encantada, 2905 E. Skyline Drive, who announced the deal Friday.
Known for its line of leather goods and "LV" monogrammed purses, wallets and sunglasses, Louis Vuitton joins two other upscale retailers — Tiffany & Co., a New York based jeweler, and BCBG Max Azria, a women's clothing boutique — planning to open in Tucson this fall. Some Louis Vuitton handbags and luggage pieces carry price tags between $1,200 and $2,000.
Tiffany & Co., announced Sept. 29 as its opening date for a 4,000-square-foot store at La Encantada.
An opening date for BCBG's 4,000-square-foot-store hasn't been confirmed, but company officials expect to open this fall next to the Louis Vuitton store, Hsiao said.
The stores join other high-end stores at La Encantada including Cole Haan, Anthropologie and St. John Sport, bringing the total number of stores there to 50. The center opened in November 2003. "Louis Vuitton has been on our wish list since we built the center," Hsiao said. "One of the great benefits we see is the store being a major draw for Mexican nationals who shop for luxury goods."
When Tiffany & Co. announced the opening of the local store, company officials cited the high number of winter tourists and shoppers from Mexico as a customer base, Hsiao said.
The announcement of the three stores is significant for Tucson's retail scene, said Melinda Burke, director of the University of Arizona's Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing.
"It says something about the development of Tucson and also the influence of the Mexican shopper," Burke said. "It's a great thing for Tucson when we have more choice. It brings, and keeps, people here to shop. You can stay in Tucson to find luxury goods. You don't have to drive out of town to shop."
When high-end retailers look at certain markets to open stores, they're looking in places where they can get the most return on an investment, Burke said.
"There is a certain cachet among retailers who like to be among their peers," she said. "It also means, as a community, we have an economy that can support that sort of retail."

Aug 9, 2006, 8:09 AM
The latest news on downtown's proposed mixed-use El Mirador project says it may or may not include Jim Count's Nimbus Brewery:


Downtown Condo Living – With or Without Libation
by Lee Allen
The Downtown Tucsonan
August, 2006

An English poet once penned the line that “nothing stays the same save eternal change.” And while Keats didn’t have a Downtown Tucson condominium and brewpub project in mind when he wrote those words, his statement holds contemporary veracity in connection with planned developments at North Stone Avenue and West Franklin Street.

“This is a mixed use project that incorporates the vitality of the downtown artist community into a residential use site,” says principal architect Raul Reyes of Town West Development Inc. “It’s one of the first tangible projects in all the development discussions, and because its kind of at the northern edge of Downtown, one of four gateways, it will have a significant impact on visitors entering Downtown from that end of the city.”

The current plan and design of “El Mirador” is just the latest in a long line of modifications since the condo/pub/art gallery/parking garage was first proposed by Jim Counts of Nimbus Brewery in the summer of 2005. As currently conceptualized with tentative approval given by a three-member City Council subcommittee, the project is cost-estimated at $40 million for the 140-plus condominiums on the city-owned 2.9-acre site.

Counts, who initially proposed moving his brewery downtown as part of the development, brought in Town West as a partner in April 2006. Now the modified concept, which must be approved by the full Council, might not include his brewpub. The Council may act on the matter as early as their August 8th meeting. Development plans must be submitted 90 days after the OK is given and at that point it will be known if Nimbus will be included in the final plan --- although Town West attorney Bob Gugino has been quoted previously as saying the deal may not include Nimbus participation.

Town West has informed Counts it considers an April tentative joint development agreement between them to be void. So while discussions continue on stalled deals and updated architectural renderings, the possibility exists that the property could be ultimately developed --- without a brewpub on the site or at least without a Nimbus brewpub --- the very concept that put the construction project on paper in the first place.

Unless more changes are implemented, Town West would pay a pro-rata share for two-thirds of the 2.9-acre site the city acquired in 2002 for $654,000. The city would pay for public improvements that currently include a public plaza and an art walk. The city would work with Town West to split the cost of a 400-unit parking garage on property to the west of the condo site.

From an architectural standpoint, “Our design will be eclectic and progressive with lots of green concepts mixed in,” says Reyes. “We’ll have at least one major magnet, be it a brew pub or another drawing card, and will work that attraction into our public performance stage area, art walk, and sculpture garden. We’re going to try to concentrate most of those attractions on the south side of the project, the Franklin Street side, and make them easily accessible to the public. Retail shops are planned for the ground level and condo units will be in the middle of the project. Ground level construction will have lots of masonry façade to pay tribute to existing warehouse district architecture, while retail and residential build-out above that will generally be of steel construction.”

Reyes emphasizes that currents plans and design prototypes are just that and are subject to even more future change. “We have made --- and will continue to make --- ourselves available to respond to public concern and input from neighborhood residents.”

Subcommittee discussion that preceded the tentative go-ahead vote produced some quotable quotes from City Council members involved. While Councilman Jose Ibarra acknowledged that Rio Nuevo has previously involved lots of talk and little active construction, “We’re finally moving forward.” To which Councilman Steve Leal added that site development plans were moving so slowly that “It’s going to be an historic site before it’s built.”

Aug 18, 2006, 7:10 AM
The debate over the UofA's proposed $350M "Rainbow Bridge" science museum for downtown rages on:

In April, residents were able to view new renderings of the proposed Rainbow Bridge
over Interstate 10. Earlier plans by architect Rafael Viñoly generated some criticism.


Rainbow Bridge critics speak up
'Hell of an eyesore,' would-be neighbor says

by Teya Vitu
Tucson Citizen

It's gigantic - the kind of landmark some people think Tucson needs to distinguish itself and create a downtown draw. The University of Arizona's $350 million Rainbow Bridge would dominate the skyline within immediate reach of three neighborhoods.

Menlo Park and El Presidio neighborhood association leaders challenge the idea of an iconic bridge and the process bringing the project forward. Barrio Viejo neighborhood association leaders say they haven't been consulted about the bridge, which would house the University of Arizona Science Center.

The Menlo Park Neighborhood Association has formally voted against the bridge. The bridge's west end would land in Menlo Park. "We are not interested in seeing that bridge go up," said Lillian Lopez Grant, secretary of the Menlo Park association. "It will be a hell of an eyesore, like that thing in front of the library," referring to the red, birdlike sculpture in front of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.

The Menlo Park association later this month plans to send a letter to the city manager and City Council reiterating its opposition to the Rainbow Bridge and elaborating on desires for restoration of the Santa Cruz River and to somehow make Interstate 10 look less obtrusive. "So far everything has been considered separately," Menlo Park President Diana Hadley said. "We want to see an integration in the process."

El Presidio neighborhood association, directly north of City Hall, has not voted on the bridge and President Joe Wilder sees no reason for an association vote. But Wilder dismissed the Rainbow Bridge as "unsophisticated." "It's the typical sort of thing that a provincial city tries to do: hire a celebrity architect to design something that is silly," Wilder said. "To hang a science center over a freeway is not a compelling idea."

Alexis Faust, the science center's executive director, has sent invitations to all 132 neighborhood associations throughout Tucson asking to give Rainbow Bridge presentations. So far, 12 have granted her an audience, including Panorama Estates, Barrio Hollywood and Dunbar/Spring. All are near downtown.

None of the 16 residents at Panorama Estates, a tiny sliver of neighborhood surrounded by Menlo Park, who saw the presentation objected to the Rainbow Bridge, association President Ellen Paige said. Panorama Estates would have the most direct, unobstructed view of the Rainbow Bridge among downtown's neighborhoods because it is elevated above the valley floor, at the foot of "A" Mountain. "My mind was changed," said Paige, who first attended a Rainbow Bridge presentation at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind by architect Rafael Viñoly. Before attending that presentation, "It seemed like a project too big for Tucson. This is silly," she said. "After I saw it and thought about it, I thought this is really, really fabulous. I was just floored by the presentation, the quality of the bridge."

Faust said Menlo Park and El Presidio declined presentations, and she has not heard back from Barrio Viejo. "We have not been able to present to those neighborhoods," Faust said. "We are very anxious to meet with (Menlo Park) and discuss the project. Opinions from neighborhoods that have not seen our presentation are different from those that have." Faust said surveys done at four neighborhood associations have been predominantly favorable for the bridge.

Menlo Park and El Presidio, though often wary of Rio Nuevo, have both backed revitalization projects. Menlo Park supported the Mercado District at Menlo Park housing project and the Tucson Origins Heritage Park. El Presidio, with some neighborhood divisiveness, approved the 100-foot tall Presidio Terrace condo project across from City Hall.

Barrio Viejo, due south of the Tucson Convention Center, has not voted on the Rainbow Bridge. "We haven't taken a position on it because we don't know anything about it," Barrio Viejo association chairman Pedro Gonzales said. "Nobody (at the city or UA) has actually talked to us about it. All these deals happen. They forget who lives here, the people who will be affected."

Gonzales said he didn't know if Faust had sent a letter. "If she did, we get so much mail, sometimes it just sits there," he said. He said he would call Faust to arrange a bridge presentation, possibly in October.

Downtown architect Bob Vint, who is designing Presidio Terrace and Plaza San Agustin east of the cathedral, would rather see Rio Nuevo invest heavily in downtown infrastructure. "We have water pipes 100 years old on Congress Street," Vint said. "The sewer is at capacity. There was the sinkhole on Speedway at Granada. Let's take care of the top priorities first." Vint has no fondness for the Rainbow Bridge, whose arch would rise 370 feet above the ground - higher than Tucson's tallest building. "It's like it landed from Mars," Vint said. "It's totally alien. There's nothing about it that says Tucson. What makes a great community is urban life. I think that's what people want."

The City Council has committed $20 million to the proposed downtown relocation of the UA Science Center, but has shown no apparent appetite to add substantial sums for a Rainbow Bridge. Faust has not determined how much Rio Nuevo funding she will ask for when she approaches the council, likely in October. She has requests out for assorted sources of private funding but has gotten no commitments. "I cannot divulge anything until I know they are going to give us money," Faust said.

City Manager Mike Hein earlier this month welcomed the idea of a downtown science center but was more circumspect about a science center suspended from a Rainbow Bridge. "I think the mayor and council and the community as a whole will be confronted with the conversation of whether to transform the community," Hein said.

Aug 18, 2006, 7:36 AM
Although annexing the affluent, unincorporated foothill neighborhoods would certainly improve Tucson's financial means, it won't be an easy task:

Bob: Annexation isn’t going to happen
Inside Tucson Business
Aug. 14, 2006

Poor Mayor Bob Walkup. He’s feeling lonely these days as the only elected Republican at City Hall. That must be the reason behind his newly launched attempt to extend Tucson’s city limits out to take in the Catalina Foothills and Casas Adobes. That is after the city gets done annexing as much of the booming southeast side as it can. Talk about a marketing problem. This one will be like pushing a wet noodle uphill--the Catalina Foothills.

Rule No. 1 when it comes to marketing is create a desire for your product. Where’s the desire? Certainly not at Tucson City Hall. This is a place that likes things just the way they are right now. The bloated bureaucracy is happy with its power and seemingly not having to be answerable to anyone. The politicians in office are satisfied with their status quo. On political maps, Tucson is a blue city--a City Council comprised of five Democrats, one independent and Walkup, all by his little lonesome as the only Republican.

Why would all those Democrats want a bunch of new Republicans to be able to vote in city elections? The areas Walkup is targeting are filled with Republicans. In Catalina Foothills School District No. 16, Republicans have a 25 percent voter registration advantage over Democrats. Another way of looking at it is to consider in Pima County’s Justice of the Peace Precinct No. 1, which takes in most of the Foothills, Casas Adobes and goes all the way up to the Pinal County line. Admittedly Walkup’s proposal doesn’t include the entire area, but it does include a lot of it and Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 3-to-2 margin.

Tucson’s suburban municipalities--Oro Valley, Marana and Sahuarita--are all tilted toward Republican voter advantages. There is no way five Democrats on the City Council want those kind of numbers to spoil their next election.

Annexation is a two-way street. For as much as City Council members don’t like the idea, there also is no compelling argument for people in Walkup’s targeted areas to go along with it either. Quite the contrary. Steve Emerine addressed some of why this is the case in his Valley Views column in the July 31 issue of Inside Tucson Business. (In fact, the curious among us wonder if perhaps that column might have prompted Walkup’s renewed efforts.)

There is no upside for a resident to want to become part of the city. Instead, you would:

• Be part of a higher crime rate.

• Higher city sales taxes.

• Higher property taxes.

• Poorer garbage collection with no options.

• A City Council that is often viewed as a sideshow when it comes to trying to make decisions. (Granted, the county Board of Supervisors acts this way at times, but why add another layer?)

We take pity on Walkup and his lonely state at City Hall. It looks as if he’s bound to stay that way.

Aug 18, 2006, 7:40 AM
It's gigantic - the kind of landmark some people think Tucson needs to distinguish itself and create a downtown draw Vint has no fondness for the Rainbow Bridge, whose arch would rise 370 feet above the ground - higher than Tucson's tallest building. "It's like it landed from Mars," Vint said. "It's totally alien. There's nothing about it that says Tucson. What makes a great community is urban life. I think that's what people want."

Ah, the NIMBYs. They make me feel so at home when I come to Tucson for the winter from San Francisco.

If people in Tucson wanted "urban life" it wouldn't be so d*mn hard to get them to move downtown. What they really seem to want is a house on 1/2 acre in the foothills and a Hummer (or F-250) in the garage.

Count me among those who think the bridge is a great idea. Everything being said now about the bridge was once said about the TransAmerica pyramid in SF which is, when all is said and done, a very impractical office building (the top third of it isn't even useable--read "rentable"-- space). Let's put something in the valley that can be seen from all over the valley to tell everyone that yes, there is a "downtown" Tucson.

Aug 18, 2006, 7:45 AM
There is no upside for a resident to want to become part of the city. Instead, you would:

• Be part of a higher crime rate.

• Higher city sales taxes.

• Higher property taxes.

• Poorer garbage collection with no options.

• A City Council that is often viewed as a sideshow when it comes to trying to make decisions. (Granted, the county Board of Supervisors acts this way at times, but why add another layer?)

All very true which is why this resident of unincorporated Green Valley has no interest in becoming part of Tucson (or Sahuarita for that matter).

I actually like Walkup--and I'm a Democrat. But the rest of Tucson's politicians strike me as unimaginative amateurs.

Aug 18, 2006, 8:53 AM
^^If you think Tucson is run by the NIMBY's, you're not alone:

Crown Tucson capital of NIMBYism
Steve Emerine
Inside Tucson Business
Aug. 14, 2006

“Neighbors push for RTA changes” was the headline on perhaps the most disturbing local-government story to come along in years. The Aug. 6 article in the Arizona Daily Star said some folks south of Tanque Verde Road don’t want Sabino Canyon Road extended through their area to connect with Kolb Road near East Speedway.

A companion story said some other people north of downtown want to stop the long-delayed completion of the Barraza-Aviation Parkway that would link southeast Tucson to Interstate 10 west of downtown. They don’t like the latest route planners are using after holding dozens of public meetings and spending who knows how many planning dollars. Pima County voters approved both projects May 16 as part of the 20-year Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) plan we’re financing with a new half-cent sales tax.

Advocates say the Sabino Canyon Road extension will relieve near-gridlock congestion at the intersection of Grant Road-Kolb Road and Tanque Verde Road, where a dinosaur statue at McDonald’s replaced the first site of the Tanque Verde Swap Meet. Transportation planners, motorists and voters want that relief. But the Udall Park Neighborhood Association says some of its members want the project either killed or put off for 15 years or so.

The downtown opponents say they want more information on traffic counts, presumably so non-traffic engineers in their group can second-guess the professionals who have been studying Barraza-Aviation for years.

In most cities, these objections wouldn’t be disturbing. Most people next to a proposed thoroughfare don’t want it built. They prefer putting it somewhere else. It’s the phenomenon known as “Not in My Back Yard,” and its followers are called NIMBYs. Local governments throughout the nation choose 99.9 percent of the time to proceed with good projects that will benefit the majority, even if NIMBYs don’t like them.

But Tucson is the uncrowned capital of NIMBYism. For decades, our city officials have fallen all over themselves to do dumb things that hurt us because a handful of vocal NIMBYs object to some project they think may impact them.

Remember when we spent millions to widen Pima Street from Swan Road to Wilmot Road a few years ago, only to have our City Council cave in to NIMBY nuttiness and narrow Pima from Columbus Boulevard to Alvernon Way? Before that, we reduced an entire network of four-lane collector streets to two lanes so bicyclists would have some fancy bike lanes to avoid. (If you don’t believe me, spend an hour counting bikes on Columbus some time. You won’t need all 10 fingers.)

And now, two City Council members who joined every other local governing-body member in the county earlier this year to endorse the RTA plan are encouraging NIMBYs who oppose these two projects. Independent Carol West, whose term expires next year, has written the RTA board opposing the Sabino Canyon project in her Ward 2. And Democrat José Ibarra, whose seat also is up in 2007, calls the Barraza-Aviation project in his Ward 1 “the first test on how the city is going to deal with the neighborhoods on these road projects.” Ominously, he adds: “If we fail on this project, then it does not look good” for later RTA plans to widen East Grant Road and East Broadway.


Scores of citizens served on committees to develop the RTA plan, thousands attended meetings to discuss it, and many more thousands voted for the plan on May 16. If we now let a couple of elected officials and some NIMBYs begin gutting that plan, project by project, all of us will be the losers.

So will our grandkids ... if they decide to stay here.

Aug 18, 2006, 4:06 PM
That's what I mean: unimaginitive amateurs!

Aug 19, 2006, 6:41 AM
Director Greg Shelko insists Rio Nuevo isn't dead, but admits the fate of various large projects--including mixed-use condo projects, the proposed arena, and the UofA science museum--remain in limbo:

Rio’s Shelko says sluggish doesn’t mean stopped
By Philip S. Moore,
Inside Tucson Business
Aug 18, 2006

Criticize it as sluggish, confused and all over the place, said Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko, but don’t say nothing is happening. Speaking at the August meeting of the Southern Arizona Architects & Engineers Marketing Association, Shelko said the city’s downtown revitalization plan is moving forward and, with up to $450 million in additional tax increment financing, promises to accomplish even more in the months ahead.

Calling downtown “the dog that people like to kick,” Shelko said criticism ignores the progress that’s been made. Noting the renovation of the Fox and Rialto theaters, the beginning of the Tucson Origins Heritage Park, construction work on the Mercado District at Menlo Park, completion of the new Pennington Street Garage, plans in place for The Post and Presidio Terrace mixed-use condominium projects, he said “to say nothing is happening is unfair.”

In supporting each project, the intent was to attract more people to the downtown. Because as they come, they create the traffic to support the private investment needed to make Rio Nuevo a success. “People think we supported the Fox and Rialto projects because they were great historic renovation projects,” Shelko said. “They were, but what interested us was their ability serve as economic engines.”

If downtown is going to rebound, he said, “It will only happen because of private investment. We’ll need multiple attractions that are constantly changing,” and with 1,200 as the capacity at the Fox and 800 at the Rialto, the theaters offer that kind of changing attraction. There’s also the new Arizona Historical Museum and Arizona State Museum, which will cover a 100,000-square-foot building area and attract from 250,000 to 400,000 visitors a year. They’re all part of making the city center a “cultural destination” with museums, performance venues, “and maybe, in the future, shopping.”

Beyond the visible projects, Shelko said the Rio Nuevo staff is working to make more land available for development, including 15 acres adjacent to the Mercado District, and to simplify the approval process, “to make this more customer friendly.” As for major public projects planned for the downtown area, he warned that changes are ahead. A civic center plaza with “La Encantada” style retail and multiple-story condominium developments is still in the planning stages, along with an “art walk” along Toole Avenue. In addition, expansion and remodeling of the former Radisson City Center hotel is planned by the owner, HSL Properties, which will expand it from 300 to 700 rooms, with additional meeting and convention space, and a new 65-room Hotel Santa Rita is taking shape.

There’s a proposal for a 12,500-seat arena, which is being prepared for review by the city council, “but this is estimated to be a $125 million to $130 million project. So, it will be a question of do we want it and are we willing to pay for it,” Shelko said. “Once the consultants are done developing a final building program, we’ll be bringing it to the mayor and council and it will be up to them to decide.”

As for the proposed science center, he said, “I doubt it will include a rainbow bridge.” Although the economic impact report “fairly accurately” demonstrates the benefits, “There isn’t the political support for giving them $250 million to $350 million to build it. Instead, we’re working with the university to see what Plan B is.”

Although the city’s reliance on mixed-use, high-dollar condominium projects may be affected by the nationwide decline in the condo market, he said, “We haven’t got a downtown condo market. So, there’s nothing for the bottom to fall out of.” Even though the cost of the multi-story condos will exceed $300 per square foot, Shelko said market studies suggest an absorption rate for approximately 300 units, based on housing sales on the edges of downtown. “We’re optimistic. We believe this new an emerging market may be affected by but not killed by the changing market.”

As for affordability, Rio Nuevo’s staff member for housing, Ann Vargas, said subsidies and incentives will be needed to preserve the city’s target 10 percent ratio of housing affordable to those making less than the median wage. Joining Shelko at the luncheon meeting, she said, “We’re helping neighborhoods to maintain housing, through investment in existing housing stock and subsidy for below-median income buyers.” She said, “It’s definitely a challenge in downtown, but there are options. You need to take a critical look at the context of a neighborhood and make decision based on what you find.”

Combining the goals of affordability with escalating land and residential construction prices will probably mean some form of government involvement and incentives. However, tearing down older neighborhoods to make way for higher-cost housing “isn’t part of the Rio Nuevo plan.”

Aug 19, 2006, 7:22 AM

Source: http://www.tucsonweekly.com/gbase/currents/Content?oid=oid:80049

Aug 19, 2006, 7:44 AM
The freeway in Tucson I mentioned before, running east along River Road from I-10, then looping south along Pantano Wash to I-10 again on the southeast side, then heading west by the airport on the south side of town before turning north on the near west side is not a simple "crosstown freeway" as you put it, and I apologize for not being more clear about my thought process here. I envision a true, albeit small beltway, and one sorely needed in that congested burg.

You guys seem to go on and on about building beltways in the northern half of the metro area. I don't think it's going to happen--too much opposition in an area that's already built up. But there IS going to be a cross-town freeway, partial beltway of sorts: The so-called Sahuarita Corridor connecting I-19 and I-10 south of town.


The Corridor is seen here as the northernmost of the two east-west routes in the far south (the most sourthern one is Sahuarita Rd, also due for major improvements including 4-laning but it will not become a limited access route like the Corridor).

This route should be a huge help by diverting Mexican truck traffic heading east to El Paso, San Antonio and Houston away from the downtown portion of I-10.

Aug 25, 2006, 1:50 AM
Tucson's mediocrity muddles on:

Rainbow Bridge plan evaporates
Tucson Citizen

Key downtown players applaud the University of Arizona's decision to drop its push for the $350 million Rainbow Bridge, which would have spanned Interstate 10 and the Santa Cruz River with a science museum suspended from the structure.
The controversial bridge project had been touted as the sort of "iconic" element that could make downtown Tucson a magnet for tourists and local residents.
In a letter to the mayor and City Council received Thursday afternoon, UA President Robert N. Shelton reiterated its commitment to a science center downtown and to moving the Arizona State Museum there.
"However, I am writing to share with you that we will no longer focus on housing the Science Center in what has become known as the 'Rainbow Bridge.'
"Clearly, the consensus among community stakeholders does not exist to build the bridge as we have conceived it."
Shelton consulted with key community figures including Mayor Bob Walkup, U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., and former UA President Peter Likins, he said in an interview with the Tucson Citizen Thursday.
"I came to the conclusion just over the weekend after giving this a lot of thought," he said. "I wanted to make sure I'd heard from everybody and that I didn't do anything too hastily."
Shelton's Rainbow Bridge letter was the first official communication that Mayor Bob Walkup received from UA's new president.
"I like the timeliness so we can get on with the issue of building a first-class science center," Walkup said.
Walkup was an early enthusiast of the bridge and suspending a science center from the bridge, but as cost estimates and engineering challenges filtered in, "my enthusiasm started to wane," the mayor said.
Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, who chairs the council's Rio Nuevo subcommittee, said: "I'm going to be looking forward to working with the university to find other creative alternatives. We want the science center as part of the Heritage Park. It was visionary but the price tag made it prohibitive."
Tucson Origins Heritage Park is the centerpiece of Rio Nuevo, the city's downtown revitalization plan.
Greg Shelko, director of the city's Rio Nuevo office, said the city is already working with the university on an alternative plan to bring the University of Arizona Science Center to the Tucson Origins Heritage Park on the west side of the Santa Cruz River.
Initial thoughts of how the park could be laid out were revealed at an open house yesterday and the science center was penciled in.
"I think it's a timely and important decision the president made to move on," Shelko said. "As he wrote, it was certainly bold and creative, but given the circumstances, it wasn't likely to occur."
Lillian Lopez-Grant, president of the West Side Coalition, a collection of neighborhood associations, heartily agrees with Shelko about bringing the science center to the Heritage Park, along with the Arizona Historical Society and Arizona State Museum. She campaigned hard against the Rainbow Bridge and was cheered to hear about its demise.
"Good," Lopez-Grant said. "It took one hell of a lot of effort (to kill the bridge). It was clearly an abomination. Nobody wanted the darn thing. I'm sure they can come up with something better."
Roger Karber, president of the Tucson Downtown Alliance's board of directors, said, "I think what needs to happen is the community rallies behind a world-class science center instead of a science center suspended from a bridge."
Karber is the developer who wants to add towers to the downtown Hotel Arizona.
At first, he said, "I really fell in love with the grandeur of the bridge. The more I thought about the magnitude of capital and risk, the less I liked it."
Donovan Durband, the alliance's executive director, said the science center needs to fit better into the fabric of the community.
"I would say the Rainbow Bridge did not (fit into the alliance's vision)," Durband said. "The science center does. We want to see a world-class science center. We still believe the University of Arizona will get a generous amount of Rio Nuevo funding to build it in a very attractive building."
Rio Nuevo, with City Council approval, invested $20 million into UA's proposed science center in 2003, and Alexis Faust, the center's executive director, is expected to ask for more Rio Nuevo money, perhaps in November.
Faust was on vacation and unavailable for comment, but she did issue a statement.
"The Rainbow Bridge design for the University of Arizona Science Center was only one model for creating a sustainable science center for Rio Nuevo. We look forward to working with the community to define an alternative plan for the Science Center that will be as sustainable and equally dynamic."
Economic impact studies prepared for the science center by ConsultEcon also explored the possibility of a $175 million science center on the east side of the freeway; and a $250 million science center and pedestrian bridge to link it to the heritage park.
ConsultEcon, however, said those options would require a substantial anchor project for success, such as the proposed Rainbow Bridge.
In 2004, the cost of a science center was pegged at $96 million, but the following year, acclaimed architect Rafael Viñoly was brought on and he was inspired by a rainbow he saw near Flagstaff.
He incorporated that idea and decided to suspend the science center from a 370-foot-tall arch. The cost estimate escalated to $350 million.

Aug 25, 2006, 4:00 AM
I'm leery of any project that promises to catapult a city from one tier to the next. While I think world-class architecture can go a long way to redressing the civic malpractice that all American cities have suffered from for decades, it can't simply be a show-stopper. Ideally, the project would integrate parts of the city stranded by thoughtless road and freeway projects. But the fabric of the existing city has to be the main focus. Downtown Tucson is sleepy and forgotten, and Vegasizing the place might seem like a solution. Except bringing in thousands of more cars means more fabric ripped out of the city for parking lots and city-killing garages.

The best solution may be, to paraphrase Pat Moynihan, benign neglect. Downtown has some jewels spread among the cowpies and crapola. The magic can be nurtured but it can't be forced. Arenas and tourist attractions, in that regard, miss the point by a wide mile. Phoenix used that strategy and downtown is still dead. Worse, it's even more charmless.

Any strategy for making downtown relevant has to address the primary problem with all American cities: cars. Without effective mass transit, city cores are fatally compromised. Even good cities like San Diego suffer from too many cars and too few rails. This results in a city with lots of potential but hamstrung by a transportation system pretty much designed for suburbs.

I'd like to see Tucson grow its downtown organically and slowly. Increase density AND discourage car travel. Give incentives to developers who understand urbanism. Gradually radiate mass transit outward to serve this core and its adjoining neighborhoods. Inventory every old building to see if it can somehow become part of a retail landscape. When possible, bring in new players who can fit comfortably inside this growing organism.

Skycrapers without urbanism is a disease pretending to be a solution. It's common in Sunbelt cities, which explains why so many western cities are fairly horrible. Tucson is bad but not THAT bad. There is still reasonable hope that Tucson can redeem itself not with bold strokes and arrogant planning but with human-scaled efforts and simple respect.

Aug 25, 2006, 5:32 AM
Along with a plethora of New Urbanism examples from other cities, Tucson also has a wealth of historic architecture in its older neighborhoods that can provide clues for what this next round of downtown redevelopment could look like. (And I agree that a bunch of massive parking garages to accommodate a new arena or convention center expansion would significantly detract from a more urban fabric in the downtown core.)

However, I am encouraged by a few components of Rio Nuevo, such as the Mercado District of Menlo Park now under construction, which aims to incorporate higher density, "barrio"-style residential areas within walking distance of offices, retailers and cultural amenities. Car garages will be at the rear of homes, accessed through alleys, and small pocket parks with indigenous plants will be interspersed throughout the neighborhood.

The silver lining in the cloud of Tucson's boisterous NIMBYism may be that its downtown will evolve more organically, and more sustainable solutions will emerge over time to counter the hubris of developers and architects claiming to have a panacea for downtown with their latest "signature" project. Resisting such temptations, Tucson may have a chance to recreate a city center that is enjoyed by both residents and visitors alike, and one that will be a source of civic pride rather than an embarrassment.

Aug 25, 2006, 4:13 PM
Arenas and tourist attractions, in that regard, miss the point by a wide mile. Phoenix used that strategy and downtown is still dead. Worse, it's even more charmless.

The problem with large, grand projects like arenas is that they offer large blank walls to the sidewalk. What successful downtowns require is people walking around. In order to lure them to do that, interesting things to look at, normally storefronts, need to be continuously present where you want them to walk. With things like convention centers and arenas, they simply walk from their cars to the venue and back to their cars, if they have to go outside at all.

One thing I liked about the Rainbow Bridge, aside from its overall drama, was that it took a building which will necessarily be large and probably offer us lots of parking lots and blank walls and made it both pedestrian friendly and unobtrusive to the downtown (because it would have been suspended over the freeway).

But Tucson will have more of what it has plenty of now, but those things will not accomplish the revitalization of downtown. What would is lots of housing, public transportation and street-fronting businesses. Yes, the Mercado District project offers some housing, but multiply by a factor of about 20 and we might be getting somewhere.

Aug 28, 2006, 9:29 PM
Now that the "Rainbow Bridge" proposal is history, attention has shifted to the possibility of a new arena. TCC officials want to relocate the current arena out of the existing convention center, so it can be updated and expanded to attract enough business to stop the current negative cash flow from city coffers:
(For the city's viewpoint see: http://www.tucsonaz.gov/tcc/pdfs/arena_brochure.pdf. )

early rendering of a new downtown arena

Rainbow Bridge's exit opens door for arena plan
Our view: Tucsonans can now refocus their energies on other Rio Nuevo projects that had been overshadowed by pricey 'icon'

Arizona Daily Star - Opinion

Our compliments to University of Arizona President Robert Shelton, who last week formally abandoned the Rainbow Bridge as a component of the yet-to-be built Downtown science center. Architect Rafael Viñoly's design for a dramatic arch spanning Interstate 10 and the Santa Cruz River — which would have been lit up like a rainbow — was engaging and provocative, but its $350 million price tag made it prohibitive.

It took the university a long time to get that message. Shelton, a new resident who became UA president last month, may have been just what the project needed — a fresh set of eyes. The Rainbow Bridge idea evaporated because UA raised only $100 million of the needed $350 million, and the city said it would pledge no more than $50 million. Nobody ever figured out how to raise the remaining $200 million. Shelton saw that the project lacked not only money but political support. Goodbye, Rainbow Bridge. Hello, everything else.

As long as the bridge proposal remained unresolved, it functioned as a financial tourniquet that held back the flow of numerous other projects in the Rio Nuevo district, as the city's Downtown urban renewal project is called. Rio Nuevo director Greg Shelko said the city will now turn its attention to other projects, and especially to planning an arena that would be located somewhere between the Tucson Convention Center and Interstate 10.

The idea of building an arena has been kicking around for several years. Last fall, the city hired a consultant to conduct a marketing study. The consultant said the city could support a 12,500-seat arena and expect bookings about 150 days a year. The city estimates that the community center with its existing arena presently attracts about 250,000 people a year. If a larger arena were built, it could attract about 700,000 people a year, the consultants maintained.

But arena plans remained in limbo because, if the Rainbow Bridge project were built, it would have absorbed huge amounts of Downtown land and had a major impact on everything around it. "I've had the brakes on waiting for this to get resolved," said Rich Singer, director of the TCC and the person chiefly responsible for the arena project.

The arena is not likely to cost anything approaching the $350 million Rainbow Bridge estimate, but the project is still likely to be expensive and will trigger a lively debate. Shelko wants to get the project to the City Council for a vote in the next six months but concedes that might be an optimistic estimate. Today, nobody knows what the arena would cost to build because it hasn't yet been designed.

Singer says HNTB Architects of Los Angeles expects to produce a conceptual design of the arena in about a month. That will enable the city to put a price tag on the project and compare the expense of building the facility with the amount of revenue it's likely to generate from sports events, concerts and other uses.

The UA's Rainbow Bridge, even though it became impractical to pursue, was valuable to the extent that it inspired local leaders and other residents to spend more time thinking about the kind of Tucson they want to see Downtown. We hope the talk focuses on the need to capitalize on Tucson's desert climate and landscape. The Rainbow Bridge might have been an engaging monument, but it was mistakenly pitched as "iconic." Tucson, an old city in the Sonoran Desert, is already an icon, and one not to be found anywhere else in the world. Let's move forward with that in mind.

Aug 29, 2006, 6:05 AM
In addition to two new mixed-use towers as part of their expansion of the Hotel Arizona (the former Radisson), HSL Properties is bullish enough on downtown's future to include up to 400k sq.ft. of retail in their plans for Diamond Rock Plaza:

Developer incorporates retail center into hotel plans
By Philip S. Moore
Inside Tucson Business
Aug 25, 2006

Plans to include a high-dollar retail project named Diamond Rock Plaza are now being proposed as part of owner HSL Properties’ plans to redevelop Tucson’s largest downtown hotel. What makes the proposal, say developers, are several things that are about to come together: A surge in conventions, more shoppers from Mexico, more residents in the downtown area and a new streetcar line that was approved by voters in May as part of the Regional Transportation Plan.

HSL announced plans to include between 100,000 square feet and 400,000 square feet of retail space into their $130 million plan to redevelop and expand the Hotel Arizona, 181 W. Broadway. The retail development would be on the southeast corner of Congress Street at Granada Avenue. Located above the hotel’s underground parking garage, the retail center would become a centerpiece for HSL’s sprawling complex of hotel, office, residential and conference space. It is also adjacent to the Tucson Convention Center. Already announced plans for the hotel include construction of two towers that would give the hotel 700 rooms.

Developers say Diamond Rock Plaza would the first retail center construction downtown since La Placita Village was built more than 30 years ago. Developer Roger Karber said it’s the right time for the development. With the retail business expanding and Rio Nuevo projects ready to move forward, he said the potential is there, and just awaits a plan to make it happen. “What we have is a whole different dynamic downtown now,” Karber said. National retailers are looking for locations adjacent to convention centers and interstates. Downtowns across the country are also becoming cultural and entertainment hubs.

The entertainment options are well on their way with last year’s opening of the refurbished Fox Tucson Theatre and renovations of the Rialto Theatre. There is also the anticipated expansion and remodeling planned for the Tucson Convention Center and talk of an arena downtown. Karber said he believes larger-square-foot national stores, such as Barnes & Noble and Crate & Barrel, are prepared to make the move downtown.

Pointing to the example of Houston as another dispersed city responding to the new dynamic, Karber said “They have witnessed the growth of this kind of mix of professional offices, residential condominiums, hotel and convention and retail. It may be unusual for Tucson, but it’s getting built. It will work here.” Diamond Rock Plaza is the place where the transformation can begin, Karber said, envisioning that national retailers could be located on the western side of downtown, near Interstate 10, “while local stores will locate further up Congress.” He said local residents won’t have to wait long to see it happen, either. “I think we’ll find that this will evolve very quickly and transform the look of the whole downtown,” Karber said.

For now, work continues with bond underwriters Piper-Jaffrey on development of a financing plan. Once that’s completed, Karber said HSL Properties will be presenting it to the City Council for approval. If that vote goes well, “we expect to start the first stage, remodeling the existing hotel, immediately after the gem and mineral show.” Various stages of the project will continue over the next three years, with a completion date in late 2009 or early 2010, “Because we want to be up and going in time for the 2010 Gem and Mineral Show.”

Whatever way the plan proceeds, Downtown Tucson Alliance’s executive director, Donovan Durband, said the momentum from the Fox and Rialto re-openings, as well as the success of Broadway in Tucson, is changing how the entertainment industry looks at Congress Street. “I think we’re going to see a step up from the small storefront bar options as interest grows in space for larger venues.” Unlike Fourth Avenue, which primarily caters to the University of Arizona, Durband said Congress “should have a more general appeal.”

He said expansion of the Hotel Arizona into the Diamond Rock Plaza will depend on renovation and expansion of Tucson Convention Center “and Tucson needs an arena. Neither will be magic bullets, but we should have them downtown.” Further development will also follow projects like The Post mixed use project, from 26 to 72 East Congress St., and reconstruction of the Fourth Avenue underpass, “which fill in an empty space and unite the central part of downtown,” Durband said.

So will the 4.2-mile streetcar system, which is planned to travel a route from the University of Arizona Medical Center to the downtown area. “Streetcars have become popular, even in cities where the automobile has been dominant for years. In Tucson, it will provide incentive for developers to build along its route,” Durband said.

But it won’t just be one or two major projects that revive downtown, he said. “The downtown plan needs to be an accumulation of a lot of little plans,” Durband said. “What we do downtown has to be multi-layered and multi-pronged, so that no one proposal can make or break what happens.”

Aug 29, 2006, 10:01 PM
An interesting note on new housing in downtown Tucson: I got a call the other day from a rep. of one of the residential builders at the new Mercado District at Menlo Park, as I had signed up on an interest list awhile back. She mentioned that the units were currently priced from the "upper $400's to the low $700's," that they had already sold 4 of their 25 residences, and those prices would probably be going up soon (even though the first units won't be available until late 2007).

Hmmm...I thought that was rather interesting. So these folks really believe there are buyers out there willing to shell out anywhere from $475k-$725k for a 1500-2500 sq. ft. townhome in a downtown that is still basically dead, even when the average price for a home in the foothills is only $450k?

Although I like the project and what they're trying to do, those prices are way over the top for Tucson, IMO, even for die-hard urbanists willing to be the pioneers in a redeveloping downtown that, even if all goes well, probably won't have much of an urban vibe for at least another 5-10 years.

Maybe after the real estate market returns to some sanity in a few years, I might consider buying in the area. However, with the current and projected downturn in the market, I'm afraid these developers are facing a rocky road ahead. (And I suppose the same could apply to high-end condos in downtown Phoenix, even though its downtown is somewhat "further along" at this stage.)

Aug 29, 2006, 10:20 PM
these folks really believe there are buyers out there willing to shell out anywhere from $475k-$725k for a 1500-2500 sq. ft. townhome in a downtown that is still basically dead, even when the average price for a home in the foothills is only $450k?

Although I like the project and what they're trying to do, those prices are way over the top for Tucson, IMO, even for die-hard urbanists willing to be the pioneers in a redeveloping downtown that, even if all goes well, probably won't have much of an urban vibe for at least another 5-10 years . . . .

Maybe after the real estate market returns to some sanity in a few years, I might consider buying in the area. However, with the current and projected downturn in the market, I'm afraid these developers are facing a rocky road ahead. (And I suppose the same could apply to high-end condos in downtown Phoenix, even though its downtown is somewhat "further along" at this stage.)

I come at this from apparently a very different perspective. $300/sq ft for a new downtown condo, presumeably with fairly high end finishes, doesn't seem at all expensive to me as compared to what I'm used to in the Bay Area: $1000/sq ft for nice new construction. And I am not expecting the real estate downturn to affect Tucson all that much. In spite of constantly reading about the dramatically rising local prices over the last year or two, they still don't seem all that high from a California perspective and as long as you have as many Californians like me moving in, which you will continue to have, I don't think they'll drop much.

There are reasons that part-year residents especially may prefer a condo to a house in the foothills. With the condo, they essentially lock the door and drive away in the spring with nothing much to worry about. That's what I do with my SF condo but when I'm here I'm constantly wondering about whether the hailstorm damaged my roof or the irrigation system sprang a leak in Green Valley. Where my family lives in the Daytona FL area, this phenomenon has caused condo prices to be shockingly higher than detached home prices on a per sq. ft basis. The snowbirds simply don't want to have to worry about exterior maintenance and security issues.

I don't know what the future of projects like the Mercado is, but hopefully the developers have a better grip on the market than we do and I wouldn't call them crazy without a thorough market analysis because there are reasons they may be right.

Aug 30, 2006, 5:25 AM
I should probably post this graph in City Discussions, but it seems apropos of what obsesses us here in Arizona. There's a lot of shakiness in the housing industry at the moment and an overall sense that a shake-out might be coming. This graph suggests real-estate essentially took over from tech stocks as the bubble of choice. Has there been some fundamental shift if housing costs that warrants such a steep climb? Condos in a sleepy downtown Tucson might not seem like any kind of bargain if the coming correction unfolds as predicted.

http://img246.imageshack.us/img246/2672/houserx0.jpg (http://imageshack.us)

Aug 30, 2006, 5:54 AM
If you look more closely at that graph, it started to take off in 1997 so it doesn't seem to be so much a function of money switching out of tech stocks. What it probably is a function of is exessively "easy" money from the Fed. Prior to 2000, they pumped up the money supply to ward off some unknown horror at the turn of the millenium (remember how all the world's computers were supposed to do something awful) and then they redoubled that effort after 9/11. That flood of money is what actually caused the tech stock bubble and the housing price bubble. But the thing is, they haven't stopped yet. The decision this month to stop raising interest rates because inflation MAY go away means the easy money policy continues. Remember that the Dow Jones Average remains near its all-time high. Houses are more like Dow stocks than like tech stocks.

Barring a drastic change in Fed policy, I'm not too concerned about house prices. They will correct severely in places like Las Vegas and Miami where speculation was rampant but I did not see that either in San Francisco or Tucson. I don't know about Phoenix (I think people make a mistake assuming the Tucson and Phoenix markets are one). My own index in SF has to do with rentals in my condo. When the place was new (24 years ago), it was among the first group of new big downtown condos built in SF in a long time and many people did buy units for investment. Those units were rented and they approached 45% of all units in the building. This spring, I asked the building manager what percentage were rented now and she told me under 30%, an all-time low. I have heard nothing to suggest that even the newer buildings in town, which are being snapped up, are being bought as investments. We actually did have a big drop in prices in 2000/2001 because the dot-com bust hit especially hard here, but I view that like having cowpox which makes you immune from some sort of smallpox now.

In my Tucson neighborhood, I did notice a bit of speculation. A few of my retired neighbors perceived themselves land barrons and one or two bought properties in the neighborhood and tried to flip them. But it was very few and the prices they tried to get were, IMHO, ridiculous and they didn't get them (example--One old fool bought a house like the one I paid $89K for in 2001 and, after minor repairs, tried to sell it last year for $189K). In 2001 I thought Tucson prices were undervalued. Now, I'd call them a little inflated but nothing drastic. I think the main threat is overbuilding, not speculation, but the cost of new construction is rising enough that the value of new houses can't really drop to the point of threatening the value of older homes like mine.

Don B.
Aug 30, 2006, 2:21 PM
Soleri, that graph is fascinating. Thanks!

BT, Phoenix is probably in the same boat as Tucson. What I find interesting is that Tucson's housing prices are similar, especially when you correlate them to income, as Tucson's real estate prices are about 10% less than Phoenix's prices and Phoenix's per capita (or median, or household - pick your poison) incomes are about 10% higher than Tucson's.

Tucson $16,322
Mesa $19,601
Phoenix $19,833

Phoenix $272,200
Tucson $247,300


Aug 30, 2006, 11:52 PM
Here's the latest from Schiller himself (the guy who created that graph above):

Full House

August 30, 2006; Page A10

Looking back at past housing booms, the first sign of the end is when a goodly share of buyers stop making offers and eventually stop looking, seeming to just disappear. In the spring of 1987, during another U.S. housing-market boom that was starting to lose speed, Nora Moran, president of the Greater Boston real estate board, said "someone blew a whistle that only dogs and buyers heard."

Across America today, it is as if the whistle has again been blown. New home sales in July are 22% below July 2005. The decrease is 43% for the Northeast over that same period, and the inventory of unsold new homes is up 22%. Existing home sales are down to 6.33 million in July from over seven million at the end of 2005. Older boomers are cashing out of valuable suburban homes and heading for condos in the city, or out of high-priced regions altogether.

Why is this happening so suddenly? It can't be interest rates alone. The 30-year mortgage rate is up less than one percentage point since this time last year, and is no higher than it was a few years ago when this boom was roaring along.

The market spoiler was in place some two years ago. At that time, we felt that the spectacular price increases could not be justified. The psychology of that time could not continue indefinitely, and indeed it has not.

In the summer of 2004, the annual rate of increase for home prices in major U.S. cities reached its peak. According to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller Composite Home Price Index, based on 10 major metro areas, housing inflation reached 20.4% in the 12 months ending in July 2004. Now, the latest numbers announced yesterday show only an 8.2% increase in the 12 months ending June 2006, and most of that increase was in 2005. Six of the 10 cities actually fell between May and June. By simple extrapolation, if housing price changes continue to decline as they have, inflation will turn into deflation, and 12-month price changes might be squarely in negative territory by some time in 2007.

Talk is part of what changes the mood and actions of buyers, and the air is now full of talk of a bust. The covers of the New Yorker, the Economist, The Wall Street Journal and virtually every news magazine and newspaper in America has heralded the bursting of the "housing bubble."

Part of what has focused the spotlight on the housing market has been the sheer size of the boom. Ten years ago, U.S. household holdings of real estate were valued at just under $8 trillion, about 40% as large as household financial wealth. At the end of 2005, real-estate holdings were $21.6 trillion, 56% as large as financial wealth. Just in the last five years, the total market value of residential real estate alone has increased by nearly $10 trillion.

New construction, initiated in response to high home prices, has reached unprecedented levels, and new houses are still hitting the market just as demand is dropping. Between 2000 and 2005, housing starts were over two million per year, existing home sales were over six million per year, and home-improvement spending hit $162 billion in 2005. All of this generated income for millions of brokers, builders, bankers, appliance dealers and construction workers, and kept the economy growing at a strong clip. But the housing construction boom can't go on forever.

This incredible boom has been fueled in part by favorable demographics, low interest rates, a very liquid mortgage market with low down payments and borrower-friendly underwriting (option arms, interest-only, stated-income, etc.), a baby boomer generation with a special taste for housing, a substantial volume of foreign demand, and the poor overall performance of the stock market.

But beyond all these factors there is the simple psychology of expectations that is part of any speculative boom. These expectations can turn suddenly when alert home buyers get the sense that something might be amiss. Among respondents to our questionnaire survey of home buyers in April and May of this year, the median expected 12-month home price increase in Los Angeles was only 5%, compared to 10% in early 2005. In Boston, the median expectation was down to 2% from 5% last year.

Long-term expectations for home price appreciation have fallen much less. Americans haven't changed their basic views on housing as a great long-term investment. Not yet, at least. That won't happen unless there is a protracted housing price decline.

While our surveys indicate that relatively few expect prices to actually fall, buyers do not want to pay prices that are significantly higher than a year ago. Buyers are waiting and low-balling. Sellers want to get a price increase of the kind they've observed in the recent past. The result is that fewer agreements are reached, and sales fall. If the housing market were like the bond market and all houses for sale were auctioned every day, prices would indeed fall precipitously. But they are not. The aggregate indexes based on repeat sales have decelerated markedly but are not yet falling.

The U.S. now has a futures market based on home prices. The market that opened in May at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is now showing backwardation in all 10 metropolitan areas trading. The backwardation can be expressed as implying a rate of decline of 5% a year for the S&P/Case-Shiller Composite Index by May 2007. Since the margin requirement is only about 2.5%, an investor who is sure that prices cannot actually fall by next May has, on that assumption, a sure return of at least 200% from buying a futures contract, and even more if prices rise at all. But there can't really be so much "money on the table." It must be that people really no longer see it as a sure thing that prices won't start falling across the metro areas.

As always, the future is uncertain. Many of the underpinnings of the boom are still strong, and the soft-landing scenario so widely promoted by economists and industry leaders is a possibility if the U.S. can avoid a generalized inflation, if long rates don't rise a lot, and if the rest of the economy stays strong. But that possibility is not enough to give great comfort to all those who worry today about the housing market.

Unfortunately, there is significant risk of a very bad period, with slow sales, slim commissions, falling prices, rising default and foreclosures, serious trouble in financial markets, and a possible recession sooner than most of us expected. Deterioration in that intangible housing market psychology is the most uncertain factor in the outlook today. Listen hard and watch out.

Mr. Case is professor of economics at Wellesley. Mr. Shiller is professor of economics at Yale and chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC.

URL for this article:

A lot of "ifs" in there. Doesn't sound like he thinks it's as simple as the curve reverting to base levels. I do think we'll see some price declines but I just don't think they will be as bad in Tucson as in places like Las Vegas. And having recently been through a market where prices declined as much as 20-30%, it came and went and as long as you weren't planning to sell, it didn't matter much.

Sep 6, 2006, 7:27 PM
City, Town West sign project pact
Downtown condo-brewery deal excludes Nimbus owner, originator

By Rob O'Dell

The city and Town West Design Development have signed a development agreement for a $40 million condominium and brewery project. The agreement will go before the City Council today. However, the agreement completely excludes any mention of Nimbus Brewery, owned by Jim Counts, who originally had an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city for the 1.9-acre property on the north edge of Downtown. Counts, who was once a partner with Town West, said he was "back doored," and would sue and "have our day in court" if he is left out of it.

The agreement also leaves tough questions over environmental remediation for the site, affordable housing and parking for a later day. The city and Town West will have 90 days after the agreement is signed to work out the details on all three questions. If they can't, either party can terminate the agreement. "There are still key deal components that still need to be worked out," said Town West lawyer Bob Gugino, who added he favored such an approach. "We always knew this would be a multistage transaction because of the complexity of it."

He said it is possible Counts could be part of the deal, but said "there is no agreement" with Counts, "nor is there a discussion ongoing." A draft version of the agreement did mention Nimbus Brewery, which kicked off the interest in developing the property in July 2005 by proposing to move the brewery Downtown from its location west of Davis-Monthan Air Force base.

The city granted him a 90-day exclusive negotiating agreement in October 2005, which Counts failed to meet. Counts brought in Town West as a partner in April to save the proposal. But Town West told a council panel in August it considered a tentative joint development agreement that included $2.65 million in subsidies for Counts to be void.

Counts said he was surprised the new agreement doesn't mention him, making only vague "third-party agreements" for uses of more than 10,000 square-feet. He said he will meet with Town West officials later this week. He said Nimbus and Town West had a written agreement along with verbal agreements, including one in public when he said Town West promised to include Nimbus in the project. He said he considers Town West in breach of its contract. "I've been robbed, basically," Counts said. "I'm not going to sit back and let it happen."

The agreement between Town West and the city has the developer repay a portion of the $700,000 in gas tax money that the city used to buy the site at North Stone Avenue and West Franklin Street. City Manager Mike Hein said the amount will depend on how much of the land is used by Town West, and how much of the land will be used for public space, including an art walk, and potentially an amphitheater. Town West is proposing about 140 condos and up to 45,000 square feet of retail space plus the brewery.

Many local artisans, including Natasha Winnik, oppose the plan because they say it is inconsistent with the Warehouse Arts District master plan, and that Town West was improperly given exclusive rights to the property. Hein said more than 50 percent of the property will be private space, for which Town West will pay. Under the terms in the deal, the city would vacate Ninth Avenue, pay to move utilities and pay for public use of a parking garage.

Much of the discussions have centered around environmental remediation, city officials said. The city was willing to commit between $500,000 to $1 million for remediation, but will wait until the environmental assessment is finalized in October to finalize those terms.

Sep 8, 2006, 4:48 AM
An update on a few downtown historic preservation projects:

Rialto Facelift Set to Begin
Downtown Tucsonan
September, 2006

Rialto Theatre, circa 1925

Rialto Theatre - original stage

new marquee - 2005

(for more info.: http://www.rialtotheatre.com/)

First, the theater interior was renovated. Then, the neon marquee was installed. This summer, air-conditioned cool air filled the theater. The next move in the redevelopment of the 300 block of East Congress, aka the Rialto Block, is finally beginning in September with renovation of the historic Rialto Building’s entire façade. The project is expected to take about five months to complete.

“After nearly four years of excruciating delay, I’m thrilled we can finally do what I promised to do back in 2002,” said Doug Biggers. He and his partner, architect Tom Powers, are the force behind Rialto Redux, LLC, a small development company with a passionate commitment to historic preservation and the revitalization of Downtown. Rialto Redux owns the entire block except for the Rialto Theatre, which is owned by the Rio Nuevo District.

The renovation of the building’s façade will follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, which means it complies with best practices for the restoration and renovation of historic buildings. The façade renovation is the first phase in a complete rehabilitation of the Rialto Building, which was one of Tucson’s first mixed-use projects when it was built in 1920. The second floor will have 14 unique market-rate apartments for rent, and will also house the Rialto Theatre’s administrative offices. The ground floor will be anchored by a restaurant/bar, which will feature a private courtyard in the back of the building. Biggers said they are very close to announcing a deal with a restaurateur. Other ground-floor uses under discussion are an indie record store, a small market and office lofts on the Fifth Avenue frontage. The Rialto Theatre will expand its box office and concession area into two storefronts on the east end of the building.

“We wanted to start with the façade first, since it has the greatest impact visually. The rest of the project is being sequenced during and after the façade work, with completion of the entire rehabilitation scheduled for August 2007,” said Biggers. Planning and design work is still ongoing for the south side of the block. “In the end, we want to make the south side of the building as architecturally memorable as the Congress and Fifth Avenue façades,” Biggers said. “The renovated façade will dramatically improve the entire block, but I’m especially pleased about its positive impact on the theatre and its operations,” said Biggers. “It’s amazing that so many of the theatre’s patrons have been willing to tolerate the block in its current abysmal condition. I believe that investment in the façade can help us to continue to build audience for the theatre’s programming.”

As executive director of the nonprofit foundation that leases the Rialto Theatre from the City, Biggers oversaw a $600,000 renovation of the theatre in 2005, including the installation of a new marquee in June 2005. Re-opened in April 2005 after being closed for almost a year, the Rialto Theatre has hosted more than 130 concert events, with nearly 80,000 patrons passing through its doors. The redevelopment of the Rialto Block was made possible by a partnership between the City, an independent nonprofit foundation, and the private sector, all of which are working together to leverage public and private dollars to catalyze the revitalization of East Congress Street.

Biggers is concerned that public investment be made as strategically as possible on the east end of Downtown. “It’s important that we get the details right on the final design for the Fourth Avenue underpass and move swiftly to a construction start date within a year.” “I can’t emphasize how important it is to make other key decisions so the modern streetcar project is not delayed,” Biggers said. “Having been to Portland and seen the evidence of what happened in the Pearl District, the community needs to understand that the streetcar will have a profound economic development impact on the entire corridor. It’s a key component to making the larger Downtown area finally hit critical mass.”


* Significant repair of masonry elements and complete plaster repair and repainting of the entire building.
* Replication of the prismatic, leaded-glass transoms above the storefronts along Congress and Fifth Avenue, at a cost of nearly $75,000.
* Virtually the entire ground-floor façade is being demolished to remove modern aluminum window frames and doors installed in the mid-1980s. In their place will be marble bases for the storefront windows, wood doors, and replication of the original window frames. What little original material that remains will be restored.
* The dilapidated wood windows are being replaced with high quality, historically accurate replicas.
* Rehab of all second floor balcony elements.
* The façade project will cost approximately $400,000, with $150,000 coming from a Back to Basics grant from Mayor Walkup and the Ward 6 office.

Downtown Tucsonan
September, 2006

90-year old Marist College building

It’s a bit of an ironic puzzle that while millions of dollars in Rio Nuevo monies will be spent on Tucson Origins to re-create historical buildings that no longer exist, some still-standing historical buildings continue to deteriorate due to neglect or lack of funding. One of these still-standing-but-not-for-long historic structures is the 90-year-old Marist College building at West Ochoa Street and South Church Avenue. Local architects say the three-story adobe building, used as a Catholic school from 1915-1968, is unique --- the last of its kind --- the only three-story adobe building still standing in Southern Arizona.

The need to address this situation, and the irony that the Mission San Agustin complex and El Presidio de Tucson are being rebuilt through Rio Nuevo’s Tucson Origins, are not lost on Downtown business owner Jeff DiGregorio. “I hope that we’re not setting ourselves up for another Tucson Origins project in the future, where we have to spend a lot of money to re-create something that we could have saved today,” says DiGregorio, who, along with partner Chuck Bressi, owns and operates the Royal Elizabeth Bed and Breakfast Inn on South Scott Avenue, just a block away from the Marist Building. “Building Tucson Origins is absolutely the right thing to do, but let’s not forget about what is crumbling before our eyes.”

The structure suffered a major blow last year when parts of the northwest corner of the building fell off during the monsoon season. Additional rain this monsoon season has brought more deterioration to the building, vacant since 2002. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson estimates a $2-to-$3 million cost to refurbish the place and the Friends of St. Augustine Historic Preservation Project have begun a fund-raiser. Ward One City Council Member Jose Ibarra has contributed $24,000 for a more exact cost study by the City Urban Planning Department. Ibarra has indicated the building would be designed for some kind of public use, should it be refurbished. The diocese has indicated interest in using the building as a museum to celebrate the history of Catholicism and other religions in Tucson. Repeated attempts to reach Council Member Ibarra to determine the status of the cost study proved unsuccessful.

Sep 8, 2006, 9:07 AM
A Portland, OR developer with a decent track record has apparently taken over the troubled redevelopment of the downtown MLK housing project:

MLK project may not be demolished
By Rob O'Dell

Oregon developers pitched a radical redesign of the Downtown Martin Luther King housing project Thursday that saves the building from the wrecking ball and adds new retail space and market-rate housing to the project. Gone is the plan to demolish the building and construct a new $15 million, four-story, 66-unit affordable housing complex in its place. Instead, developers Williams and Dame out of Portland want to gut the building and remodel it for as many as 85 market-rate condominiums and 11 low-income units.

Also new is the developer itself, Williams and Dame, which bought the rights to develop the project from local developers Doug Biggers and Tom Powers. Matt Brown, the project manager for Williams and Dame, wouldn't say how much the company paid for those rights to develop the city-owned land. A City Council panel approved the project unanimously Thursday, clearing the way for a development agreement to be signed between the city and the Portland developer, with the whole council potentially getting the chance to approve the deal by the end of the month.

In addition to refurbishing the 37-year-old MLK building, between 5,000 square feet and 9,000 square feet of retail space would be constructed along Congress Street, on the portion of the site between the street and the former housing project, which is set back from Congress. Plans also call for the city to help pay for a two-story underground parking garage that could accommodate more than 300 parking spaces. Two new buildings to the north of MLK site would be built as well, a 68-unit assisted-living center that would be constructed and run by the city, and a five- or six-story building built by Williams and Dame that would house a minimum of 3,000 square feet of retail, and a minimum of 45 market-rate apartments or condominiums and 11 affordable-housing units. Brown said the refurbishment of the MLK building could cost between $6 million and $9 million and the entire value of the project could be $20 million to $25 million.

He said Williams and Dame have done many projects in downtown Portland and recently did a project in downtown Los Angeles. Brown said that if everything goes well, the refurbished MLK building could be ready for tenants in a year. That fact could be big, given the noticeable lack of progress in the city's Downtown Rio Nuevo redevelopment plan that was approved in 1999, said Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, who said she liked the plan. "It's so important that people see something," she said.

The MLK project caused a firestorm in June because the city's Community Services Department, led by director Emily Nottingham, scrapped longstanding plans for the site without any public discussion. Nottingham's design would have doubled the building's footprint, taking up to two-thirds of the land and leaving little space for the market-rate housing and commercial development to be built by a private developer.

This caused outrage from the Downtown development community, as did the revelation that the project had acquired nearly $1 million in Rio Nuevo funds for a public plaza, but quietly scrapped the plaza and kept the money. Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko said that money — along with more redevelopment money — would likely go toward parking or streetscape improvements.

Sep 14, 2006, 8:24 AM
Now that the Rainbow Bridge idea is history, Rio Nuevo's Greg Shelko says the UofA Science Center should be built on the west side of the soon-to-be-widened I-10, joining new buildings for the AZ Historical Society and the AZ State Museum, all linked to the east portion of Rio Nuevo with wider freeway underpasses to accommodate the new trolley and additional pedestrian traffic:

After the Rainbow
Proposals to link Rio Nuevo projects move under Interstate 10

by Dave Devine
Tucson Weekly
September 14, 2006

The spectral light of the University of Arizona's Rainbow Bridge may have faded, but city officials still believe downtown's Rio Nuevo project can be viably connected across the thundering traffic of Interstate 10. But instead of soaring over the roadway, that will mean going underneath it.

"The connection options haven't changed, because they weren't about the Rainbow Bridge," says Greg Shelko, Rio Nuevo's director. "The city has partially funded $9 million in improvements for the Clark Street underpass which leads to a bridge across the Santa Cruz River." The Clark Street route will allow vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and even a modern street car to move freely under the highway, Shelko says. Current plans call for expanding the sidewalks on Clark Street, which runs beneath I-10 a few blocks south of Congress Street, to a whopping 70-feet in width. Further south, on 18th Street, a pedestrian-only passageway 120 feet wide will be implemented.

Both these enhancements are part of the long-anticipated I-10 widening project between Prince Road and 29th Street. Two $200 million-plus bids for this construction work were recently opened, the lowest being 13 percent higher than the $177 million budgeted. The Arizona Department of Transportation Board is scheduled to review its options at a meeting on Sept. 15.

When first proposed in 1999, a shuttle system was one method suggested to link the Rio Nuevo improvements on the east side of I-10 to those west of the Santa Cruz River. Also considered, according to the Arizona Daily Star, were "bridges and roads or rail tracks to cross the Santa Cruz River at Clark Street." Two years later, city officials were discussing specific improvements to Clark Street, including the installation of a trolley line. They also talked about other "penetrations" beneath I-10 which would accommodate pedestrians and vehicles moving between the two major focus areas of Rio Nuevo (See "Road Block," Aug. 16, 2001).

Seven years ago, the primary proposed projects on the east side of the highway were an aquarium, a visitors' center and an IMAX theater. West of I-10 were clustered several cultural attractions, including the re-creation of the historic Convento site as part of the San Augustin mission complex. Today, Shelko says, a new entertainment arena, along with hotel, housing and commercial developments, are slated for the east side, while to the west will be the Convento, along with new facilities for the Arizona Historical Society and Arizona State Museum.

Over time, the university's science center proposal evolved to span the two sides of Rio Nuevo, and the rainbow bridge was the suggested way of connecting them. For some people, the bridge became a controversial symbol of downtown, but its dramatic architecture was an attempt to attract a large audience to the entire area. Now that the bridge idea is dead, Shelko says it makes sense to put the science center exclusively on the west side of the interstate: "With the change (dropping the Rainbow Bridge) and to maximize the use of real estate, it appears the center will be a part of the cultural campus on the west side."

What university officials think about this proposal couldn't be determined. They didn't return several phone calls seeking comment. But the idea of consolidating all of the museums on the west side of Rio Nuevo pleases Mac Hudson, special projects coordinator for the nearby Menlo Park Neighborhood Association. "That way, they can share functions, (like parking)." As for connecting the two sides of Rio Nuevo, Hudson thinks the street car which will link the UA campus with downtown is imperative. "To me, it can be an amazing icon," he says. Planning for the light-rail line, funded by the Regional Transportation Authority sales-tax increase approved by voters in May, is now underway. Service to the Rio Nuevo area is expected by 2012.

Not all of Hudson's neighbors agree with him. One, who requested anonymity, criticizes the planned reconstruction of I-10 for the visual and noise impacts it will have on both the neighborhood and Rio Nuevo. "People will see 18-wheelers from the Convento site," this person says, pointing out the construction work will substantially increase the height of the highway and add lanes. "The freeway needs to be integrated (into its surroundings)."

To accomplish that goal, he proposes putting the highway at grade between St. Mary's Road and 29th Street. To connect Rio Nuevo across the roadway, he suggests having Congress, Clark and 22nd streets go over I-10. For his part, local activist Dick Basye thinks the highway should be underneath the existing streets in the area. He points to an earlier study which found the idea of depressing I-10 to be cost-effective, disputing the findings of a more recent report which shows this work would be extremely expensive. Calling Basye's proposal cost-prohibitive, Shelko responds: "We'll have more pleasing ways to connect Rio Nuevo."

Sep 22, 2006, 11:12 PM
Responding to neighborhood concerns, Town West has somewhat reconfigured El Mirador, their proposed condo project on downtown's northern edge:

The condo project proposed for Franklin Street downtown is expected to have 140 units, plus stores and offices.

Condo plan for downtown evolves; brewery still iffy
By Teya Vitu
Tucson Citizen

The condo proposal for the downtown warehouse district keeps taking on new looks. The latest notion for the long-awaited condominium, and maybe brewery, project calls for the property to open onto Franklin Street. Earlier designs, originally anchored by the Nimbus Brewing Co., had a courtyard with an amphitheater enclosed by three condo towers and an opposite strip of office-retail space.

The newest design still has El Mirador's three condo towers along the northern edge, but Town West Design Development now proposes putting the amphitheater in front of the towers, along Franklin Street. "This tries to answer some of the concerns by making the public space and amphitheater more public," said Raul Reyes, Town West's vice president and principal architect.

Reyes plans to present this newest design next month to the El Presidio and Dunbar/Spring neighborhood associations and the Warehouse Arts Management Organization. The artists have repeatedly pressured Town West to incorporate more features oriented toward artists. Reyes is proposing to build lofts for artists and an art gallery behind the former Steinfeld's Warehouse - across Ninth Avenue from the rest of El Mirador. "This is an ongoing process," Reyes said this week at a Tucson Downtown Alliance meeting.

Nimbus, which originally launched the project at Franklin and Stone Avenue, is not involved, although Town West and Nimbus officials have said the door is still open for the brewery if Nimbus owner Jim Counts can assemble a viable plan. El Mirador would have 140 condos in six-, 10- and 12-story towers.

Sep 28, 2006, 9:22 AM
The AZ Board of Regents have OK'd the planning of a new $62M Arizona State Museum to be located downtown, west of I-10:

The existing Arizona State Museum on the UofA campus

UA receives green light to plan $62.1M museum in Rio Nuevo
By Eric Swedlund

FLAGSTAFF — The UA will begin planning for a new $62.1 million Arizona State Museum facility in Rio Nuevo with approval Wednesday from the Board of Regents. Placing the Arizona State Museum expansion on the university's capital improvement plan is the first step in moving forward with the facility, expected to be one of the main Rio Nuevo attractions west of the Santa Cruz River.

Also added to the University of Arizona's 2007 capital-improvement plan was a building-renewal request of $37.4 million.

The Arizona State Museum was founded in 1893 and is operated by the UA. The current on-campus facility restricts the size and quality of the museum's outreach programs, said Joel D. Valdez, UA's senior vice president for business affairs. "We want to get started with more active planning on this particular building," Valdez said.

The new museum expansion doesn't have a fixed cost or precise location but is expected to house much of the public outreach and storage, opening more space on campus for education and research. The anthropology museum will provide a perspective to connect the history and the science attractions already proposed for Rio Nuevo's west end.

Oct 8, 2006, 8:40 AM
The latest plans for Rio Nuevo's cultural campus west of I-10 will include Tucson's version of Central Park--Tucson Origins Heritage Park--complete with natural vegetation:


City unveiling layout of Rio Nuevo projects
By Rob O'Dell
Arizona Daily Star

It's the Rio Nuevo plan that many have awaited for nearly seven years. The city has just completed a site plan for the west side of Rio Nuevo — a nearly $500 million "cultural campus" that will feature the UA Science Center, new centers for the Arizona Historical Society and the Arizona State Museum, and a re-creation of the convento, chapel and other features of the San Agustín Mission.

The plan jelled quickly in the last 30 days after the University of Arizona dropped the concept of building its Science Center as a $250 million "Rainbow Bridge" spanning Interstate 10, Rio Nuevo officials said. While it may not have the visual impact of the abandoned bridge concept, the complex will draw attention to itself, said Greg Shelko, the city's Rio Nuevo director. "Driving by on Interstate 10, I think you'll probably get a vista of a collection of three really significant buildings with some innovative architecture," he said.

A naturally vegetated park, plaza and festival site will be a community gathering spot, "our version of a Central Park," Shelko said. Under the new plan, the science and history buildings will be clustered around a plaza in the center of Rio Nuevo's west side, south of Congress Street. The UA Science Center will be to the east along the Santa Cruz River, while the Arizona State Museum will be west of the plaza and the Arizona Historical Society to the south.

On the southwest corner, the "Origins Center" — a tribute to Tucson's birthplace — will provide entry to the historical heart of the complex: an archaeological site with pit houses from an ancestral village, and reconstructions of features of the San Agustín Mission, which once stood on the spot. The mission's chapel and convento, built by Spaniards in 1772, were the first buildings in modern Tucson. The two-story adobe convento was used by visiting priests and as a school for the Indians who had inhabited the region for centuries. "That is the foundation of Rio Nuevo," said Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, who chairs the city panel on the Downtown revitalization project that voters approved in 1999. "It builds on our history and culture." A walk south will take visitors to the reconstructed Carrillo House and Mission Gardens.

Estimates show the four attractions could bring more than 750,000 visitors to Tucson annually, Shelko said. While the site plan is complete, the final plan — which will include visitor and revenue projections for the museums, Tucson Origins Heritage Park and the Science Center, along with their projected development costs — is expected to be brought to various Rio Nuevo committees and the City Council in November.

The project could also include the Tucson Children's Museum, said city planning director Albert Elias, who said the museum has "raised the issue" with the city about moving to the cultural campus on the West Side. City Manager Mike Hein said there could also be a new library on the site.

Neighbors have requested a library and the Arizona Historical Society has approached county officials about combining library services with its historical archives, Shelko said. In all, including the four cultural projects, the potential Tucson Children's Museum and new library, along with streets, utilities and parking, the city's commitment of Rio Nuevo money will be in the neighborhood of $200 million, Hein said. The entire project will be more than double that, said Shelko. "It could be close to $500 million," he said.

After the plan is approved for the cultural campus, the city will go out to bid for the remaining 15 or 16 acres north of it and east of the Mercado at Menlo Park, a housing and commercial project now under development. Shelko said this West Side site of Tucson's birthplace has been considered a cornerstone of Rio Nuevo going back to the 1999 ballot proposition that passed the Downtown redevelopment project. Many of its features were included in the 1999 proposition, along with an aquarium and Imax theater which were later dropped from the plan. A potential new arena for Downtown was never on the ballot.

The West Side cultural campus will stimulate other businesses, said Donovan Durband, executive director of the Tucson Downtown Alliance. He said visitors will eat in Downtown restaurants and stay in nearby hotels. For resident Margaret Hardy, the West Side plan holds real promise. "That represents the heart and soul of what Rio Nuevo is about," Hardy said.

Oct 11, 2006, 12:37 AM
By early next year, City officials plan to choose one of four proposals to finally complete the Barraza-Aviation Parkway, designed to relieve downtown traffic over 25 years ago:


4 options for Aviation through downtown
City expects final design by early next year

Tucson Citizen

Almost 25 years after city officials approved construction of the Barraza-Aviation Parkway, a design to complete the much-maligned road through downtown may be near. City officials expect to see a final design for the parkway's completion through downtown early next year, one that will finally help to reduce congestion there caused mainly by motorists heading toward Interstate 10.

Four proposed alignments out of more than a dozen were recommended recently for further consideration by the city's Downtown Links Citizens' Advisory Committee. After more input from home and business owners on the four possible alignments, the committee will make a final recommendation to the City Council for a decision early next year.

Downtown Links is the city's program to divert traffic from the busiest part of downtown. The "links" will improve connectivity around Aviation Parkway, 22nd Street and the freeway, the Broadway and the Fourth Avenue shopping and club districts, and the downtown area and neighboring residential areas.

The $84.6 million project will mostly be paid for with revenue from the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in May. That election established a 20-year improvement plan to be overseen by the Regional Transportation Authority, a coalition of local governments. The RTA share of the Barraza- Aviation project is about $76.1 million, with the city kicking in $8.5 million.
Though the eastern part of the parkway was completed years ago, the route through downtown has always been controversial. A route hugging the railroad tracks downtown was abandoned after artists occupying a row of warehouses slated for destruction organized to push the route north.

The parkway ends at Broadway, and an extension would keep westbound traffic pouring onto Broadway - exactly where it's already congested. "The key is to make traffic as fluid as possible, so one area doesn't bear the burden of all of the I-10 traffic," Andrew Singelakis, deputy director of the Tucson Transportation Department, said recently.

The extension will cross Broadway and head northwest along the Stevens Avenue alignment. Where it goes immediately after that is to be decided. The road will connect to Sixth Street/St. Mary's, passing beneath the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Ninth Avenue, which is now an at-grade crossing. From that point, motorists could continue a short distance to I-10. The city has held numerous meetings with interested parties - business owners and members of nearby homeowners associations - to get input on the proposed four alternatives, which were among 15 when the planning process got under way two years ago. More such meetings are planned, Singelakis said.

Construction of the main part of the project itself will not get under way for at least five years after that, he added. The four possible routes all would contain a four-lane road along the Stevens Avenue alignment.

The plans vary in how they would disperse traffic through the area - a strong concern of businesses and homeowners. "I'm hoping they find a way to spread traffic out instead of putting it all on one street or one area," said Susan Gamble, owner of Santa Theresa Tile Works, 440 N. Sixth Ave. Gamble's business has been at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Sixth Street since 1998. The surrounding area has become a haven for artists and creativity-based businesses. Gamble worries that the wrong alignment could cut the growing artist community into isolated parcels and that heavy through traffic would dissuade patrons of those art-based firms from coming to the district.

"We've started to attract people who will come here at night for classes and the galleries," she noted. City officials take pains to emphasize that the proposed Barraza-Aviation extension will be a low-speed, four-lane road - not the high-speed, limited- access parkway that it is to the southeast. "The Regional Transportation Plan identifies it as a four-lane roadway," Singelakis said, one with a likely speed limit of about 30 mph. That section of the road would run just northeast of the Union Pacific tracks and just southwest of the historic Iron Horse Neighborhood.

"All of the alignments are going to pretty much go through our neighborhood," said Jennie Mullins, president of the Iron Horse Neighborhood Association. "We really don't have much wiggle room." The best available course may be to insist that the city consider all the impacts of the proposed road project and provide mitigation for increased traffic, noise and pollution, Mullins said. Some residents and business owners want the road plan scaled down. A dozen merchants and homeowners association members contacted City Council members in late August to suggest that the four-lane segment go no farther than Sixth Avenue, with traffic beyond that dispersed through existing streets for minimal impact to neighborhoods and business districts. "They don't want any more disruption of their neighborhoods," Councilwoman Nina Trasoff said.

Trasoff and Councilman José Ibarra asked city attorneys for an opinion on the language of the ballot item approved by voters in May, specifically whether it allowed the design flexibility requested by the group. RTA officials already have an opinion from their attorneys. "It's out of the question," Gary Hayes, RTA and PAG executive director, said last week. "We're not going to deviate from that the voters in the region approved."

Oct 11, 2006, 2:20 AM
I've never seen the point of this road (yes, it's a road...complete w/stop lights). It runs parallel to I-10 so...why? I mean, really. Why waste $86 million to connect a road to nowhere to a place nobody goes (downtown)? BUILD SOMETHING NEW AND USEFUL.

Oct 12, 2006, 8:40 PM
More info. on Rio Nuevo's evolving Tucson Origins project, parts of which will detail the city's European heritage, just west of I-10:


Rio Nuevo nails down $200M, 3-museum showcase
Tucson Citizen

The eagle has landed. Rio Nuevo in the last 24 hours has nailed down its showcase project: Tucson Origins, a potential $200 million project that will bring three museums and a reconstructed Mission San Agustin to the west side of the Santa Cruz River.

On Wednesday morning the design team firmed up where to locate the museums around a cultural plaza. And on Wednesday evening, the team showed off the results to the public at an open house at the Tucson Convention Center. "I'm just thrilled that something is actually happening," said Don Hickman, a West Side resident. "I like the concept that the science center is coming in to bring people back." Hickman believes the 125,000-square-foot University of Arizona Science Center, slated for the eastern edge of the cultural plaza, will be the only attraction at Tucson Origins to generate repeat visitors.

The west side of the plaza will showcase a 75,750-square-foot Arizona Historical Society at the north end, and a 40,000-square-foot Arizona State Museum to the south. The south end of the plaza will feature an interpretive center - a visitor center with a shared auditorium and other facilities for the three museums. To the south of the museum cluster will sit the Mission San Agustin complex and the Mission Gardens, which will re-create the origins of Europeanized Tucson. "I want it to go. I want them to build," said Rick Amos, who owns property on Freeway south of motel row. "They're trying to re-create some of what it was a long time ago. I'm ready."

The downtown architecture firm Burns Wald-Hopkins has assembled a national design team that produced a conceptual design on how to assemble a culture park that will please all the players as well as the surrounding neighborhood. "The science center wasn't a part of the puzzle until 30 days ago," said Rio Nuevo director Greg Shelko, illustrating how swiftly the concept designing moved. "This is the threshold of the dream. This is realizing the dream of the community to have a world-class cultural attraction representing all things Tucson. This is a gigantic leap forward."

The science center, until a few weeks ago, was envisioned as a museum that would hang from the Rainbow Bridge - an idea now abandoned. By the end of November, Burns Wald-Hopkins will present the Tucson Origins concept to the City Council with a price tag. Rio Nuevo will pay the full cost of the mission complex and gardens, estimated at $25 million to $40 million. Rio Nuevo will also partially pay to build the science center, the historical society and the state museum, but Shelko said it has not been determined how much Rio Nuevo will pay for museum construction.

Burns Wald-Hopkins will start schematic designs in December with some construction starting as soon as March. Mission San Agustin could open as soon as 2008 with the other museums opening in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Shelko said. EDAW, a San Francisco-based architecture and environment consulting firm, oversaw the big picture: how the museums relate to each other and how Tucson Origins relates to the surrounding Menlo Park Neighborhood. "The end result is a cultural district that's not just about museums," said Jana McKenzie, principal at EDAW. "It's a district that blends the neighborhood with 10,000 years of history."

Oct 15, 2006, 4:11 AM
An intriguing possibility for some adaptive reuse downtown--the historic Scottish Rite Cathedral on S. Scott Ave., designed by noted Southwest architect Henry Trost, could become the new home for Arizona Opera's Tucson performances and other local arts organizations:


Idea for opera's home has chorus of backers
By Rob O'Dell

The Arizona Opera could have a new home at a historic Downtown site if a group of local and state officials get their way. But it's going to take a dip into taxpayers' pockets to make it happen, and no one is quite sure yet what the bill will be. A diverse group of interests — including Gov. Janet Napolitano's Office, elected city officials and members of the Tucson-Pima Arts Council, along with the opera — are pushing to move the opera into the historic Scottish Rite Cathedral on South Scott Avenue between Ochoa and Corral streets.

The striking building — which looks dramatically different from almost any of its Downtown neighbors, with its ornate turn-of-the-century facade — would serve as the home for the Arizona Opera and a number of smaller arts concerns that are short of space and could use the facility. The block-and-stone temple has four majestic columns soaring about two stories tall and a great deal of intricate stone design around the building's edges. Built between 1915 and 1923, the cathedral is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is owned by the Masonic-Scottish Rite Cathedral Association, with which city and arts officials want to talk about buying it.

If the building is purchased, it would almost certainly be with Rio Nuevo redevelopment money because the cathedral lies within the Downtown district. No one could give estimates about what purchasing the building and upgrading it to code would cost. Jan Lesher, head of the governor's Southern Arizona office, said the governor is "a big fan of opera" and talked with opera officials about moving into Rio Nuevo. "They would love to be in the old Masonic temple," Lesher said, referring to the opera. "They looked at the facility and fell in love with it. It's such a special place and such a potential critical piece for Rio Nuevo."

Arizona Opera's general and artistic director, Joel Revzen, called the building "unique" and "fabulous" and said it would allow the opera to do a lot more outreach in Tucson. It would also allow the opera to build permanent sets, could seat about 350 to 400 people and has two performance stages, Revzen said.

He said the opera doesn't want to own the building and doesn't want to be responsible for maintenance, although he said the opera is willing to contribute some for upkeep. The opera would like to partner with smaller visual-arts organizations that need space and would like to use the building, Revzen said. "We're just very excited about the potential of being in Rio Nuevo and part of a proper arts district," he added.

Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, head of the council's Rio Nuevo subcommittee, said she loved the concept and has met with the Governor's Office, the Tucson-Pima Arts Council and the opera about a possible move. "The question is, can we pull it off, and should the city be a part of it," Trasoff said. "The issue always draws down to money." Although the concept is wonderful, Trasoff said, "you have to get beyond that and get down to the nitty-gritty."

City Manager Mike Hein said he has heard discussion of the plan, adding, "The governor is an opera fan as I understand it." Councilman Steve Leal said he is a big proponent of the city's buying the cathedral and has met with officials from the Governor's Office and the opera to discuss the opera's moving into the cathedral. "Let's see if we can work out an agreement that works for everybody," he said. "It's a great building and it's set up for performance and staging."

Several meetings about the cathedral will happen in the next week, as Trasoff said she is meeting next week with members of the local arts community, and Leal said he is trying to sit down with the Masons. While wanting the city to purchase the building, Leal said he is evaluating whether it makes sense to do it at the same time. "I don't want to buy it if it doesn't make sense to buy it," Leal said. "I don't have enough data to know."

Oct 15, 2006, 6:44 PM
Tucson has traditionally been much friendlier to the arts than Phoenix, and it's no accident that it gave birth to the Arizona Opera in 1970. I remember its early productions as both provinical and wonderful. Their resources were not great but the product was creative and surprisingly effective. Since then, the state's growth has magnified the company's resources by many an order of magnitude. I saw Verdi's MacBeth last night and it was on par with what might expect in a large European city. Not Paris, Berlin or London, but certainly Cologne, Marseilles or Zurich.

It's a paradox of this state's growth that the bigger and more suburban we've become, the larger the crumbs that fall onto the plates of arts' organizations. Metro Phoenix now has nearly 4 million people, and if only 1% are really interested in the arts, that's still 40,000 hard-core enthusiasts. This is the kind of trade-off that makes autocentric growth seem almost worthwhile.

Oct 16, 2006, 7:20 AM
I saw Verdi's MacBeth last night and it was on par with what might expect in a large European city. Not Paris, Berlin or London, but certainly Cologne, Marseilles or Zurich.

Hmm. I wish I could agree but I can't. As a long time subscriber to the San Francisco Opera season, opera was one reason I delayed spending winters in Tucson as long as I did. But as my bottom became more and more compressed getting into the War Memorial seats, I embraced my CD collection and headed south. But once here, I decided to give the Arizona Opera a shot. And I was delightfully surprised at the quality of both the production of La Boheme I saw and of the singers. I would have really enjoyed it EXCEPT that the acoustics of the Convention Center auditorium were truely awful. It is a truism that at many of the world's best opera houses--including San Francisco--the cheap seats often have some of the best acoustics (in SF, from the back of the balcony you can't see much but you hear superb sound). But as long as the Arizona Opera has to perform in that hall, it can't be called world class--and that's a shame because from my experience it has what it takes otherwise.

I don't know anything about the Scottish Rite Cathedral's acoustics, but I've got my fingers crossed that this proposal could happen and that the hall's SOUND is worth the effort. Have you seen anything on that aspect of the matter?

But until it does happen, I'm reluctant to leave my CD collection and drive to Tucson from Green Valley.

PS--A friend I trust saw Macbeth the other night--as a new Tucson resident from LA it was her first experience with the AZ Opera--and she had pretty much the same reaction I did: the music would have been delightful if you could hear it.

Oct 16, 2006, 2:06 PM
^I heard it at Phoenix Symphony Hall, which has markedly improved acoustics thanks to their renovation. I was at the back of the hall and every note was crystal clear. I have a friend who flew to San Francisco - obviously a great opera center - to hear Tristan and Isolde and Rigoletto last week. Arizona Opera will not be at that level anytime soon. Still, I was struck how good the singing was. The Lady MacBeth I heard, Brenda Harris, was amazing.

Oct 25, 2006, 1:13 AM
So it wouldn't be a new place to perform, and that's what they desperately need--a place with good accoustics:

Operatic option
Arizona Opera could move into historic Scottish Rite Cathedral
By Doug Kreutz

A historic Downtown site — which someday might house offices and rehearsals of Arizona Opera — has long echoed with music and the dialogue of live theatrical performances. The 90-year-old Scottish Rite Cathedral was designed in part to accommodate the staging of elaborately costumed Masonic plays. "In the Scottish Rite, we put on plays to teach philosophies," said spokesman Harold York, Scottish Rite representative for the cathedral at 160 S. Scott Ave.

The cathedral is in the news because opera officials are looking into the possibility of moving their offices there and holding rehearsals, small recitals and fundraising events in the building. "But there would be no full opera performances there," said opera spokesman Tom Wright. The main auditorium, with seating for about 350, is considered too small for such productions.

Any plan for moving the opera — and possibly other arts groups — into the building would involve an unknown amount of public funding to acquire the space. Elected city officials, members of the Tucson-Pima Arts Council and others have met to discuss a move by the opera, which wouldn't itself buy the building. York said he has shown opera officials around the four-level, 29,000-square-foot building but knows of no specific proposals for a sale or move. "I'm not sure how all of this is working out," he said. "We're not proposing anything, but we're open."

Opera spokesman Wright emphasized that the organization is "very early in the process" of considering a move to the cathedral, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. "We're still in the pre-planning stage," Wright said. "It's a long way off — if it's going to happen at all."

Meanwhile, here's a brief look at what's inside the building:
● The main auditorium is an ornate performance space with a stage and an assortment of colorful backdrops imported from Belgium.
● The spacious Masonic Lodge meeting room, still in regular use, once served as a courtroom set for a movie about Geronimo. Opera officials say it could serve as a rehearsal space or intimate performance venue. "We think this is the prettiest room in the state," York said.
● A smaller lodge room, currently used by a Spanish-speaking lodge group, could be used for recitals or rehearsals.
● The building includes an expansive costume-storage area and dressing rooms — features useful to any performance arts group.
● A makeup room is furnished with three barber chairs for actors receiving an application of greasepaint.
● The cathedral's library and museum room houses a collection of Masonic books and artifacts.
● A large lobby is flanked by an administrative work area and offices.
● The building also includes a banquet room with seating for 300 or more, a kitchen and storage space.
Online tour
● Take a larger tour through the Scottish Rite Cathedral at www.azstarnet.com/accent.


Source: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/152038.php

Oct 25, 2006, 2:11 AM
Looks like an ideal venue for chamber music, lieder and instrumental recitals.

Oct 25, 2006, 6:22 AM
Looks like an ideal venue for chamber music, lieder and instrumental recitals.

:previous: Sure does. Reminds me a bit of my favorite spot for such things in SF: Herbst Theater:


Oct 25, 2006, 4:46 PM
Frankly, I'm not happy about this, but here it is:

Growth in Southern ArizonaPlanners say there’ll be 100,000 people or more living in the Santa Cruz Valley in the next decade, as a megalopolis rises from Tucson to the border. As more homes like this one being built in central Green Valley go up, local leaders and residents will be faced with complex decisions about how they want Green Valley and Sahuarita to grow. Recently, the Green Valley News’ parent company, Wick Communications, directed reporters from all of its Southern Arizona newspapers to discover how growth is changing life across the region. They found out that communities from Benson to Bisbee, Green Valley to Sierra Vista, and Nogales to Sahuarita are all dealing with similar growth-related challenges. These issues are discussed in depth in a special supplement on growth in Southern Arizona included in this issue.


Source: http://www.gvnews.com/

Oct 25, 2006, 7:30 PM
:previous: Since when does 100,000 folks constitute a MEGALOPOLIS? Isn't the author taking substantial creative license with his choice of words here? It is obviously meant to evoke an emotional response of the reader agaisnt such growth. I appreciate the sentiment against substantial growth in such a beautiful area, but let's not use ridiculous descriptions like megalopolis.

Oct 25, 2006, 11:55 PM
This is in addition to the people that already live there...

Given the damage to the desert that's already occurred, it will be horrible problem.

Oct 26, 2006, 8:26 AM
:previous: Since when does 100,000 folks constitute a MEGALOPOLIS? Isn't the author taking substantial creative license with his choice of words here? It is obviously meant to evoke an emotional response of the reader agaisnt such growth. I appreciate the sentiment against substantial growth in such a beautiful area, but let's not use ridiculous descriptions like megalopolis.

Feel free to express your view to the source, the Green Valley News--they used the word, I just posted it.

Most people who live in the Santa Cruz Valley right now live here because they didn't want to live in an "urban" area. 100,000 may not make it urban by SoCal standards, but it'll make it very different than it is and, in the view of most current residents, not for the better.

I'm among those saddened by the prospect. I call the place "the anti-San Francisco" because it's about as polar opposite to the City By the Bay as you can get--and that's partly why I come here: to refresh myself and allow "absence" to make my heart grow "fonder" for the Bay Area. If the population density triples, I don't think that'll work nearly as well.

Oct 26, 2006, 1:38 PM
If you read what I wrote, I did place this misuse of words on the author of the article...and I did agree that this was not a good thing. It is not appropriate density for this area. I simply found the use of megalopolis out of scale and context. New York, LA, the SF Bay area, and Phoenix (in the not too distant future) are what I consider megalopolises. I feel your pain and hate to see this myself! FYI: I've only lived in SoCal for 7 years...I'm an Arizona boy (born & raised for 38 yrs) and will always be so.

Oct 26, 2006, 11:16 PM
I'm a HUGE sceptic on Rio Nuevo, myself. I've got the feeling Tucson doesn't have a clue how to revitalize its downtown and too many of its citizens don't really care if downtown gets revitalized or not. They'd rather do their shopping in some fancy mall and they'd rather watch a Netflicks movie on the new HDTV at home than go to a concert or opera downtown. The only people who really care seem to be the hapless men and women who give a business there a shot (a group which is constantly in flux). But here's the latest puff piece from the Citizen:

Watch for the signs of downtown rebirth
$1 billion may be committed by end of the year
Tucson Citizen

Critical decisions in the next two months will lay the foundation to reshape downtown - that is: convert Rio Nuevo from talk to action. By year's end, clear-cut commitments could be in place for projects that will add up to at least $1 billion in public and private downtown investment:

1. Tucson Origins will have an official price tag as well as completed concept designs that will quickly lead to initial construction.
2. A development agreement should be in place to revive the Martin Luther King Jr. Apartments as Depot Plaza, adding two more towers to create a development with a mix of market-rate and affordable housing.
3. A final alignment may be in place for the so-called "final mile" of the Barraza-Aviation parkway linking Broadway and Sixth Street.
4. The Tucson Convention Center will seek City Council approval for a new arena.
5. Hotel Arizona developers will determine whether to go ahead with plans to add another tower next to the Tucson Music Hall.
6. The city Transportation Department plans to finalize the streetcar alignment from University Medical Center, through downtown to the Tucson Origins park on the West Side.
7. Congress Street retail revitalization.
8. Several housing projects are at various stages of approval, design or early construction: (a) The El Mirador condo-amphitheater-possible brew pub project at Stone Avenue and Franklin Street; (b) Presidio Terrace due west of the Tucson Museum of Art; (c) the first dozen homes are under construction at the Mercado District of Menlo Park; and The Post on Congress Street. "Those are the big tickets," Rio Nuevo director Greg Shelko said. "Going forward into 2007, the public will get to see physical signs of investment in downtown.

2007 will be telling year for Rio Nuevo projects

Cranes aren't going up yet and no big hole in the ground will signal a huge downtown project any time soon, but Rio Nuevo is set for a landmark year in 2007. Several high-profile projects will cross major thresholds in winter. Much of that will involve officially committing money to projects that will be built between now and 2010.

The two most apparent to casual observers will be sprucing up the building facades on Congress Street, and the start of construction, possibly as soon as March, at Tucson Origins, the West Side cultural campus that will be anchored by a reconstructed Mission San Agustín. The Congress work will including painting buildings, minor repairs, window treatments and street furniture to spur retail revitalization.

The elimination of the Rainbow Bridge, which would have suspended the University of Arizona Science Center over Interstate 10, opened the floodgates for several projects at the same time. "Until certain decisions are made, it's impossible to make forward progress. The key one was the science center," City Manager Mike Hein said. "That helped fit the puzzle pieces together. There was consensus of the urban design on the West Side (among the museums and neighborhood). That's why that's moving forward." The science center will join the Arizona Historical Society, the Arizona State Museum and an interpretive center around a plaza north of the reconstructed Mission San Agustín.

The next key matter is the "one-way, two-way" debate on Congress Street and Broadway. The city Transportation Department stands firmly behind the present one-way configuration, but leading downtown developers and property owners want two-way traffic on both streets. Hein wants to rely on the city's Transportation Department's scientific analysis. "The question has not been answered: Can it be two-way?" Hein said. Not likely, said Andrew Singelakis, deputy director of the Transportation Department.
"It's simply gridlock (with two-way traffic). Nothing would function in downtown," Singelakis said.

The Downtown Stakeholders, a weekly gathering of downtown developers and business owners, is trying to find a way to convince the Transportation Department to go two-way. "There's a general agreement that it is easier to find your way with two-way, but it's harder to move traffic through downtown with two-way," said Roger Karber, a founder of the stakeholder group and chairman of the Tucson Downtown Alliance. "We're trying to find an optimal way to do that."

Singelakis wants to resolve the one-way, two-way question by the end of the year along with the alignment for Downtown Links - the Barraza-Aviation extension. This has been narrowed to two options: one that runs along the railroad until it merges into Sixth Street and a second that feeds off to Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues.

A few blocks to the west, Karber, as developer of the Hotel Arizona renovation and expansion next to the Tucson Convention Center, is wrapping up the studies to determine the viability of adding a 22-story tower and renovating the existing 14-story tower. "Within three to four weeks we could have some hard conclusions," Karber said. "Every indication is they are all positives."

In the next month, TCC director Rich Singer expects to have consultant research in hand spelling out the details and price tag for a new 12,500-seat arena. A new arena would allow TCC to convert the old arena into another convention center exhibition hall. "We're hoping to have a decision on the arena and convention center by the start of the year," Singer said. "It's not just the arena. The arena is tied to the convention center and the convention center is tied to the hotel. You could tie that up into an attractive package. They are all related."

A few blocks to the east, a leading Portland, Ore., downtown developer is negotiating an agreement with City Hall to redevelop the shut-down, city-owned Martin Luther King Apartments and build an adjoining Depot Plaza with two towers of affordable housing. Williams & Dame have led major projects to bring more than 1,000 residential units to former waterfront industrial (South Waterfront) and warehouse areas (Pearl District) in Portland. Hein and Williams & Dame Chairman Homer Williams expect an agreement to be in place toward the end of the year. Williams got introduced to Tucson at the start of the year when he came here to attend a streetcar symposium. He noted the significance of several Tucson projects reaching key moments at the same time. "A lot of times it's funny how these things play off each other," Williams said. "This place reminds me a lot of Portland 10 years ago."

Karber confirms that private sector downtown confidence matches government boasting of Rio Nuevo progress. "I've got two dozen major (projects) on my list. Each could be No. 1," Karber said. "I think what's happening is not just those companies directly involved in downtown are enthusiastic. There's enthusiasm building through the whole community now. Suburban developers and suburban companies are coming to realize it's for real this time."

Each of these projects passed before the City Council's Rio Nuevo subcommittee, which rigorously critiques them to get projects in shape for City Council consideration. Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, upon getting elected one year ago, became the subcommittee's chairwoman and brought on fellow council members who represent Rio Nuevo neighborhoods, José Ibarra and Steve Leal. "What I've seen is the commitment the Rio Nuevo subcommittee has made to meet every other week and push to get things moving is paying off," Trasoff said. "People are going to see tangible evidence that things are happening downtown."


Source: http://www.tucsoncitizen.com/daily/local/30528.php

Nov 15, 2006, 7:57 AM
Under a best-case scenario, a downtown streetcar line could start as soon 2010:

Downtown streetcar on track for 2010 debut
Tucson Citizen

A streetcar could run through downtown in 2010 using federal or private fundings, according to an analysis of both funding sources. That news came as a shock to streetcar supporters pushing to use private funding to speed up the process. Until Friday, City Hall never wavered from 2012 being the earliest year a streetcar could serve downtown.

HDR/S.R. Beard, a Phoenix national transportation engineering and planning partnership, unveiled timelines Friday that private funding could put a streetcar on the tracks by February 2010, but federal funding could launch the trolley as soon as Aug. 2010, said Marc Soronson, HDR/S.R. Beard's project manager. "We made some aggressive assumptions on the federal side and local side," Soronson said. "These are best guesses of scheduling."

Soronson researched in Tucson and has had deeper access within the Federal Transporation Administation than any of Tucson's private or public sector streetcar advocates. The study was done for the Tucson Department of Transporation, which firmly supports federal funding. "We've submitted documents. We're following (FTA) guidelines," Soronson said. "So far we've gotten positive indications."

Soronson stresses there has been no formal application yet for about $60 million in federal funding to supplement $87.7 million budgeted in the voter-approved 20-year Regional Transportation Authority Plan. Steve Farley, the streetcar's most vocal champion, and the Downtown Stakeholders, the entrepreneurs behind all of downtown's high-profile private projects, are wary of trusting the federal process. But they listened attentively as Soronson delivered his findings Friday at the Stakeholders' weekly meeting. "We want to be fully on the same page by early December," Farley said. "We all want the same thing." "We certainly do," responded Andrew Singelakis, the city's deputy transportation director.

Soronson warned several unknown factors are still in play.
● Will a simpler environmental assessment suffice or will an environmental impact statement be required?
● The FTA has never shepherded a streetcar project through the new "small start" process put in place last year for transportation projects costing less than $250 million.

Mary Okoye, the city's lobbyist, said Mayor Bob Walkup early next year on his annual trip to Washington, D.C., will meet with Mary Peters, the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and a former director of the Arizona Department of Transportation. "That helps us with the internal politics," Okoye said. "We do have things in our favor on the political side. We do have a Congressional delegation who is behind this, no matter what happens in November. We have a track record in being successful in lobbying with our projects." The Federal Transportation Administration within the U.S Department of Transportation must approve the project, but the funding must be won directly from Congress.

Nov 15, 2006, 8:21 AM
A fourth museum could build a new facility in the Tucson Origins/cultural plaza area, planned for the west end of Rio Nuevo:

current Tucson Children's Museum
(former Carnegie Library)

Children's Museum wants to move to Origins complex
Tucson Citizen

And then there were four. The Tucson Children's Museum wants to move from its 100-year-old downtown location and become the fourth museum planned for Tucson Origins. That's where the Mission San Agustin will be rebuilt along with a series of museums on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River.

The Children's Museum in the past month or so has become visible with its desire to be part of the museum complex that will include the Arizona Historical Society, the Arizona State Museum and the University of Arizona Science Center. The museum plans to hire someone in the next few weeks to do a combined feasibility and planning report on how it can go about doubling in size and having three museums as immediate neighbors. The report should be done by spring 2007, said Michael Luria, president-elect of the museum's board of directors. "Our attendance figures have gone up year after year by double digits," Luria said. "We really have outgrown the Carnegie Library."

The Children's Museum drew 76,000 visitors in the past year, even though the 200 S. Sixth Avenue facility has no dedicated parking lot and street parking has meters. That's up from 57,000 in 2003-04,and attendance figures since July have shown an 18 percent increase over the same period last year.
Luria points out what makes this astonishing is that many parents drive from the Foothills or the far East Side with the museum as the only destination.
"It's a half hour to get downtown and you have to find a place to park," Luria said. "You're at the museum 60 minutes or 90 minutes tops and then you have to drive back a half hour. I think what's going to happen is parents are going to have more reasons to go to the Children's Museum. They can couple it with one of the museums or a picnic."

No cost estimates have been made, nor has size been determined. Luria figures a new museum will measure about 30,000 to 35,000 square feet. The museum currently is in a 17,000-square-foot building with 11,000 square feet of exhibition space. "Several of us on the board have made it a point to go to other children's museums," said Luria, who owns the Terra Cotta restaurant in the Foothills. "They inspire us to realistically reach for the stars. Pittsburgh just built an amazing children's museum, which is considered the gold standard. I went to the Chicago Children's Museum and was absolutely fascinated by what they're doing."

Museum board members have not determined how much Rio Nuevo tax increment financing to ask for, but Luria said "obviously, we have to embark on a capital campaign." None of the museums planned for Origins has official approval yet to become part of the park, but all four took part in the festival two weeks ago on the site where they will likely be built. "The Children's Museum could bring a broader audience to the museum campus," said Karen Leone, Rio Nuevo's special projects coordinator. "The Children's Museum goal is to excite children about learning, inspire them, and this combination complements this grouping of museums."

Nov 15, 2006, 8:49 AM
With apparent interest from developers in the 2.5-acre site, the city may issue a RFP to build a high-rise over downtown's Ronstadt Transit Center:

Ronstadt Transit Center

Air over Downtown bus station may soon open to development
By Rob O'Dell
Arizona Daily Star

The city's Downtown Ronstadt Transit Center could go from an open-air bus station to a commercial multiuse tower with retail and condominiums over top of the transit center, à la developments from New York or Chicago. The city appears ready to heed repeated calls from developers who have expressed interest in building there. It will put out a request for bids early next year for developers to build around and on top of Ronstadt Center, which anchors a major spot Downtown at the corner of East Congress Street and Sixth Avenue.

Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko said the bus station on the ground floor would be reconfigured to allow for retail development facing Congress, and possibly some retail along Sixth as well. The bids will include air rights above the transit center, to build commercial and possibly condos, he added. Developers have expressed interest in building over the Ronstadt Center for years, Shelko said, adding next year's bids will determine if that interest is genuine. "We'll put it out there and see," Shelko said.

There aren't too many places Downtown that have a 2.5-acre footprint, said Donovan Durband, executive director of the Tucson Downtown Alliance. Because of that, and its location near the Rialto Theatre and Hotel Congress, Durband said "there's definitely market interest" in the site. "That is a major corner right there," Durband said. "That's an anchor corner."

Developer Roger Karber offered the city $2.2 million in January to buy the Ronstadt Center for a mixed-use retail office and residential project that included a parking garage. Although Karber couldn't be reached for comment on Monday, Shelko said Karber said is one of a few developers to inquire about building on the site. Durband also said developer Williams and Dame — which has an adjacent $25 million project called Depot Plaza where it is rehabbing the former Martin Luther King housing project and constructing another tower along with street-level retail — could be interested in developing the Ronstadt Center. A spokesman for Williams and Dame couldn't be reached on Monday.

Residents who learned of the proposal to develop the transit center said they were supportive of exploring the possibility. However, they questioned who would want to live in condos above the transit center because it could attract the low-income riders and transients, in addition to the potential noise and pollution from the buses. "It's a concept worth considering," said Barrio Viejo resident Don Rollings, who added he is opposed to public money going into transforming the center. He said the city needs to research whether the concept has worked elsewhere before starting construction, because if it hasn't worked elsewhere, "it might not be something you want to roll the dice on."

Rollings also questioned whether the developer could get enough return on its investment from the condos because they would be over the top of the transit center. He said other ground-floor uses such as a coffee shop, grocery store or restaurant conform more to a mixed-use development than a transit center. "If you have a Starbucks below your apartment, that's one thing," Rollings said.

Land surveyor Bruce Small agreed the bus station might be an impediment for some condo buyers, but said others could be attracted to an urban design similar to projects in New York or Chicago. He said the city should look into developing the Ronstadt Center. "It's very common in a big city like New York City to sell air rights," Small said. "It uses unused space."

Nov 20, 2006, 3:44 AM
As Tucson's metro population surpasses 1 million, the questions over big-city amenities continue. With a dated and small convention center and arena downtown, the city awaits studies to determine if a new 12,500 seat arena is justified, or if the current one seating 9,500 should be remodeled. (FYI--Albuquerque, with a somewhat smaller metro pop., is considering a new 19,000-seat downtown arena.)

current TCC arena

TCC Arena: fix it up or build anew?
Programming and amenities driving debate

By Rob O'Dell

The Tucson Convention Center is the city's equivalent of an old car. The question city officials are now trying to answer is whether to invest money in the old jalopy and fix it up, or buy a brand new car with all the options and expensive new gadgets they want.

To figure it out, the city has commissioned a study to determine how much of the new amenities and programming it has planned for a new Downtown arena could be handled by a revamped TCC Arena. The second question obviously is how much revamping the existing arena would cost, said TCC Director Rich Singer. Singer said the city is looking for a new arena to have 12,500 seats, with 22 hospitality suites that hold 12 people and would likely be rented by corporations or businesses. It would also have 500 club seats with access to a 5,000-square-foot club restaurant and bar area.

Programming plans for a new arena call for an expanded number of concerts, University of Arizona Icecats hockey games, a minor league hockey team and a second-tier Arena Football League team. The new arena would cost $100 million to $200 million, Singer said, declining to be more specific. The city has a nearly completed study on the cost to be released in January.

However, Councilman Steve Leal said he heard initial estimates of $135 million and recent estimates of $185 million. Singer said that if the city could get 80 percent of the programming into a revamped TCC arena at a cost of 30 percent less than building a new one, that could be a scenario to consider. If the costs were nearly the same and the city could only accommodate half the programming it wants, that would argue for building a new one, Singer said. "The current arena has a fatal flaw, and that's that the ceiling is too low," he said. Most arenas have a 75-foot-high ceiling, while the TCC arena's is only 46 feet above the ground, Singer said. Most concert sets are geared for a 75-foot-high ceiling, the industry standard, he said. Singer said the TCC missed out on the recent Prince tour because of that. The money was right and the date was right but the ceiling was not, so Prince walked, he said.

Tucson is the third-largest city in America without a contemporary arena, Singer said. To make the TCC Arena competitive, the ceiling would need to be raised, something that consultants have said is a possibility at first blush, said City Manager Mike Hein. "Any responsible person would ask, 'Why build new? why not renovate existing (venues)?' " Hein said. "It's not fair to the community to provide just one option."

If the the arena is found to be fixable, Hein said new convention space and meeting rooms would be constructed and added on to TCC. If a new arena were built, he said the extra convention space would come from demolishing the existing TCC arena and building new convention space there. Hein said three studies on the arena will be released in January or February: on the new arena's final cost, on renovating the existing TCC Arena, and on how to renovate the entire Convention Center if a new arena is built to make it a national draw for conventions.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich compared the importance of the decision to Pima County's decision to build Tucson Electric Park on the South Side on East Ajo Way near South Kino Parkway in the 1990s. "These are huge decisions that will have implications in Tucson for decades," Uhlich said, noting that a price tag north of $100 million adds to the weight as well.

Leal questioned why the debate should be a new arena versus renovating the existing TCC arena. He said he would like to see a list of all Rio Nuevo Downtown redevelopment projects and their costs. The arena involves "so much money it takes away from everything," Leal said. It is conceivable that spending as much as $200 million on a new arena could crimp other Rio Nuevo projects, Leal said, including plans to spend $200 million on the West Side as part of a $400 million-plus museum and cultural district.

That district will include a University of Arizona Science Center, new centers for the Arizona Historical Society and the Arizona State Museum, and a re-creation of the convento, chapel and other features of the San Agustín Mission. "In general, I've been dubious about the arena," Leal said. "If I have $100,000 to renovate a house, it doesn't make sense to spend $75,000 on a bathroom."