You are viewing a trimmed-down version of the SkyscraperPage.com discussion forum.  For the full version follow the link below.

View Full Version : The Tucson Development Thread

Pages : [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69

Sep 28, 2005, 9:41 PM

One huge arch
Cost of suspension bridge over I-10 unknown but rising; span would be Tucson's tallest structure

By Thomas Stauffer

New images released Thursday by the UA show an enormous arch spanning Interstate 10 that would serve not only as a landmark for Tucson but would also support a pedestrian bridge and a proposed science center.

While the images of the arch and suspension bridge, which also spans the Santa Cruz River west of Downtown, are more detailed versions of one introduced in October by architect Rafael Viñoly, the estimated cost has yet to be fleshed out, said Alexis Faust, executive director of the University of Arizona's Flandrau Science Center.

"I honestly don't know what it's going to cost and I don't even want to guess," she said about the project. "We know that it's more. The question is, how much more, and we won't be able to answer that until some more design work has been done."

The Uruguay-born Viñoly envisions a suspension bridge with a 360-foot-high arch that would make it the tallest structure in Tucson.

The arch would be the support structure for the science center and pedestrian bridge, which would provide panoramic views of the city and its mountain scapes, Faust said.

But his more detailed design does much more than just create a structure that would serve as a landmark such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, she said.

"One of the things we're really trying to show people with these new images is that this is not only iconic, but what it will support, what goes inside of this bridge," she said. "The earlier image apparently left some people with the idea that this would just be an arch or an arch supporting a pedestrian bridge, when this is obviously much more than that."

Citizens' groups stressed a desire for the structure to tread as lightly as possible on the land, Faust said.

"You can't tread much more lightly than only hitting the ground at the two points where the bridge lands," she said. "Rafael also made a comment that one way of honoring a sense of place is to provide a space to look at things from another perspective, and this will certainly allow people to look at not only rooftops but also at mountain ranges, geology, and where we are in the context of Arizona."

A focal element of the Rio Nuevo Downtown redevelopment project approved by voters in 1999, the science center project, which includes the arch, the bridge, and all science center buildings, had earlier been projected to cost about $100 million.

The next step is an economic feasibility study on the center, which is expected to be released in about a month, Faust said.

The Arizona Board of Regents approved $73 million for the center, added to state tax increment financing of $20 million from Rio Nuevo, a $16 million private endowment, private donations and federal and state funds related to the widening of I-10 and restoration of the Santa Cruz River, Faust said.

Construction of the science center project would require synchronization with the widening of I-10 from West Prince Road to West 29th Street, a three-year, $122 million project, said Doug Nintzel, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation.

"We've already had a lot of coordination leading up to the start of construction and that is going to have to continue through all stages of this work," Nintzel said. "We're going to concentrate on that particular section first and that will require working closely with the science center."

Work is expected to begin on the science center in late 2006 and end in late 2009. Work on I-10 will begin in the spring of 2006, said Dennis Alvarez, ADOT's Tucson District engineer.

The science center project evolved from one that would have required additional construction features to the I-10 widening plans to one that will not require additional work or expense for the freeway project, Alvarez said.

Work schedule:

● Construction is expected to begin in late 2006.

● Construction would be done concurrently with work on the affected portion of Interstate 10, which is being widened from Prince Road to 29th Street.

● Estimated completion date is late 2009.

● The bridge, which includes the campus buildings and the pedestrian walkway that winds through, by and over the different buildings, would be about 1,200 feet long and 50 to 60 feet wide.

● The cost estimate is more than $100 million.

Additional Images:




Sep 28, 2005, 9:45 PM
Now THAT is a cool proposal! Congrats, Tucson!

Aaron (Glowrock)

Don B.
Sep 28, 2005, 10:01 PM
Very interesting. I'll have to call my aunt and see what the buzz is about this in the Tucson suburbs. :)


Sep 28, 2005, 10:17 PM
I like it. I was afraid Rio Nuevo would be another one of those hybrid projects, mixing a "festival marketplace" with an aquarium or a baseball stadium. The bridge is gorgeous and iconic. It also shifts the focus of Tucson from the homogenized schlock of the foothills to the edgier, more creative part of the city. Tucson could hit a home run with this project.

Sep 28, 2005, 10:28 PM
That's ridiculous... a ped brisge taller than any other structure in the city? Are they serious?

Sep 28, 2005, 10:53 PM
Anyone ever driven through Nebraska along I-80? Kinda reminds me of that but cooler. I'm thinking they could do something better with a $100 million.

Sep 29, 2005, 12:20 AM
I think it looks great. I also think it's way too progressive for Tucson and, thus, will never see the light of day. I hope I'm wrong. DT Tucson is actually pretty nice and has lots of potential. I like the idea of Tucson being the "gateway" between the US and Mexico.

Sep 29, 2005, 12:47 AM
Wow! That's a hell of a bridge.

J Church
Sep 29, 2005, 12:54 AM
a ped brisge taller than any other structure in the city? Are they serious?

i don't see why not. well, money.

Sep 29, 2005, 1:42 AM
Anyone ever driven through Nebraska along I-80? Kinda reminds me of that but cooler. I'm thinking they could do something better with a $100 million.

Several times. That little place can be a nice break from the long trip. I always stop there and at cabela's on the way to lincoln from boise.

This bridge looks awsome. Think of the pictures you could take from that thing

Sep 29, 2005, 2:55 AM
Wow, I love that bridge. Since Tucson might be getting its signature man-made structure, Phoenix needs to consider something like this as well.

In any case, a 360' tall bridge is awesome, that'll look soooo cool. Go Tucson!


Sep 29, 2005, 3:26 AM
Ummm - 360' tall suspension bridge in a landlocked city? Very odd...I'd almost think it'd look way too out of place. Something like this over the Tempe Town Lake would be more 'in place'.


I noticed in the pictures that the bridge seems to be 'open air' - I'd imagine they'd have to cage it in to keep lonely people from jumping onto I-10...

Sep 29, 2005, 6:35 PM

What’s that you spot in the telescope? Why it's the sprawly shitfest Casa Grande growing towards us.:D

Sep 30, 2005, 8:02 AM
^ LOL!! :haha:

I must say, it would be pretty bizarre to have a pedestrian bridge as the tallest structure in a city the size of Tucson.

Then again, they need something to get people across the vast expanse of I-10, with its 3 whole lanes in each direction! ;)

Actually, I guess it would be pretty cool to drive under that on I-10.

Sep 30, 2005, 11:00 AM
They should do something like this for the Central Avenue bridge over Deck Park.

Sep 30, 2005, 11:11 AM
^ Yea, might as well. I mean, while they're currently in the process of tearing up the current bridge ...

Sep 30, 2005, 3:15 PM
The Tucson Arch? It definately would be iconic.

Sep 30, 2005, 6:21 PM
^ Yea, might as well. I mean, while they're currently in the process of tearing up the current bridge ...

They're tearing up the bridge over deck park?! Why?


Sep 30, 2005, 6:30 PM
^ Yea, for the light-rail line. It's being altered.

Sep 30, 2005, 6:52 PM
To what extent?

Sep 30, 2005, 7:47 PM
They have to realign the lanes and sidewalks, and most likely remove the divided gap in the median as well. Who knows what the final product will ultimately look like at this point, but alterations are being made.

Sep 30, 2005, 7:52 PM

Is it just me, or does that photo look like everyone was just plucked out of the 1980s, early 90s and thrown into 2005?

Sep 30, 2005, 10:42 PM
The future itself is already plucked.

Oct 1, 2005, 1:18 AM
Tucson could certainly use an iconic structure for its struggling downtown and Rio Nuevo project. It certainly won't be in the form of an office or hotel tower any time soon, and this gateway bridge/science center could provide a true identifying landmark for the city.

As the metro area population approaches the one million mark, is Tucson ready to step into the future with vision and imagination as a vibrant urban center, or will it be content to remain in the sleepy, sprawly Old Pueblo mode?

Oct 1, 2005, 1:24 AM
Let's hope not the latter.

Oct 1, 2005, 3:23 AM
More Tucson-related development:

I read a few days ago that Starwood is launching a new hotel brand called "aloft", a downscale version of the W Hotels, and Tucson will be one of the five cities to get the first ones. (And not even a mention of it in the Daily Star.) http://development.starwood.com/aloft_popup.php

Any rumors as to where it might be? You think they might be really daring and build it, say......DOWNTOWN? :no: LOL

With Gen-X business travelers as their target market, I would guess they'll put it somewhere around UA to pick up the university/medical school travel business. (Probably not the foothills or airport areas.)

Oct 1, 2005, 12:17 PM
Yea, and this: http://www.welcometowhotels.com/aloft/index_flash.html

Looks nice.

I'm thinking it's going to be along Skyline in the Foothills-area, possibly near Westcor's new La Encantada shopping plaza ... ?

Oct 2, 2005, 4:38 AM

Speaking of bridges, here's a public art project the City of Phoenix plans for the Arizona Canal at 24th St. (near the Biltmore). It's called Water Reveries.

Oct 2, 2005, 6:17 PM
Rio Nuevo is quite the project, but the east side of the 10 doesn't provide enough residential to balance out everything else.

In fact, most of the Rio Nuevo project seems to be a grand revitalisation scheme similar to what downtown Phoenix has seen over the years to little success. Arenas, offices, and retail shops don't revitalise an area--people do. This is decidedly absent in at least the east half.

Oct 2, 2005, 10:08 PM
But back to the bridge itself, the importance of an iconic structure for Tucson is the coolest proposal that's come to that city in a long time, hell, since the UofA was first conceptualised in late nineteenth century. Depending on how the city is zoned around it, the I-10 corridor and downtown would be ripe for high density residential development with the views it could offer. It'd be like a Golden Gate Bridge framed by mountains instead of the ocean.

I've always thought Phoenix should have a signature structure of some sort, but it's cool that Tucson is seeing such vision. Indeed, the city could find its place on the map like the Gateway Arch defines St Louis.

Oct 2, 2005, 10:59 PM
You're right, combuchan--Rio Nuevo needs a stronger residential component. Urban residential development can be tricky, however, and often gets caught in the proverbial chicken-and-egg conundrum: prospective residents want certain amenities in the way of culture, retail, restaurants and nightlife before moving in; yet those very businesses and institutions are often hesitant to commit to an area without a substantial residential base to support them.

For successful urban development--particularly redevelopment--there must be a compelling and viable vision, and a sufficient number of developers, entrepreneurs, civic leaders and citizens that believe in and support that vision and are willing to risk the necessary political and financial capital to make it happen. To date, Tucson's Rio Nuevo vision hasn't created much consistent momentum, although the tide may be starting to turn.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Tucson is at a crossroads regarding its urban future, as numerous issues, including the worsening traffic congestion and the cost of basic infrastructure for the ever-expanding suburban sprawl, are already forcing the question. (see the 5 Trends Tucson? study: http://www.tucsonaz.gov/planning/resources/publications/5trends.pdf)

Perhaps the Rio Nuevo plan for a strong urban core is premature: Phoenix's population is nearly four million, and they have yet to achieve a strong commercial and residential core downtown. But Tucson has never been nor wanted to emulate Phoenix, and any modern urban core it creates should be far different in both flavor and scope than its neighbor to the north.

As a result of the city's prior redevelopment efforts and the lack of much visible progress to date, they are plenty of naysayers about Tucson's prospects of ever having a thriving downtown again. However, as the area's rapid pace of growth continues, I would hope that civic and business leaders, as well as the community at large, begin to acknowledge and address the increasingly urban needs of a metropolis with nearly one million residents.

Oct 5, 2005, 4:22 AM
Re: Starwood's new "aloft" brand hotel slated for Tucson...

This week's online "Inside Tucson Business" reports Starwood saying that the hotel will be on a company-owned property, with the paper speculating that it might be the Four Points Sheraton at Broadway and Campbell, which would then be remodeled for a reopening in 2007.

So, maybe there won't be any new construction for this hotel after all...

Oct 5, 2005, 7:56 AM
Not the worst location, but that still seems like an odd spot for the hotel overall.

Regardless if it's ultimately new construction or not, it's still a positive thing that Tucson was chosen as one of the first 5 cities.

Oct 6, 2005, 12:06 AM
Yes, particularly since Tucson lacks much in the way of upscale accommodations in and around downtown. Hopefully, the remodel of the Santa Rita will at least provide a nicer boutique hotel.

And speaking of hotels, it appears that Rio Nuevo is no longer talking about building a new city-financed hotel as part of the expanded Convention Center . If they were going to proceed, the owner of the downtown Radisson (the only large hotel downtown) was threatening to convert his hotel to condos and build more condo towers on his site, since the hotel isn't making any money now, and he sees another new hotel as direct competition in a very weak market.

So for now, it seems that Rio Nuevo is supporting an expansion and redevelopment of the Radisson as the main "headquarters" hotel for the convention center. I would think that any immediate expansion of downtown's hotel inventory would be very questionable--at least until the new arena and convention center expansion are approved, and there are a few more commercial office towers to draw in business travelers.

Buckeye Native 001
Oct 6, 2005, 1:12 AM
Is it just me, or does that photo look like everyone was just plucked out of the 1980s, early 90s and thrown into 2005?

Hey, that's twenty years better than where Tucson is, developmental and infrastructure-wise. ;)

Oct 6, 2005, 10:24 PM
For those of you interested in downtown Tucson, Rio Nuevo has a new, revamped website: http://www.ci.tucson.az.us/rionuevo/

Oct 6, 2005, 10:34 PM
Thanks, much nicer than before.

I like the maps.

Oct 7, 2005, 11:22 PM
Downtown Tucson hotel sheds Radisson affiliation


Tucson's downtown Radisson is now the Hotel Arizona. The article suggests that the owners want a more upscale and "edgier" hotel as they prepare to add another tower or two on the property. (The proposed towers are listed as Diamond Rock Plaza East and West in the SSP Tucson profile.)

Although the owners announced the expansion plan in February, it will hinge on the city's decision to build a new arena, expand the convention center, and possibly build a separate convention center hotel.

Oct 8, 2005, 11:34 PM
The irony in all these redevelopment schemes is that if Tucson never did anything, it would be sitting on a gold mine today. The convention center was built on the site of the city's old barrio, and when it was torn down in the late 60s, Tucson lost the chance to be as cool as Santa Fe. Yes, there's still some of the old barrio left south of Cushing Street, and it's extremely valuable real estate. but imagine having something much larger. Tucson is still fortunate to have what it does, but the missed opportunity is yet another cautionary tale in our zeal to be ahistorical and deracinated.

Oct 9, 2005, 6:52 AM
Yes, soleri, the city's downtown "redevelopment" of the 70's was an unfortunate chapter for Tucson's barrios. (Probably even more irritating to displaced residents since it basically failed to revitalize much of anything, and left a major "dead zone" in its wake.)

I'm not sure Tucson would ever be cool like Santa Fe is, or was (although Sedona is trying real hard), as the population surge and sprawl that started in the 50's sent the city in a whole different direction.

But, maybe the city fathers can atone for a few of their original downtown sins by creating more barrio-style neighborhoods like the upcoming Mercado District at Menlo Park with its Cultural Plaza, all part of Rio Nuevo's plan for west of I-10. www.mercadodistrict.com

It won't replace the original structures and neighborhoods that are long gone, but will hopefully restore a small semblance of authenticity to Tucson's historic downtown.

Oct 13, 2005, 2:40 AM
Here's some 20/20 hindsight on urban renewal and downtown Tucson's redevelopment history:

Posted: Monday, Oct 10, 2005 - 09:13:29 am MDT

Four decades later, watershed year still affect's Tucson's future

By Philip S. Moore, Inside Tucson Business

This is an anniversary year, but only some people are celebrating.

It was four decades ago this year that Gene C. Reid, the City of Tucson’s Parks and Recreation director, decided that a zoo might be a good idea for Randolph Park. What he chose to do, then, continues to expand today, attracting more than 400,000 visitors each year as one of the city’s leading tourist and community destinations.

Also celebrating a 40th anniversary, on Sept. 21 was the Wilmot library building. Tucson-Pima Public Library spent $406,730 to construct the 15,550 square foot branch, the third for the regional library district. In 1966 the Wilmot Branch Library and its architect, Nicholas Sakellar and Associates, were selected as one of eleven winners of a biennial national architectural award for “distinguished accomplishment in library architecture” sponsored by the American Institute of Architects in cooperation with the American Library Association, and has since been named a Tucson landmark.

It was also exactly 40 years ago, this year, between February 1965 and May 1966, that the city’s government and citizens decided to end a decade of debate over the costs and benefits, and voted to breathe life back into Tucson’s fading downtown with a sweeping urban renewal project that would clear away the old and make way for the new.

Backed by $15 million in bonds to leverage federal, state and private investment, the city made a commitment to clear 29 decaying city blocks west of Church Avenue, between Washington Street on the north and 14th Street on the south, and make it into what all the best minds of the times conceived as the city of the future.

They decided to give the city a series of new government buildings to attract offices and bring people back to the downtown’s stores and restaurants, and they decided to build a new convention center, the city’s first, to finally get a local share of the nation’s growing convention and trade show business.

While universally condemned today, for the Tucson of 1965, it made sense. Southern California architect and new urbanist Stefanos Polyzoides, designer of the new Mercado at Menlo Park, may compare Tucson’s urban renewal to the firebombing of Coventry, Dresden or Berlin, or the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, but James Corbett, Tucson’s mayor at the time, said it was simply the best option available.

After all, the barrio had it coming, he said. Federal urban renewal was specifically targeted at areas that met the standard for blighted neighborhoods and West Congress Street, along with Barrio Libre and La Hoya (the hole) were obvious choices.

Since the railroad came to town in 1880, Tucson’s center had shifted from the old Presidio and Royal Road, now Granada Avenue, to the intersection of Stone Avenue and East Congress Street.

West Congress, which had served the many small farms that once flourished along the banks of the Santa Cruz River, had declined along with the farms to become a dilapidated series of rundown businesses catering to Tucson’s lowlife.

Sentiment and the distance of time have emphasized its qualities, but low home ownership rates, a high percentage of housing units that failed to make minimum safety and health standards, and declining population all marked the old neighborhoods for extinction.

Speaking to a Tucson Weekly reporter in 1997 about later objections to the project, Corbett said, “I never quite figured it out. Were they talking about the bars on West Congress, the derelicts and drug users on Meyer Street or the slumlords owning properties down there?”

What made the renewal project essential, according to the city’s planners of the era, was the completion of Interstate 10 along the east bank of the river. That made the west side of downtown important again, and with the federal government willing to put up $4.5 million to help pay for it, Tucson could transform seedy back streets into a modern urban center that the public could embrace.

Discussing the inner west side area in a 1971 report on the urban renewal project and the later-discarded Butterfield Freeway proposal, a city report acknowledged the historic character of the community but said, “With the rising mobility of the younger Mexican-American population, the older, less stylish areas have lost favor. Many of them would now prefer to live on the more prestigious far east and west sides.”

The city planners said the area was “at the stage in its life cycle when older, long-term residents are beginning to die, and some of the middle-aged residents finally have amassed enough money to move to their dream homes in more stylish areas. Fewer and fewer young Mexican-Americans stay in the area to raise their own families.”

As a result, “Original owners or their descendents are becoming absentee landlords. Renters then come from one social class, people who cannot afford to move to any other area. Houses and vacant land, over a long period, cease to be owned by the original families of the area and increasingly fall into the hands of speculators.”

Whatever the intentions of the time might have been, four decades later the project remains, “a ghost that hangs over anything and everything we do downtown,” said Marty McCune, coordinator of historic preservation and Río Nuevo for the City of Tucson. “It’s something we have to live with and address.”

McCune said, “The one thing that urban renewal did was awaken the barrio. The whole preservation movement was born as a result, and that has had a major impact on the city in the years since.”

She said, “There are still improvements that need to be made, but if you look at where these neighborhoods were 40 years ago and where they are now, you can see how much has been accomplished through the public and private investment in preservation that emerged as a reaction to the wholesale land clearance that happened then.”

Urban renewal also set the agenda for the Río Nuevo project. It made community improvement the highest priority. “Thanks to the lessons learned from urban renewal, we never wanted Río Nuevo to be about forcing people from their homes,” McCune said. “We worked hard to meet with all the neighborhoods affected and worked closely with them to make sure if Río Nuevo affected them, it did so in a positive way.”

It also made accepting and embracing national population trends important, she said, “A lot of people’s lives were turned upside down to do something that people thought was a good idea.” However, in the end, little was changed for the city as the 1960s march to the suburbs continued without slowing.

While urban renewal accomplished almost everything it set out to do, “it wasn’t enough,” McCune said. “We learned from the experience that it takes a lot of different features to make urban renewal possible. It takes a mix of housing, commercial development and parking. It takes public money leveraging private investment, and it takes a trend that favors redevelopment, which wasn’t there in the 1960s when everyone was moving from the city center to the suburbs.”

Now, there is support for what city is trying to accomplish, said Río Nuevo Director Greg Shelko.

“There are people out there that say the day of the downtown is past but if you look at every master-planned housing development in the suburbs, they talk about community and show pictures of a town center. Downtowns are centers of culture and commerce. They define a city,” he said. “That’s why downtown is still important. Choosing to live downtown is a lifestyle choice for some but everyone, whether they live there or not, wants to be proud of it.”

In the 1960s, urban renewal was about buildings, Shelko said. That’s why it failed. “You can’t rebuild communities by tearing them down and replacing them with a magic bullet kind of a civic project like an arena or convention center.”

Shelko said, “You need to create a multifaceted approach that takes in everything that needs to be done to address the quality of life. You create a diversity of attractions, of housing and incomes. That what creates a vital downtown.”

Oct 13, 2005, 4:34 PM
I agree it's a beautiful design and would certainly look impressive but what I'm wondering about is the location. Usually such a grand design would be used to span a river or a lake or even a narrow canyon. That would create dramatic views from the bridge as well as views of the bridge itself. But is this case it sounds like all we're talking about is crossing a freeway. It almost seems like building such an archtectural statement in this location might end up looking silly.
Bob R.

Oct 17, 2005, 7:10 AM
Since Tucson is always looking for things to laud over its bigger neighbor to the north, here's the latest from a new Business Journal study:

Out of 171 metro areas around the country, Tucson was rated 63rd-best educated (based on educational levels for working adults), while Phoenix trailed far behind at #118.

(In all fairness, I would suspect this may have to do with the UofA and its medical school representing a larger percentage of Tucson's economy and employment than do ASU and other universities in the Phoenix area.)

More statistics: in terms of the county's hottest metro job markets (based on the unemployment rate and job growth), Phoenix came in 2nd behind Las Vegas, and Tucson a respectable 15th--ahead of Austin, Dallas, and San Diego. (Ailing Detroit was dead last.)


Oct 20, 2005, 12:24 AM
Looks like Rio Nuevo's dream of creating a strong residential component downtown won't be easy:

Land Shortage Slows Next Phase of Downtown Housing Development

By Philip S. Moore, Inside Tucson Business
Posted: Monday, Oct 17, 2005 - 11:04:32 am MDT

With only nine lots out of 91 left to sell at Armory Park del Sol, John Wesley Miller is looking for his next downtown housing project.

But the search has become problematic as rising land values, historic protection and large tracts set aside for future public projects have created a shortage of available downtown land for redevelopment.

Nearing completion of his 20-acre infill subdivision, Miller said he’s ready to get started on another project, which will continue the transformation of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, but new opportunities are not easy to find. “I’ve put the word out to every realtor that we’ll be sold out at Armory Park del Sol by the end of the year, if not before,” he said. “I’m looking for anything I can find but nothing is available.”

Miller said there’s a possibility that the city might have a site available at Cushing and 22nd streets and there’s other opportunities being negotiated elsewhere.

“We were hoping there would be something available by the time we’re built out, but it isn’t going to happen,” he said.

Shortage of available land for residential development is a sign that Río Nuevo is working, Miller said, but it may also be a sign of problems ahead for the project, which was supposed to preserve a mix of public, commercial and residential development in the city’s core.

“The city’s politicians said they wanted to preserve that mix,” he said. “I don’t want to let them forget that.”

He said public buildings, like the proposed arena and science center are important, “but I see my job, right now, as holding their feet to the fire to remind them that the residential component is a top priority.”

Also a top priority is preserving the character of the neighborhoods being redeveloped, he said. New housing is important, but matching it to what’s already there is even more valuable, he said.

“At Armory Park del Sol, I had the zoning for twice the density, but my first concern was making sure we built something that would blend well with the existing Armory Park neighborhood,” Miller said. “There are no walls or gates to separate the project from the neighborhood. We’ve preserved the feel of the community and, as a result, the community has welcomed our residents to be part of the Armory Park Neighborhood Association.”

While Río Nuevo can’t directly support private development projects, Miller said the staff has been cooperative in supporting infrastructure that makes construction viable.

“I’ve been talking with them and I think they’re doing a good job, but I’m a builder and I want to get things developed. So, I’m impatient to get started,” he said. “I spent most of my life on the edge of the city, at Sabino Canyon and Oracle and the foothills, but I’ve fallen in love with my roots and wish I could create more land downtown to develop. This isn’t about the bottom line. I’m so excited about what we’re doing downtown that I want to keep doing it.”

Greg Shelko, director of Río Nuevo, said he wishes there was more land for residential redevelopment, too, but if owners aren’t willing to sell, there’s nothing that his organization can do to force them to do it.

“There are only a few sizeable parcels of real estate in downtown and the demand for them is high,” Shelko said. “The market receptiveness to this kind of downtown housing has been remarkable. What we need to do, now, is to instill some confidence in people who’ve been sitting on the sidelines with vacant land that this is the time do develop or sell to someone who will.”

He says confidence is starting to show and redevelopment in Tucson’s oldest neighborhoods is beginning to pick-up.

“Look at what the market activity is like, now, and you see more things happening,” he said. “Over the next 12 months, it will be interesting to see what market changes take place.”

Making land available for private redevelopment is more than passively waiting for landowners to make their move, countered Richard Foerster, associate broker for land at Tucson Realty & Trust. While he agrees with Shelko that some land owners are waiting to see what develops before selling, Foerster said too much of what’s been done in Río Nuevo has added to the speculation, which ultimately works against the success of downtown redevelopment.

“Río Nuevo is a political football,” Foerster said. “We all wish it would be done but I’m not sure I see it getting anywhere.”

Although most of the vacant land is zoned commercial, he said the amount of real estate set aside by the city for various projects have restricted what’s available. That, in turn, has encouraged landowners to be overly optimistic in their prices.

“Assembling parcels of land is always expensive, but people don’t want to tie up their property in case they get a better offer,” he said. “Some people are now trying to sell commercial land for $15-20 per square foot, while those with residential land are pricing at a level that doesn’t make sense. It also begs the question of affordability.”

With large tracts set aside for municipal projects and others set aside for proposed large-scale commercial centers, such as hotels and mixed-use projects, Foerster said. “Where’s the money going to come from for all of this? Everybody seems to be in the market but nothing is happening,” he said.

“Will anything happen? I just don’t know and I don’t think anyone knows. I’ve seen land cleared but I haven’t seen anyone breaking ground. I’ll be watching to see what comes of this.”

Oct 20, 2005, 4:51 AM
We've seen similar speculation in downtown Phoenix, particularly involving ASU. It helps explain why governments sometimes have to use the power of eminent domain to assemble land for development.

Vacant land needs to be taxed in such a way that discourages speculation for its own sake. How this can be done equitably needs to be figured out.

I hope Tucson gets solid, value-heavy residential. This means, no shoddy wood-frame condos, "affordable housing" (Insta-slums), or Soviet-style apartment blocks for the elderly. There are many creative craftsmen and artisans working in Tucson, some of whom specialize in "green" sustainable construction. This is where the future is pointing. I hope Tucson can think deeply about its unique status as a desert city with an environmental edge. It might be a way to forgo the Phoenix temptation of more and more sprawl with diminishing returns.

Oct 20, 2005, 8:16 AM
^ I agree.

Oct 22, 2005, 1:00 AM
Pella's Tucson expansion "bigger than Google", says Mayor Walkup

With expansion of window maker Pella's operations, Tucson to get 450 new higher-paying manufacturing jobs:


Oct 23, 2005, 9:20 PM
Lofts finally arrive in Tucson

Lofty expectations
Developers seeking warehouses, other buildings, land to meet demand for unique living spaces
By Thomas Stauffer

This historically horizontal city is going vertical - into loft living.

Until April virtually no lofts were available in Tucson, but developers have discovered a demand. Now they are planning, building and selling a dozen different projects in central Tucson.

As the area's broader housing market shows signs of leveling out, lofts, "loft-style apartments," "town lofts," and nearly everything else associated with the word "loft" are fetching premium prices - $200 to $300 a square foot. That compares to about $143 a square foot for the average Tucson-area home.

"It's a product no one really provided here in any real sense until the Ice House Lofts," a project that opened in April, said Greg Shelko, director of the Rio Nuevo Downtown revitalization project.

About 500 loft units have been built or are under construction or in planning, but no developer fears that the rush of loft-building will lead to an oversupply.

To the contrary, developers are seeking more warehouses and other buildings to convert into the high-ceilinged, industrial-style, flexible living spaces, or just looking for the right space to build their "loft-style" projects from scratch.

It's a national trend, said Cleveland economic development expert Ed Morrison

"People are making the choice to move back into more diverse and unique living spaces, seeking out things like density that they used to try to escape," Morrison said.

A pioneering project

To see what he's talking about, look no further than a pioneering project in what had been a bleak, industrial setting southeast of Downtown.

The Ice House Lofts succeeded to a degree that opened a lot of eyes, said City Councilman José Ibarra. Deep Freeze Development LLC transformed the 1920s Arizona Ice and Storage Co. warehouse at 1001 E. 17th St. into 51 lofts. Nine more free-standing loft homes have been built across the street as the accompanying Barrio Metalico.

"This is downtown redevelopment and infill and all these other things we're always talking about wanting to promote, and the people at Ice House did it without any help from the city whatsoever," Ibarra said.

Ibarra added two more loft projects to the list of those proposed in or near Downtown - a loft and condo project at 1 W. Speedway and an even newer proposal by a New Jersey developer who is purchasing Medina's Service Garage at 1047 N. Main Ave.

Started as artist space

So just what are these loft things that people are so excited about?

"Historically, lofts started as artist space in industrial buildings," said Randi Dorman, a principal with Deep Freeze Development and an Ice House Loft resident. "What was appealing about those spaces was the size, the light from big windows and a kind of subversive appeal because they weren't allowed to live there."

Loft has become a catch phrase, said developer Peggy Noonan, who is proposing Presidio Terrace, a project of 70 or so high-end lofts near the Tucson Museum of Art.

"A lot of what lofts are really about is flexible space, a space you can define in a lot of different ways," she said.

Most lofts have a "big-volume" of space with high ceilings, open floor plans and features such as exposed brick and trusses, said Steve Fenton, who is converting the former Immaculate Heart Academy and dormitory at 35 E. 15th St. into Academy Lofts.

Lofts may be more important for what they're not than what they are, said economic development expert Morrison.

"They're truly an antidote to sprawl on a lot of different levels," he said.

Saving gas and time commuting from the suburbs is an obvious appeal of urban loft living, but a host of other reasons have led to the loft craze, Morrison said.

"People are now realizing that they want density, because by achieving it, you're giving them a sense of security that comes from being near other people, not from wiring their suburban house with the latest electronic monitoring equipment," he said.

Friendly neighbors

"Sense of community" is a catch phrase that took on real meaning when Bay Area transplants Karen and Mohammed Soriano-Bilal moved into their Ice House loft.

"Just yesterday, three of our neighbors popped by for various reasons, to say hello or just check in because we'd been out of town," Karin Soriano-Bilal said. "No other place we've ever been has been like that."

Ice House loft owners come from "every imaginable dem-ographic," an ideal setting for Billie Maas' three daughters, said Maas, a 39-year-old pharmaceutical saleswoman.

Maas said she regrets not buying one or two more lofts at the Ice House just for investment reasons.

"I paid about $140 a square foot and they're selling them now for like $250 a square foot right now," she said.

A 2,290-square-foot developer unit at Ice House Lofts is on sale for $439,000 and a 1,650-square-foot Barrio Metalico loft home recently resold for $320,000, Dorman said.

Fenton said he's already fielding calls for his Academy Lofts, a combination of rental and sales units scheduled for completion in January.

"It's a wide range of people that are interested, including people calling from Green Valley," he said.

"Empty-nesters" whose children have grown and left may become an important demographic driving demand for lofts, Shelko said.

"They don't need a big yard that needs maintaining or a big house," he said.

In addition to empty-nesters and young professionals, a surprising number of families are moving to lofts, said Ann Vargas, the city's Downtown housing planner.

"I take calls almost daily from people asking about lofts," Vargas said. "It's housing we haven't typically had in our market, and people really want the kind of urban cultural experience that lofts are about."

Oct 26, 2005, 3:42 AM
Tucson inches towards light rail with trolley proposal

Notorious for rejecting new taxes to pay for transportation initiatives, Tucson residents contemplate their options to reduce worsening gridlock in a metro area of nearly one million residents:

Two panels on board for Tucson trolley
By Tim Ellis
Published: 10.20.2005

A $90 million modern version of the trolley should be built linking the UA hospital to Rio Nuevo on the west side of Downtown, two city-appointed committees have unanimously recommended.

The Community Liaison Group and Technical Advisory Committee, which include citizen and neighborhood representatives and technical experts, have also identified what route the tracks should follow through the University of Arizona between those two points.

The recommendations now go to the City Council, possibly as soon as December. If approved, and all other steps in the process go smoothly, streetcars could be rolling through town by 2011, said Shellie Ginn, the city Transportation Department's project manager.

One major obstacle blocking the tracks is that Pima County voters would have to approve the Regional Transportation Authority's 20-year transportation plan, and the half-cent sales tax in May to provide the city's $45 million share of construction costs.

Another concern is persuading federal transportation officials to put up the other $45 million.

The city would also have to pay an estimated $3 million a year to operate the line.

The groups' vote earlier this month is the first of many steps the city must take to establish the new transit system, which city planners hope to expand into a larger system connecting the city's major commercial centers, Ginn said.

More planning and studies need to be done before the city can qualify for federal matching funds to build the line and buy the streetcars, she said.

Barney Brenner, a Tucson businessman and critic of the streetcar, said this and other previously proposed streetcar-type transit systems cost too much money that would be better invested in the city's bus system.

The system would congest city streets, both during the installation of tracks and overhead wires and cables and afterward, when the streetcars are traveling down the middle of the street, he said.

"I question the wisdom of tearing up the streets and putting tracks in," Brenner said. "It will require wires above the streets and tracks that wouldn't be needed with a rubber-wheeled alternative."

Ginn said that's why the city chose a route that runs along less-congested streets: from the North Campbell Avenue-Helen Street intersection near the UA west to Cherry Avenue, then south on Cherry to Second Street, west on Second to Park Avenue, south on Park to University Boulevard, west on University to Fourth Avenue, south on Fourth to Congress Street, west on Congress, to the greenway path through Rio Nuevo.

Streetcars will reduce congestion because they would carry people who otherwise would be riding buses and cars into the area, she said.

Brenner also fears the streetcar system will lead to a more extensive and expensive light-rail system. "I think it'll be the camel's nose under the tent," said Brenner, who helped defeat a 2003 light-rail ballot initiative.

Steve Farley, a member of one of the groups studying the streetcar proposal and leader of the group that put the light-rail measure on the ballot, said he hopes Brenner is right.

"One of the few things Barney Brenner and I agree on is that the trolley may be the camel's nose under the tent for light rail," Farley said. "Once people can see it (a streetcar) and touch it and ride it, they'll see this is one thing we want more of."

Ginn said that streetcars not only have nostalgic appeal; cities such as Portland, Ore., and Tacoma, Wash., have found they also bring economic benefits that help revitalize run-down areas, which is why the line is routed through the Rio Nuevo redevelopment area.

"Buses don't have the sex appeal of the streetcar," Farley said. "When you're trying to get people to voluntarily leave their car at home and come Downtown, you want to have a more attractive mode.

"People want to ride trains. They just do," he said. "Surveys bear that out."

Oct 28, 2005, 1:32 AM
Transportation: Tucson's big dilemma

Looks like the latest transportation plan for metro Tucson will be in front of the voters next May. After public input meetings, this version has been trimmed slightly, but still has no new freeways proposed, which is Tucson's style.

If residents reject this plan and tax increase, they will end up with the worst traffic mess in the state. As it is, the city and county don't have enough money to maintain existing roads, and without a new infusion of funds, things will deteriorate even further. How high is Tucsonans' tolerance level for more potholes and bumper-to-bumper gridlock? Maybe higher than we think.


$2B road plan greenlighted
Transit panel's OK is unanimous; supervisors may put it on May ballot

By C.J. Karamargin

A draft $2 billion plan to ease Tucson-area transit woes won unanimous approval Wednesday from the Regional Transportation Authority.

After months of often-heated public meetings, the RTA is proposing 51 projects that should be built over the next 20 years with a new half-cent countywide sales tax. The plan now goes to the Board of Supervisors to be placed on a May ballot.

The projects are aimed at tackling one of the area's most relentless public policy problems through sweeping improvements to roads, road safety and mass transportation.

Projects include $164 million to widen Grant Road, $89 million for a streetcar that would run from the University of Arizona to Downtown, and $38 million to expand weekday bus service.

Rick Myers, chairman of the RTA citizens advisory committee, called the draft "a balanced approach" to addressing the community's highest-priority transit needs.

"It is a start, and more work needs to be done," he said.

The draft plan will now be reviewed by the eight local governments that make up the RTA. Assuming no major objections arise, the RTA will meet on Nov. 30 to ask the Pima County Board of Supervisors to schedule an election.

Voters will get the final say on the plan and the tax in an election tentatively slated for May.

"This is going to take a lot of work to explain to the public," said Katie Dusenberry, a former county supervisor who serves as the advisory committee's vice chairwoman. "We've got a big job to do."

If the past is any guide, Dusenberry is not overstating the concern that voters can be highly skeptical about boosting the sales tax to pay for improved roads and public transit. Four similar efforts have failed decisively over the last two decades.

According to the RTA, the sales tax is expected to generate $65 million in its first year.

The draft plan approved by the RTA on Wednesday represents the third set of revisions to a plan unveiled by the public body with much fanfare in July.

On Monday, an RTA advisory committee cut more than $400 million in projects from the plan in an attempt to balance the budget. The cutbacks included elimination of the biggest proposed project: $200 million to connect the eastern end of Barraza-Aviation Parkway with Interstate 10.

The proposed cuts reduced the estimated cost of the projects by about 20 percent and brought the total cost of the plan to a little more than $2 billion. That's split among $1.2 billion for roads, $545 million for transit, $185 million for safety elements, and $110 million for environmental enhancements.

Before Wednesday's approval, the RTA heard objections from six citizens, among them Ken O'Day, president of the Campbell-Grant Neighborhood Association. He predicted the widening of Grant Road "will have devastating consequences" on hundreds of homes and businesses.

Pete Tescione criticized the plan for failing to be "forward-looking." He called buses a "bridge to the past" and suggested constructing a monorail above the medians of busy streets.

"Start thinking out of the box," he said.

Oct 28, 2005, 10:43 PM
Presidio Terrace: 80 new lofts/townhomes for downtown

City sells Downtown garage to developer
By Thomas Stauffer

The city announced Thursday it will sell a Downtown parking lot to developer Peggy Noonan, who plans to build nine townhomes and 72 loft condominiums in a project known as Presidio Terrace.

As part of the deal, the Rio Nuevo Downtown revitalization project will pitch in $2 million for 90 spaces of public parking that Noonan will provide in a two-story subterranean garage beneath the condos and townhomes.

Noonan, the owner of Presidio Terrace LLC and Reliance Commercial Construction Inc., teamed with architects Jim Gresham and Bob Vint on the proposal for the infill project. The $20 million project will be built on the site of a parking lot that wraps around the Tucson Water building, in a block bounded by North Main and Granada avenues, West Paseo Redondo and Alameda Street.

Noonan said she will seek a variance to a local restriction, known as a "pad amendment," that limits buildings in the area to a height of four stories. She wants to go up 6.5 stories for the loft condominium complex at the project's west end. At its east end, the project will scale down to the nine two-story townhomes across the street from the Hiram Stevens and Edward Nye Fish homes, which date to the 1860s.

The City Council will have ultimate authority to grant the variance, but won't do so if neighborhood residents disapprove of the height increase, said Greg Shelko, Rio Nuevo's director.

"We've not made any assurances to the outcome as far as the pad amendment," Shelko said. "This agreement obligates her to build a minimum of 60 units whether she gets the variance or not."

Noonan paid fair-market value of $750,000 for the land, Shelko said.

Construction is expected to begin in March, with project completion estimated at summer 2007, Noonan said.

A limited amount of retail space - Noonan envisions a small market and a cafe - is included in the project, she said.

El Presidio neighborhood resident Chris Carroll said Noonan met with residents and addressed their concerns, namely that the project wouldn't detract from the historic nature of the immediate neighborhood, which includes some of the oldest structures in Tucson.

"Coming up with a very large structure that wraps around the Tucson Water Company building, provides parking, and at the same time has a historic sensitivity is a very difficult thing to do," Carroll said. "The feeling of the neighborhood was that they had the right architects for the job and that they really got it."

The Presidio Terrace project will incorporate a small market and a cafe as envisioned by developer Peggy Noonan:


Oct 29, 2005, 12:54 AM
Nice, thanks for all the good updates.

I'm thinking this could now probably be renamed the 'Tucson Development' thread, or something ;).

Oct 29, 2005, 3:48 AM
I'm thinking this could now probably be renamed the 'Tucson Development' thread, or something ;).

I agree, since we're covering a lot more ground than the original topic. Since you started the thread, can you change the name? If not, I could start up a new one.

Oct 30, 2005, 7:28 PM
Infill at the landfill: a home with aroma

With prices still skyrocketing in Tucson, I guess desperate first-time buyers will take most anything... I just hope they don't expect their homes to appreciate much (and good luck reselling them in a soft market).

High home prices mean jail, dump make OK neighbors
Formerly undesirable locations are looking better now
By Joseph Barrios

Location, location, location

The views from some new local subdivisions are stunning.

One peers into a steel-manufacturing yard.

Another sits across the street from the Pima County jail.

Others offer clear views of both a dirt racetrack and the city landfill.

In Tucson's hot housing market, is anywhere off-limits?

Ask Doug Trudeau, an agent with Long Realty Co. About a year ago, he advised a client not to buy one of the first homes in a subdivision with an unobstructed view of Los Reales Landfill, near East Valencia Road and Interstate 10. The client ignored him.

Today, surrounding rooftops and that house's value are doing the same thing: going up.

"Homes are being built all over the place. A few years ago, you wouldn't have imagined being that close to the landfill," Trudeau said. "These days, with land being as scarce as it is, people are willing to buy almost anywhere."

In the search for inexpensive land, builders are going farther and farther from Tucson's core. Thousands of homes are planned near Red Rock and Oracle in Pinal County and near Benson in Cochise County.

But builders trying to capitalize on home prices that rose sharply for the first half of the year - they've since stalled - are eyeing cheap land closer to the urban core. They're willing to build close to potential eyesores like, say, a landfill or a jail or a gravel pit.

Rising lot prices are the biggest contributor to rising home costs, said local housing analyst John Strobeck. In 2003, the average finished lot price was $39,000. That jumped to $55,000 - a 41 percent increase - by the end of 2004. Today the average price exceeds $60,000 per lot, Strobeck said.

"Because we have a huge number of entry-level buyers, land that had not been 'desirable' became desirable because of price," Strobeck said.

Take Christina Saunders' new house by KB Home in the Rancho Valencia neighborhood near East Valencia Road and Interstate 10. She and husband John love their year-old, 2,000-square-foot house. It has a tile roof, Pergo laminate flooring, earth-tone paints outside, and rich shades of burgundy and teal inside.

Friends and visitors are impressed by the home, front door to back door, and by the east-facing back patio.

"I have a beautiful view of the Catalinas," Saunders said.

Then they look south.

"It's like, 'Oh, look. It's the dump,' " she said.

The swell of the landfill, less than a mile away, is clearly visible from their back yard. From front yards and second-story bedrooms farther east, the landfill's main entrance comes into view, along with the distinctive, white heap of discarded appliances.

And on Saturday nights, residents throughout the area can see the spotlights and hear the roaring engines at the United Sports Arizona Race Park.

None of that matters to the Saunderses. Savings was a major factor in where they bought.

The couple saw $250,000 price tags for 1,500-square-foot houses, while their house cost about $175,000. The development is close to shopping centers, the interstate and major north-south roadways.

"We wanted the larger home with a bigger yard, and you could just not believe the price for what you could get out here," Saunders said. "It seemed like you got more for your money as opposed to in town."

But this location may be cause for concern, said Barbara Becker, director of the University of Arizona's School of Planning.

"All landfills are highly regulated, and city of Tucson is certainly doing everything within their ability to prevent any bad things from happening," Becker said. Still, "I know I would not choose to live there."

The landfill is scheduled to operate at least through 2067. Becker shudders to think that hundreds of families will be living within a mile of it.

"My reaction is horror," she said. "I just see potential health problems up the road."

Closer to Downtown, Mike Koole, 22, a UA senior studying life sciences, bought a $214,000 house with his parents. From his back yard, he has a clear view of the Pima County jail.

He accentuates the positive: It has a great view of the sunset and the southern side of "A" Mountain. The two-story, three-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot home is perfect for Koole and roommates Bryan Berry, 21, and Micah Lowe, 22 - all U.S. Marine reservists. Koole, who plans to live in the house for the next few years, will split any proceeds from the sale of the house with his parents.

He likes the house, and he's close to school. The only drawback is his bedroom view: an empty lot and a mobile home park. Over the backyard wall looms the jail, barbed wire, spotlights and all.

The roommates aren't bothered by the view - or the possibility of someone escaping. "If the guy is going through three razor-wire fences, he's not in too good of shape," Berry said.

KB Home first looked at the property about four years ago but decided the price was too high, said John Bremond, Tucson division president. Two years later, with home values rising quickly, the company reconsidered. The development is poised to sell out.

The price in developments with less-than-ideal views is nice, but some things just can't be ignored, said Mayo Thompson, 33, a UA geosciences senior. His wife, Monica, wanted to live on the city's North Side, so they bought a $174,000, 1,400-square-foot US Home house near North La Cholla Boulevard and East River Road about a year ago, in La Cholla Crossing. The north end of the development has a view of the desert brush just south of the Rillito River.

The south end - the view from Thompson's driveway - looks over a community wall into the yard of Horizon Steel, 2325 W. Curtis Road, a structural-steel business.

During the day, the sound of clanging steel and roaring motors reaches his front door. From the front yard, the metal siding of the Horizon Steel building contrasts with the soft, sand-hued stucco walls of houses in the neighborhood.

Thompson said he had reservations about buying his lot, but prices were going up quickly and finding new houses on the Northwest Side was nearly impossible. He's enjoyed his home. Still …

"If I had my druthers, I would have asked for something further back," he said.

Oct 31, 2005, 11:04 AM
Two downtown hotels renovate and expand

The Hotel Arizona (formerly the Radisson City Center) will remodel and expand as the main Convention Center hotel with a total of 700 rooms, adding a retail center and second tower, while the Santa Rita Hotel is downsizing to 66 rooms, but adding 148 condos, plus street-level retail and restaurant space.

Hotels follow different paths in redevelopment
By Philip S. Moore, Inside Tucson Business
Posted: Sunday, Oct 30, 2005 - 04:01:10 pm MST

Bigger or boutique. Looking to the future of what downtown is to become through Río Nuevo, two downtown hotels are going through transformations. But what they will become will be as different as the guests they’re seeking to attract.

The landmark Santa Rita Hotel, 88 E. Broadway, and the former Radisson City Center, now named the Hotel Arizona, 181 W. Broadway, are both scheduled for extensive renovation. The first will become smaller, tailoring itself to the specialty market, while the latter is preparing to double in size, to be the leading convention hotel for the city’s planned convention-arena complex.

Owner HSL Properties, the Tucson-based developer of many apartment complexes, is redeveloping each of the hotels to meet the company’s expectations for the future of downtown and the people who’ll be coming there.

Architect Kevin Howard is developing the plans for both the Santa Rita and Hotel Arizona. He said the half-dozen blocks between them has made a big difference in the choice of design.

The Hotel Arizona “wants to be a component of the civic plaza,” he said. “That means designing it to be the living room for downtown with a contemporary feel that speaks to the future and says Tucson’s time has come.”

By contrast, the Santa Rita is being designed to emphasize Tucson’s history. “The first thing the reconstruction project will do is peel away a poorly done 1970s remodeling job to bring it back to its historic appearance, in all its glory,” Howard said. “Along with that, we’re redesigning the entire block, so that the new parts will be upbeat and contemporary, but stay in keeping with the scale and historic nature of the hotel.”

First shedding its Radisson affiliation, the Hotel Arizona has started the renovation process that will ultimately transform the entire huge block that includes La Placita Village and the Tucson Convention Center. A new tower is planned, increasing the total number of rooms from 310 to 700. The hotel’s 30-year-old meeting, restaurant and retail space will be renovated and augmented by a new glassed-in skybridge retail center.

According to Tom Tracy, president of The Lodging Company in Tucson and asset manager of the hotel during the transition, the reconstruction work will start in 2006 and continue in stages over the next several years, going a long way toward meeting Río Nuevo’s plans for 1,100 new first-class guest rooms by 2010.

“We want to proceed in conjunction with what the city’s doing with the arena and convention center,” Tracy said. “This is part of our strategic long-term plan for this property. So, as soon as we’re finished completing the financing package, we’re ready to go.”

The decision to cancel the management agreement with Radisson came sooner than expected as a result of an opt-out clause, Tracy said “but we’d already decided that the best course was to leave the Radisson franchise group, in order for us to be free to determine what affiliation, if any, would be appropriate for the future.”

He says “everyone feels confident of our ability to compete as an independent.”

If the strategy of the Hotel Arizona is to expand to serve a planned growth in convention business, the plans for the 161-room Santa Rita is to get a lot smaller, to recapture the hotel’s past elegance and attract a new type of patron as either shorter-term guest or long-term resident.

The Santa Rita is currently closed. It had been operating as the Clarion Santa Rita by Choice Hotels International. A partnership between Pathway Developments, another Tucson-based residential and commercial property developer, and HSL Properties is preparing to reduce the number of rooms to just 66, making it smaller than the 86-room Arizona Inn and about twice the size of the 35-room Lodge on the Desert.

Additionally, through new construction and remodeling there will also be about 148 condominiums, along with 15,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and five floors of parking.

“We’re still in the review process with the city, but we’ll definitely be remodeling the hotel in such a way as to go back to its 1930s glamour,” said April Ortiz, spokeswoman for Pathway. “We want the hotel to be operated on a smaller scale. We want to emphasize the historic character of the place while incorporating pedestrian open space areas and a strong retail front on Broadway.”

Ortiz said Pathway and HSL expect the plans to be approved in the next few months, so that a construction schedule can be established that will allow work to begin next year.

“As far as when we’ll be finished, I don’t think anybody knows that, yet,” Ortiz said. “We’ll know more when we have completed construction documents.”

The current Hotel Arizona (former Radisson):

Renderings for the renovated Santa Rita Hotel and condos:


Oct 31, 2005, 6:34 PM
Looks like a nice renovation -- a nice awareness of history in the design. I wouldn't mind at all if Tucson built a bunch of 6-12 story projects rather than a one or two 20+ story buildings. 20-story buildings don't impress anyone and that's about all that's ever talked about as the next "hi-rise" here. Let's get some nice density in Tucson and let Phoenix worry about mediocre height.

Oct 31, 2005, 10:34 PM
^ The mid-rise niche seems to make the most sense for Tucson at the moment, as the city is just now seeing its first dense, urban loft and condo projects. (I think the proposed downtown 25-story Century Tower with condos and hotel is a long-shot right now, for a lot of reasons.)

Here's another mid-rise project announced for Stone and Speedway--I don't have a rendering, but I remember one in the Daily Star a few months back.

Mixed use center moves forward on Stone Avenue
by Philip S. Moore
(Inside Tucson Business - online)

A new multi-story, mixed use development is headed toward a May 2006 groundbreaking at the corner of Stone Avenue and Speedway.

Stone Corridor Partners paid $1.05 million to purchase a 60,000-square-foot lot on the southwest corner of the intersection from John and Eva Vandevier. On the site, the partners will be constructing a 165,000-square-foot, six-story complex with 105 luxury condominiums, 10,000 square feet of retail and 25,000 square feet of office space.

The building is designed by Sayler-Brown Bolduc Lara Architects of Tucson. It is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2008, according to Gary Weiss, a partner in the development project.

This partnership is the first company to commit to a major downtown area development project. “We’re not afraid,” he said. “We believe in this location, which really serves as a gateway to the downtown area.”

Across the street from Pima Community College’s downtown campus, Weiss said the development is located at a high traffic and easy-access corridor for people traveling either northwest or south. “It’s a great market for what we’re going to build. It’s the type of a project that needs to be done here, in downtown,” he said.

“He said that’s why we’re not afraid to spearhead this. It will be good for the partners, good for the city and good everybody.”

Weiss and his firm, Tomkins Realty, represented the buyers. Mike Boyd and Roy Drachman, with Roy Drachman Realty, represented the sellers.

Nov 7, 2005, 9:29 AM
Although only one-tenth as busy as Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport (the nation's 5th busiest), Tucson's airport traffic grew an impressive 10% this past fiscal year, and would grow even faster if more Tucsonans didn't fly out of Phoenix. TIA just completed a $65M terminal expansion and is scheduled to improve and remodel the concourses in 2006.

A new website now promotes the best Tucson airfares, encouraging locals to use TIA: http://www.airtucson.com/

Tucson airport tops 4 million passengers, for first time
By Philip S. Moore, Inside Tucson Business
Posted: Friday, Nov 04, 2005 - 01:39:25 pm MST

Three years after seeing the largest declines in its history, Tucson International Airport this year is setting record gains, with more than four million passengers passing through the terminal. It’s the first time in the airport’s 78-year history it has passed the four million mark.

In a Nov. 1 report to the Tucson Airport Authority Board of Directors, Richard Gruentzel, director of Finance, said the airport ended the fiscal year, Sept. 30, earning $33.3 million, 8 percent more than a year ago and 5 percent more than the airport’s financial staff forecast for this year.

Passenger volume was up 10 percent this year with 4,041,309 arriving and departing passengers, Gruentzel said.

There were additional flights for the passengers to take, he said. Delta Air Lines added a third daily round-trip to Atlanta and three additional flights to Salt Lake City. American Airlines added an eighth round-trip to Dallas-Ft. Worth. Southwest Airlines introduced new service to Chicago Midway Airport and a fifth flight to Las Vegas. America West also added two flights a day to Las Vegas.

“We just keep building momentum,” Gruentzel said.

Landing fees were also up, as is revenue from concessions, which jumped 12.25 percent over budget estimates and 10 percent higher than the previous year’s total.

“This increase is primarily the result of an increase in rental car revenue for 2005 to $617,000 as well as $67,000 in food and beverage revenue, which was also higher than fiscal 2004,” he said.

In addition, net parking lot fees were $5.96 million, 9 percent greater than last year and 14 percent higher than budgeted.

Gruentzel noted that 2005 gains were helped by operating expenses, which came in 9 percent below budget at $24.46 million, an increase of only 1 percent over fiscal 2004. Personnel expenses were 4 percent under budget, and fees for contractual services were 22.3 percent below the 2005 budget. While this was offset, in part, by a 1 percent increase in materials and supplies, largely due to an increase in gasoline costs, other operating expenses slid 14 percent, due to lower insurance premiums.

As a result, the flightline operating gross margin was $1.49 million, a 2 percent decline from fiscal 2004, but 13.28 percent better than budgeted for fiscal 2005, and net income from operations was $14.7 million, more than $5 million greater than the budget of $9.68 million, Gruentzel said.

While the news would be better if the airline industry wasn’t in turmoil, “things are looking up,” said airport authority President Bonnie Allin.

“More and more airlines are looking at coming here, which, for us, is exceptionally good news. We’ve been very much motivated to market our services and community and this is the result,” she said. “A large part of what we do is market our services, including concession, car rental and general aviation. It takes time to open that up, but we’re seeing a lot more people interested in flying through Tucson.”

If general aviation could increase as rapidly, she said the news for Tucson Airport Authority would be perfect. “That’s why we’re working to add capacity.”

Anticipating growth has been an ongoing process, including anticipating what needs to be done if growth comes faster than expected, said Michael Harris, chairman of the airport authority board.

Harris said doing this is more challenging in Tucson because of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, which reported a 4.8 percent increase during the previous 12 months to 40,786,274 arriving and departing passengers, between September 2004 and August 2005.

Although Sky Harbor is handling 10 times the volume of Tucson’s airport, even small changes in local passenger choice can make big differences for Tucson.

“A million people a year go to Phoenix to get on a plane. We want them to fly out of here. However, if even half of them decided to come here, we couldn’t handle them, right now,” Harris said.

Tucson is a dynamic market, in part, because of the airport, while the airport grows, in part, because of the city’s growth, he said.

“People and business follow runways. If you want an area to grow, build the capacity. They, in turn, will create demand for the air service.”

He said, “The resources are here if they’re properly managed. That’s why we emphasize good planning. That way we’re always thinking ahead, so we don’t have a crisis.”

Nov 7, 2005, 11:21 AM
Yea, I definitely think Tucson Int'l would gain significantly if people didn't make the trek up to Phoenix as much. It's really good to hear airlines are increasing service to Tucson.

Nov 11, 2005, 6:26 AM
Some suggestions to speed up the snail's pace of Rio Nuevo and Tucson's downtown redevelopment:

Carrots and Sticks
Downtown Tucsonan, November, 2005
From The Editor
Donovan Durband
Executive Director, Downtown Tucson Alliance

Someone once said that what Downtown Tucson needs is 10 good funerals. It was a crude way to put it, but the point was clear: some of the long-time property ownership is less than active in maintaining and investing in its Downtown holdings, and the goal of Downtown revitalization might be better served if more engaged ownership replaced the most passive of the long-timers.

Like any Downtown, ours consists of a hodge-podge of owner types: banks, large corporations, large and small real estate investors, family trusts, owner/operators of small businesses within the owned buildings, non-profits, government (in our case, LOTS of government), true developers, and speculators. As with any human endeavor, there is a continuum from those with the best of intentions and a larger community vision to those with a limited vision and purely selfish motives.

Many of the old-timers have owned their buildings free and clear for decades, and haven’t been motivated to invest in their buildings because they perceive that quality tenants aren’t out there. They can personally afford to hold onto that view because their only expense is property taxes. With Rio Nuevo, many feel they can hold a little longer as the promise of revitalization drives the prices up. The rents stay low, while the prices go up. Not a good combination to promote activity in the short run.

But the promise that drives the increase in prices and the speculation is just a promise, to some degree, if we don’t get more of the building owners to step up and help make the revitalization happen, one building, one storefront at a time. How about investing in the building, bringing in great tenants (providing them with incentives if necessary), and THEN selling at an even greater windfall because of the added value of your own efforts?

The buildings I’m talking about need not be individually identified here. Their condition, appearance, and chronic lack of active tenants make their identities painfully self-evident.

Each under-utilized space has its own story. There is a unique historic (but currently vacant and dilapidated) building in Downtown that has a waiting list of potential buyers who will have to wait until the last of the oldest owners passes away before they get a shot at redeveloping the building and bringing new life to it.

The owners who haven’t invested in their properties in years tend to be in the following general categories: former owner/operators, whose own businesses failed for whatever reason, and who now struggle with good intentions to find new uses for the spaces; collective ownership stymied by family dynamics and lack of consensus; government entities that choose to serve their own needs for office space, rather than serve the community’s need for active businesses in obvious retail locations; owner/operators of businesses within those buildings, whose own businesses suffer from the appearance of the buildings they themselves own (these are the ones that truly perplex me); and absentee investors who don’t want to incur the expenses of proper maintenance and keeping good tenants, perhaps because they are waiting for a high-dollar buyout. Tenants of this last type of building owner include several solid businesses that suffer their landlords’ lack of investment or commitment to their success—they are offered only short leases, which discourages these businesses from making necessary leasehold improvements.

So what can be done?

It’s time to seriously consider enacting some regulation that holds our property owners to a higher standard. It is time for our more responsible property owners in Downtown, those who have made positive things happen (with or without the cooperation of their neighbors), to formally lay out expectations for their peers who have dragged this party down for many years.

Peer pressure is in order, and perhaps also the establishment of some “carrot-and-stick” approaches to property development. The City has offered grants for façade improvement, but some of the building owners have chosen not to take advantage of this incentive. Perhaps it’s time that the carrot was joined by the stick, and that the City of Tucson, with the support of the property owners, looked at mechanisms for financial incentives of a more punitive nature.

Some communities impose a vacancy surcharge on the owners of empty buildings, to induce them to seek out and maintain tenants. I was told that Modesto, California does this, by someone I would consider to be politically conservative and not generally prone to promoting government regulation.

Other cities impose “blight” penalties. A list of criteria that indicates blighted conditions is drawn up, and to the extent to which a building manifests these criteria, the local government levies pro-rated penalties accordingly.

If enacted here, blight penalties or vacancy surcharges would force those subject to them to either comply or sell to those who will.

I know of several building owners who absolutely support this approach, because they correctly perceive that their neighbors are harming their investments and those of the entire Downtown community.

It is time to begin a dialogue on this matter between the Tucson Downtown Alliance, potential investors in Downtown, and the City of Tucson.

Nov 20, 2005, 8:00 AM
Higher costs and delays in obtaining basic construction materials are beginning to significantly affect Tucson's and Arizona's main economic engine: home building.

Cement shortage grows worse
Marana plant problem cuts supplies further, slows building, causes layoffs

By Joseph Barrios and Thomas Stauffer

A long-standing shortage of cement turned much worse for Tucson's construction industry this month, leading to layoffs of workers and delays in projects.

The shortage hasn't been this bad since the 1970s, when some companies simply couldn't get cement, said Terry Carson, owner of Benchmark Concrete Co.

Cement is the main ingredient in concrete, an essential construction material that literally forms the foundation of new buildings, among other uses.

"Everybody's stressing on the deal," Carson said, because in construction "everything revolves around the concrete."

Carson said the shortage forced him to lay off six of his 48 workers. Other companies also foresee layoffs.

Among other projects, large and small, delayed by the shortage is the new Alvernon bridge across the Rillito River, intended to relieve congestion on North Swan Road and North Campbell Avenue.

Over the last few weeks, workers had begun pouring sections of the bridge, but now they have stopped because available supplies of concrete have been cut in half, said Brian Andrews, project manager for Ashton Construction.

In the meantime, some workers find themselves with less than 40 hours of work per week because there aren't enough supplies to work with.

"A lot of our people have been moved around to try and keep them busy," Andrews said. "If this keeps up, we'll have no choice but to stop and send people home."

Another victim of the shortage is Richard Marschner, a buyer of a house at Franklin Court, a new development Downtown at West Franklin Street and North Court Avenue.

Builder Michael Keith originally installed a concrete sidewalk to Marschner's garage, but the slope was a bit severe, so Keith agreed to redo it, Marschner said.

Workers removed the existing sidewalk to make room for the new one, Marschner said. But "the concrete never showed up," he said. "It's just dirt."

The "pour" of Marschner's sidewalk is now scheduled for Nov. 29, about a month late.

Said Carson, of Benchmark Concrete: "I've been having conversations with my customers and telling them, 'If you miss a scheduled pour date, then it's going to be weeks before we can get back to pour it.' Right now, I'm scheduling into January."

The problem comes after the price of cement had already more than doubled from March 2002 to March 2005, from $200 per cubic yard to $450.

"Costs have risen dramatically over the last year," said Tommy Roof, president of T.L. Roof & Associates Construction Co.

That's contributed to the higher prices customers are paying for new homes, analysts have said.

Kiln shut down

The immediate cause of the shortage was the Nov. 1 shutdown of the main kiln at Arizona Portland Cement in Marana. The brick lining of the kiln, a 150-foot-long rotating oven that bakes raw materials to turn them into cement, had to be replaced, said Craig Starkey, senior vice president for the company.

That kiln returned to production just two days later.

But the damage was already done, creating a backlog that will likely last for weeks, Carson said.

Arizona Portland Cement, 11115 N. Casa Grande Highway, is the supplier of cement for most of the concrete used in Tucson-area construction. It is also one of two facilities in Arizona that together produce most of the cement used in the state. The other is near Clarkdale in Northern Arizona.

Supplies are supplemented by shipments from California and Mexico.

The Marana plant runs non-stop and produces about 1.4 million tons of cement a year, Starkey said. But it had nearly exhausted its inventory when the kiln was shut down.

The problem is not limited to Arizona, said John Bloom, chief economist for Cemex of Mexico's U.S. operations. Cemex is one of three Tucson-area suppliers of ready-mix concrete.

"All producers are sold out, and inventories are at rock-bottom levels. Whenever you have a disruption at a plant, it's very difficult to meet the demands in the short term," Bloom said.

Demand for cement in Arizona is up 13 percent this year over last, Bloom said, citing U.S. Geological Survey statistics. Growth in other countries, especially China, had already worsened the shortage here. China uses roughly 800 million tons of cement a year, he said, compared with 119 million tons used in the United States.

Two factors could help

Construction-industry officials point to two possible moves that could help alleviate the backlog.

One is an expansion of Arizona Portland Cement. The company has wanted to expand since 1998 but has not been able to get approval from federal and state officials because of environmental concerns.

The company is "getting closer" to making a proposal that might prove successful, said Starkey of Arizona Portland Cement.

The other issue is a 55 percent tariff imposed on cement imported from Mexico. U.S. officials imposed it after accusing Mexico of "dumping" cement on the U.S. market at below-cost prices.

"You can't really separate the shortage from the dumping dispute," said Rick Shapiro, executive vice president of public affairs for Cemex in the U.S.

Cemex, which produces cement in Mexico, has been lobbying the governors of Western and Southern U.S. states, urging them to support rescinding the tariff. If the tariff is lifted, Cemex would likely ship more cement from its plant in Hermosillo, Sonora, to this country.

Last month, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson met with U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to urge that the tariff be lifted.

Cemex officials have also asked Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to sign on, but so far she has not.

Spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer said the governor generally supports free trade and lower tariffs but also wants to protect "Arizona interests," which include some tribes that hold interests in cement companies.

The cement shortage is leading builder Keith to seek out alternatives to concrete.

"My thoughts for the next project are that I'll go with wood floors. I'll go back to the way they built the Cheyney House, where you have wood floors about eight inches off the dirt," Keith said, referring to a 100-year-old Downtown home.

"Strangely enough, it may get to the point where wood floors are cheaper than concrete, and it may even have already gotten to that point."

Nov 20, 2005, 8:25 AM
Sprawling suburban Sahuarita wants to keep its rural ambiance, but with all the urban conveniences:

Sahuarita goes shopping
Centers going up and expanding as they prepare to serve booming town

By Levi J. Long

New activity is stirring beyond Sahuarita's mature pecan groves and its exploding subdivisions.

On the town's southwestern edge, five new shopping centers are either getting ready to break ground or will expand in the next two years. Along Duval Mine Road, a new Wal-Mart Supercenter is scheduled to open by February, replacing an older Wal-Mart in the town. So far, Walgreens, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Carl's Jr., Fletcher's Tire & Auto, and a gas station have all signed leases or purchased pads at the shopping center.

Farther south, more development is happening, as more than 12,000 square feet of retail space is being added to the Safeway Shopping Center at 1301 W. Duval Mine Road. A full-service restaurant, a nail salon and a hair salon, are expected to occupy the space and open by January.

The commercial development responds to the hopes of town residents, whose numbers have swollen from about 3,000 in 1999 to approaching 13,000 today. A survey by the town government, which included responses from nearby Green Valley, showed that locals really want to shop near home. They listed as priorities a department store, a home-improvement store, an outlet store and a specialty foods store.

Some residents, like Aaron Brown 35, a four-year resident of Rancho Sahuarita, have even simpler hopes.

"One of the things we really need is a gas station and convenience store," Brown said.

Recruiting businesses pays off

Brown's getting that and much more, thanks in part to the laws of supply and demand, but also to the efforts of town officials and business people.

For the past two years, the town of Sahuarita and developers of nearby subdivisions have been reaching out to regional business leaders and retail companies, recruiting businesses and services for the town's growing population.

This year the town hired Kathy Ward to devise a strategic economic development plan. She said long-term plans call for diversifying the local economy and bringing high-wage jobs to the area.

"But for now, we're concentrating on the short-term economic needs," Ward said.

And that means stores and services.

The national economy has been good for retailers looking to expand and build new stores, Ward said.

"It's just a matter of attracting the stores here, and getting onto their radar," Ward said.

An old Kmart building has been leased to a new home-furnishings store, moving in by the end of the year.

Sahuarita Plaza, on Duval Mine Road, was recently bought by three Tucson partners. They are currently negotiating leases for the existing Wal-Mart space and are planning a new facade and plan to add new landscaping.

Another 19 acres across Duval Mine Road just closed escrow for another shopping center. Development plans are in the process and the center may have a national retailer as an anchor tenant.

24-acre "village"

In addition to these shopping centers on the southwestern edge of town, a new 24-acre retail development, near I-19 on the northeast corner of Rancho Sahuarita Boulevard and Sahuarita Road, is expected to break ground in early 2007.

The Village at Rancho Sahuarita, an "urban retail village" with restaurants, retail stores, and entertainment venues will be part of the Rancho Sahuarita Marketplace, which will be anchored by a 104,000-square-foot grocery store.

Court Chalfant, senior vice-president of the Sahuarita Companies, which is developing the project, said there has been tremendous demand from both residents and retailers.

"We haven't done much to recruit retailers," he said. "We have a long list of people, waiting to get in."

Chalfant declined to say which retailers they would like to attract, but said they have taken note of a 2004 survey conducted by the town of Sahuarita's Economic Development Commission.

The survey asked Green Valley and Sahuarita residents, what kinds of retail stores and restaurants they would like to see built. Some names mentioned in the survey included the Olive Garden, Romano's Macaroni Grill, Trader Joe's and Barnes & Noble.

Serving residents isn't the town's sole motive for helping bring retailers to town. Tax revenue figures show that since 2000, while population has quadrupled, sales tax revenue has not risen proportionally, which suggests that residents are making purchases outside town.

Looking for sales tax revenue

"The Town Council recognizes that increased sales tax revenues are a key factor in the town's ability to continue to provide excellent service to its residents," said Mayor Charles E. Olham.

Sahuarita's growth has been anchored by Rancho Sahuarita, which accounts for about 55 percent of the town's population. The master-planned community plans to add 11,660 new homes in the next five years.

The other master-planned communities of Quail Creek, Stone House and Madera Highlands, are also adding more than 6,400 new homes to the town. And looming in the future is another master-planned development of 10,000 new homes, expected to break ground outside the town in the next few years.

By 2010, town officials estimate that more than 26,000 people will reside in Sahuarita. And an estimate by the Pima Association of Governments (PAG), said by 2025 more than 250,000 people could live in the region south of Tucson, an area of land outlined as far as east as Arizona 83 and south to Sahuarita Road, a figure Ward said isn't so far-fetched.

"Right now, we're booming, which is good for the area. But we still have a lot of planning to do to get ready for the future," Ward said.

And though most residents and town officials want to keep the area's rural feel, they understand that growth is inevitable, and in some ways desirable.

"I'm torn," said Tom Brunner, a 57-year-old resident of the Los Colonia development. "On one hand, I'd like it to stay small. But I would like to see a Circuit City in the area."

Nov 25, 2005, 9:07 AM
Although $3.5M will help, Tucson and UofA will need a lot more money to get the proposed science center/bridge built, whose final cost may top $200M with the current design:

Rio Nuevo bridge project gets $3.5M funding boost
By Sarah J. Bell

The Bridge of Knowledge project, a part of the University of Arizona Science Center at Rio Nuevo, has received a $3.5 million boost in federal funding.

The project, an arch and suspension pedestrian bridge spanning Interstate 10 and the Santa Cruz River, will link the science center on the west side of the river to Downtown.

"It is a time when everybody is cutting back and here we are getting this contribution," said Alexis Faust, Flandreau Science Center executive director. "We couldn't be more delighted."

Faust said Arizona U.S. Reps. Jim Kolbe, Ed Pastor, Raúl Grijalva and Sen. Jon Kyl were instrumental in securing the federal windfall.

While Faust said project costs have not been nailed down, she said the federal contribution will be added to money earmarked for construction. Construction is anticipated to begin within a year, Faust said, noting that it could take four years from design to completion.

Increasing construction costs are a concern, she said.

"We are definitely being as aggressive as possible about meeting additional budget demands to ensure that this project go forward," Faust said.

Last year, the federal government provided $500,000 in project funding.

Funding has also been supported by the Arizona Board of Regents, which approved bond funding of $73 million for the center.

The city has committed to contributing $20 million from the Rio Nuevo project approved by voters in 1999. Another $20 million in private endowment money is expected, along with private donations and government funds related to the widening of the interstate and restoration of the Santa Cruz River.

Nov 25, 2005, 9:24 AM
Another "cart before the horse" story: the city of Tucson is determined to get a supermarket downtown before there are enough residents to support one, according to developers. (For comparison: downtown L.A., with a population of 25,000 projected to double within five years, is just getting its first supermarket next spring.)

Grocery plan for Downtown falls through
By Rob O'Dell

Tucson has dissolved an exclusive agreement with a developer attempting to build a grocery store Downtown, opening up the 13-acre site at West 22nd Street and Interstate 10 for other developers.

The city will solicit proposals in early 2006 to give developers the chance to pitch a new plan for the property, said Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson.

"All good intentions aside, we have collectively not been successful" in getting a project built on the site despite a four-year effort, she said.

In 2001 the city selected Bourn Partners to develop the property as a shopping center with a grocery store as an anchor. The city originally hoped to attract a store there by 2002, but Bourn officials said this summer that they may not have the location developed until 2009.

The city received several inquiries from developers looking to acquire and build on the property, Thoreson said, but couldn't talk to them because of a sole negotiating agreement with Bourn. She declined to identify the developers who expressed interest.

Thoreson said the anchor for the property has "always been envisioned as a grocery store" because Downtown-area residents have often said one is sorely needed.

She said the hope is a group of new developers bidding for the project, along with an increase in housing Downtown, will brighten the prospects for the property being developed.

"A larger number of developers and more optimism for Downtown will help the project," Thoreson said.

She wouldn't, however, give a new timeline for the project other than to say a new request for proposals will go out in early 2006.

Paul Schloss, a principal with Bourn Partners, said the area's demographics simply don't support a grocery store yet, and won't until about 2009.

"It's not at a critical mass to make it work," he said. "It's a function of timing. They're trying to build the center before the area is ready."

He said Bourn has spoken at length with grocery chains Albertsons, Safeway, Fry's and Bashas', but all the chains weren't yet willing to commit to the property. He said Albertsons is for sale and Safeway has several nearby stores, while Fry's and Bashas' weren't yet interested in locating there.

Mayor Bob Walkup said he sees the spot at the Interstate 10 frontage road and West 22nd Street as a prime location for a new shopping center.

Despite the fact that the city ran into roadblocks with the current proposal, Walkup said he still thinks it is a great location for a smaller grocery store. He said he hopes rebidding the project will help it materialize quicker.

"My guess is that (the requests for proposals) would generate new interest," he said. "Maybe we go back to square one."

Nov 25, 2005, 9:57 AM
You want a sure bet for sorely needed downtown grocers for Tucson, Phoenix, and maybe Tempe and Mesa?

Walmart's Neighborhood Market concept, which is floundering in the suburbs to established competitors like Safeway and Fry's, could find an evil home in areas like this that are waiting for that so called "critical mass." They are the only company capable of running a grocery store in the red for however long it takes, cutting prices enough until they dominate the area.

The low price thing would attract the established, low income residents. Sheer convenience attracts the higher end condo junkies.

Just don't tell them this.

Nov 25, 2005, 8:31 PM
^I've toyed with another option for emerging downtowns with a growing base of sophisticated, urban residents: cities should offer discounted or free rent for a few years to land a new Trader Joe's. It wouldn't be that expensive as their stores are fairly small, and I'd bet the payoff would be substantial.

(Hmmm....I wonder if this is what the Centerpoint project has in mind?)

Dec 1, 2005, 11:39 AM
A new walking trail will highlight some of downtown Tucson's most historic sites and structures:

A walk along the turquoise path
Historical sites, famous stories are spotlighted

By Rob O'Dell

Downtown Tucson is brimming with historical sites and famous stories. Soon it will have a walking trail to show much of it off.

Beginning in mid-December, Downtown will have a walking trail modeled after Boston's famous Freedom Trail to guide residents and visitors around 23 of the city's most significant historical landmarks.

The 23 sites are located in a loop around Downtown, from the Presidio Wall south to Carrillo Elementary School, then northeast to the Hotel Congress and northwest to finish at the Telles Block, which is now Old Town Artisans.

Each site will be marked along the trail, and sites that don't currently have plaques will soon get them.

The sites will be connected by a turquoise-colored line that is being painted on the sidewalk for most of the length of the trail, said Gayle Hartmann, president of the Presidio Trust for Historic Preservation and one of the two women largely responsible for making the trail a reality.

"We are copying the Freedom Trail," Hartmann said, of the trail that connects 16 historic sites between Boston Common and the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown by a red line painted on the sidewalk. "We aren't pretending that we are original."

Hartmann said the purpose of the trail is to encourage more use of Downtown, increase patronage of the businesses in the city's center, show off Tucson's rich history and simply provide the opportunity for a nice walk. The entire walk takes about two hours, she said.

While the stops on Tucson's new trail aren't as historic as Boston's, it has its own Tucson charm, said Marjorie Cunningham, a Tucson lawyer who was also instrumental setting up the walking tour.

She rattled off some of Tucson's unique history, including John Dillinger's capture at the Hotel Congress, Wyatt Earp shooting his brother's killer along the railroad tracks and the story of El Tiradito, the wishing shrine.

"It's not as (historically) significant as Boston's, but we have better weather," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said a brochure marking the trail's path and explaining its 23 sites and their significance will be ready by Dec. 15 at the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, 100 S. Church Ave., and also at hotels and restaurants.

"It seems to me that it is something that should have been done a long time ago, so people can understand what they're look
ing at," Hartmann said.

1. Presidio San Agustin de Tucson 2. Pima County Courthouse 3. Mormon Battalion sculpture 4. Soldado de Cuera ( Presidio Soldier) sculpture 5. Allande footbridge 6. Garcés footbridge 7. Gazebo in Plaza de Mesilla (La Placita) 8. Sosa-Carrillo-Fremont House 9. Jacome Art Panel at Tucson Convention Center 10. El Tiradito, also known as the Wishing Shrine 11. La Pilita 12. Carrillo Elementary School 13. Teatro Carmen 14. Ferrin House, now Cushing Street Bar and Restaurant 15. Barrio Viejo streetscape 16. Temple of Music and Art 17. Armory Park 18. International Order of Odd Fellows Hall 19. Hotel Congress 20. Union Pacific Railroad Depot 21. Fox Theatre 22. Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block 23. Telles Block (now Old Town Artisans)

2. Pima County Courthouse dome

16. Temple of Music and Art

19. Hotel Congress

21. Fox Theatre (grand reopening: Dec. 31)

Dec 1, 2005, 12:58 PM
Gotta love Hotel Congress, and it's Cup Cafe.

Dec 1, 2005, 5:46 PM

One more reason why Tucson gets it better than Phoenix.
The Phoenix Fox Theater was our great movie palace, an art deco treasure. We tore it down in 1975 for a bus transit center, which is now just a parking lot.

http://img336.imageshack.us/img336/2700/uc20fox20exterior6up.jpg (http://imageshack.us)

Yesterday's glory, today's parking lot:

http://img336.imageshack.us/img336/3046/pb2101544vv.jpg (http://imageshack.us)

Dec 2, 2005, 8:09 PM
Even a former courthouse annex and an old convent are being converted as Tucson finally embraces loft living:

Downtown a budding housing hot spot
'People are tired of driving,' one area developer says

Tucson Citizen
December 1, 2005

Converting a vacant courthouse annex into high-end loft-style condominiums may seem unusual for downtown Tucson, but the market for upscale urban housing is taking hold.

Projects large and small and in varying states of completion are dotting the map of downtown.

On Congress Street just west of Interstate 10, the first houses of the new Mercado District of Menlo Park - nearly 300 homes and retail shops - will be going up in a few months.

The old YMCA building at Fifth Avenue and Sixth Street is scheduled to be razed to make way for a loft-style development.

The Arizona Ice and Cold Storage building was converted into 51 lofts, and all the units were sold as of last month.

The former convent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Joseph's Academy are also being turned into luxury lofts.

Randy Emerson, director of development for Rio Nuevo, said two other mixed-use projects are making progress but are in the early stages.

Presidio Terrace, a townhouse and apartment development just north of the Tucson Museum of Art, has received plan approval from the city and must now finish up design and permitting before construction can begin.

The Post on Congress, to be built on the site of the former Thrifty Drug store, is being designed and has not submitted plans to the city for review.

Emerson said developers of the ex-drug store site are in negotiations to buy the parking lot behind the Chase Bank building.

James LeBeau, a partner in 44 Broadway LLC, which is converting a former courthouse annex, said his group's project will likely be the first completed in the heart of downtown.

He said as more people move downtown, restaurants and retail operations will follow.

Projects that include ground-floor retail such as The Post on Congress, which will be across from the courthouse annex LeBeau and his partners are converting, will help make downtown more pedestrian oriented, he said.

"Who wants to walk by this now? But when it's done, people will be coming here," LeBeau said, gesturing at the vacant lot across the street.

Jayson Meyerovitz, another partner in the firm, said Tucson is starting to see a trend that other cities have seen for years.

"Urban living is hot everywhere," he said. "People are tired of driving."


former Immaculate Heart Convent and St. Joseph's Academy slated for 36 loft apartments (Academy Lofts):

rendering - 20-unit condo loft conversion of former courthouse annex at 44 E. Broadway:

Dec 7, 2005, 9:21 PM
Instead of just widening I-10 through downtown, Tucson and Pima County want ADOT to study putting it below ground level and underground, which would eliminate the bisecting of Rio Nuevo and give added real estate to the project:

I-10 tunnel Downtown proposed
Plan likely to delay widening bids, could add $100M to cost of project

By Rob O'Dell and Tim Ellis

The city and county asked the state Tuesday to delay widening Interstate 10 through Tucson to give time to study putting the highway below ground level through downtown — which could add at least $100 million to the project.

Bids for widening the freeway, now estimated to cost $191 million, were scheduled to go out in December. But with the help of Gov. Janet Napolitano, the bid solicitation probably now won't go out until at least spring, or later.

That will give the city and county a chance to study how much it would cost and how long it would take to put the freeway below ground level through Downtown from roughly St. Mary's Road to 22nd Street, a part of which would be a tunnel.

A 2002 study indicated simply depressing that stretch of freeway, without making it a tunnel, could double the cost. That, coupled with the phenomenal inflation in road construction costs in over the past year, point to a cost increase in the $100 million range, although most officials said it's impossible to predict for sure until further studies are done.

Transportation activist and one-time Democratic City Council candidate Steve Farley confirmed $100 million is the figure he has heard from city officials with whom he discussed the project. Others privately acknowledged that amount has been discussed.

The possible redesign also clouds the future of the huge arch and suspension bridge planned as part of the University of Arizona's new Downtown science center, that was expected span the freeway, linking Rio Nuevo development west of the Santa Cruz River to Downtown.

City Councilman Jose Ibarra said the bridge "probably would not exist anymore" if the highway was lowered. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said that the depressed freeway may make the bridge "unnecessary." That's news to Alexis Faust, executive director of the University of Arizona's Flandrau Science Center, who said, "I don't see it how it affects us at all." She said the science center still needs to be connected over the Santa Cruz River, and if the highway was eliminated, the pedestrian bridge could have great views of parks and the buildings that are put in the highway's place.

The request to the state was laid out Tuesday in a memo signed by Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, Ibarra, and Pima County Supervisors Sharon Bronson and Richard Elias. While the tunnel idea has been discussed before, Tucson City Manager Mike Hein said the city has a window of opportunity with the Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment project and the widening of I-10 happening in concert. "I don't want to be in the position where in 10 years people look back and ask why didn't we look at this one more time," he said.

Jan Lesher, the head of the governor's Southern Arizona office, said that the governor, a Democrat who is up for re-election in 2006, asked that the project be delayed so a tunnel could be looked at. Dennis Alvarez, Tucson District Engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation, said the bids will not go out until the study is done.

Lesher said the governor's office wants a study done quickly "to find out if this is even remotely possible." "We only get one bite at this apple," so it is critical that the right decision is made, Lesher said. Andrew Greenhill, Walkup's chief of staff, said Napolitano's support is very important, and said the governor has always been supportive of projects in Southern Arizona, one of the only strongly Democratic areas in the state.

Widening the freeway to eight lanes from West Prince Road to 29th Street was expected to start next year, and be done on an accelerated three-year schedule to minimize disruption, at the city's request.

Bob Brittain, vice president of HDR, the consulting firm that did the 2002 study, said the city called the firm recently and asked if it could do a feasibility study as inexpensively and quickly as possible. He said the firm hasn't been officially selected, and estimated a study will take "maybe two or three months." Under the concept described by Brittain, I-10 would go over St. Mary's, then just south of St. Mary's it would begin to cut into the ground. It would pass under Congress, under Clark Street, under Simpson Street and then it would rise above ground level and pass over 22nd Street.

An 800-foot section of the lowered roadway would be a tunnel, according to Brittain, from just south of Congress Street roughly to Mission Lane. Brittain said the city wanted as long a tunnel as possible, but said there is a long depressed section that doesn't have a top, "so you can still have the interchange at Congress."

Greg Shelko, director of the city's Rio Nuevo redevelopment project, said putting the highway underground would add real estate downtown and eliminate the barrier between the east and west sides of the city center. He likened the highway to "the Continental Divide."

Many officials, including Ibarra and Elias, who represent the area for the city and county, said connecting the West Side to Downtown was one of the key reasons to study a tunnel and a lowered freeway. "The West Side residents point to I-10 and say 'that's what cut us off from the rest of the city.' " Ibarra said. "This provides an opportunity to re-establish the synergy between the West Side and Downtown that existed before I-10 was built."

Lillian Lopez-Grant, who lives a few blocks west of I-10, said the West Side neighborhoods are very supportive. "That's what we wanted all along," said Grant, the president of the West Side Coalition, a group of five neighborhoods.

Maurice Destouet, senior vice president of the Riverpark Inn at I-10 and Clark Street, said he hadn't heard of the plan but likes it. "Anything that will require ADOT to rethink the effect of this freeway expansion, and particularly the closure of the Clark Street tunnel, and the noise problem, is good," he said.

Dec 7, 2005, 10:54 PM
I hope they do it. I like the Rio Nuevo bridge idea, but if I were forced to choose, I'd opt for the freeway tunnel.

Don B.
Dec 8, 2005, 12:21 AM
^ Of course, $100 million could also build a 35 story skyscraper in downtown Tucson, or put $3000 to $4000 in the pocket of every poor family that lives in Tucson, providing a boost to the economy, so I guess it's all about how much money state bureaucracies can blow.

Deck Park Tunnel in Phoenix is nice, but no one can claim it really made that much of a difference in the urban fabric of Phoenix. The money likely could be better spent elsewhere.


Dec 8, 2005, 12:56 AM
^And how many billions does the state continue to spend on more freeways in metro Phoenix that only encourage more sprawl?

I think this project could make a significant difference in the future success of downtown Tucson by not only providing additional contiguous land for Rio Nuevo's various projects, but also rejoining some severed parts of a fairly small downtown area. When initially built, I-10 literally sliced off the west side of downtown Tucson, by both obliterating and alienating neighborhoods that were previously connected to the downtown core.

On the other hand, I-10 in Phoenix is north of its downtown, and the underground tunnel there did nothing more than bulldoze parts of the historic Roosevelt district to create a platform for Deck Park, which for its expense, is hugely underdeveloped and underutilized.

Don B.
Dec 8, 2005, 2:24 AM
There are plenty of vacant lots in downtown Tucson. Perhaps those should be filled up before we spend a lot of money to bury a freeway that's already there.

Since you mentioned Phoenix, it's actually Maricopa County taxpayers that are footing the bill for most freeway development in the Phoenix area. As I recall, Tucson taxpayers haven't seen fit to do likewise.


Dec 8, 2005, 3:53 AM
The historic houses (and they WERE glorious) that sat in the path of I-10 in Phoenix were cleared in 1964, about 25 years before the actual penetration of the freeway into downtown. Deck Park is underutilized but it's still wonderful to have an amenity of that kind if only because it serves to knit together the fragments of Phoenix's urban tissue. Yes, it was very expensive, but the federal govenment paid for most it, about a week's worth of expenditures for the FUBAR in Iraq.

The only complaint I would have about Tucson's project is that it apparently is much smaller than Deck Park, which is a half mile in length. By contrast, Tucson's is only 800 feet and would feel more like a lily pad than a pond.

Dec 8, 2005, 6:57 AM
Since you mentioned Phoenix, it's actually Maricopa County taxpayers that are footing the bill for most freeway development in the Phoenix area. As I recall, Tucson taxpayers haven't seen fit to do likewise.

Although new freeways in metro Phoenix are funded by the additional county sales tax, once they are completed, the cost of ongoing maintenance and improvements becomes the responsibility of ADOT, which for Maricopa County was projected at $2.2B for the five years between 2002-2007. http://www.mag.maricopa.gov/archive/PUB/Document/LRTP%202001%20update.pdf

Since metro Tucson has far fewer freeway miles per capita, those residents are in fact paying a disproportionate share to maintain Phoenix's freeways. And regarding this project, with I-10 being an interstate, a significant percentage of any improvements will be federally funded.

Don B.
Dec 8, 2005, 12:54 PM
^ There's no way "maintenance" in the Phoenix area (with no freezing and thawing, repaving going on, etc.) would cost that much over five years.

I don't have time to wade through a 100-page+ document to figure it out for sure, but I suspect some of that cost is for reconstruction or rubberized-asphalt paving.


Dec 28, 2005, 6:26 AM
With the projected cost of the proposed downtown bridge/science center now $350M and only $100M raised thus far, some Tucsonans are already resisting the project, although a new study claims it could bring big economic dividends:


'Rainbow bridge' may be pot of gold
Study: Costly science center structure would add $305M yearly to economy

By Thomas Stauffer

An extra $100 million spent on a landmark science center structure Downtown would return several times that amount in economic benefits, according to a study released Tuesday.

The "rainbow bridge" designed by architect Rafael Viñoly to house the science center would create about 5,000 new permanent jobs and bring in about $362 million annually in economic activity, the study says. Viñoly's bridge would reach a height of 367 feet, span Interstate 10 and the Santa Cruz River, and support most of the science center's buildings along its 1,200-foot curved expanse.
The rainbow bridge is now projected to cost about $350 million to build, compared to about $250 million for a similar science center built on a lesser bridge. For a cost increase of about one third, the economic impacts are several times that, said Rob Vugteveen, director of marketing and outreach for the University of Arizona's Flandrau Science Center.

The study by Cambridge, Mass.-based ConsultEcon Inc. projected that the extra $100 million for a landmark structure would bring in $305 million more in new spending every year and create 4,206 more jobs than a bridge that is not such a destination.

More than 80 percent of the projected economic impact of the proposed bridge is attributable to its architectural grandeur, said Alexis Faust, executive director of the University of Arizona's Flandrau Science Center. That's because of the larger number of out-of-state visitors such a landmark would attract, she said.
The UA has raised about $100 million of the $350 million price tag for Viñoly's suspension-bridge science center — a price tag that accounts for surging construction costs, said Robert Smith, director of Facilities Design & Construction at the UA.

To bridge the $250 million gap, UA officials will take results of the current study and images of the project to the public to build consensus and continue seeking funding, Faust said.
Officials from the UA and the city of Tucson have said one potential source of funding would be an extension to the 10-year tax increment financing period that allows the Rio Nuevo Downtown revitalization project to use a portion of state sales tax on public projects Downtown.

"The bottom line is we need to stay as open to pursuing as many different sources of funding as we can, public and private," she said. "The TIF (tax increment financing) extension money would obviously be a source we would look at, but that funding is not going to make or break the project."

Projections of the current take of sales tax generated from the financing — currently set to expire in 2013 — is $124 million, which the city must match from its general fund dollar-for-dollar in public funding for the project. The city spending can include infrastructure improvements and other public uses such as parking garages.
Extending the tax increment financing period for another 10 to 15 years could raise another $186 million, bringing the total state-sales-tax take to about $400 million.

While that amount of money could fund the Viñoly-designed science center, city officials have more recently announced plans to seek a tax increment financing extension not for the science center but to lower a stretch of Interstate 10 underground in the Downtown area, a project estimated to cost more than $400 million.

Lowered freeway won't hurt
Faust said efforts to extend funding for Rio Nuevo to bury the freeway don't adversely affect the rainbow bridge plan. An underground freeway would actually benefit the landmark bridge, reducing noise levels and visual congestion, Faust said.
The science center is "definitely part of the menu of projects" that could benefit from an extension of tax increment financing, said C. Mary Okoye, director of intergovernmental relations for the city.

A West Side resident who has attended scores of meetings and workshops on the proposed science center said she doesn't care how much money the study claims Viñoly's bridge will bring — she's dead set against it.

"I'm in full support of the science center, but look, we were never in favor of that damn bridge in the first place, and it's just a big waste of money and time," said Lillian Lopez Grant, the president of the Menlo Park Neighborhood Association. "I think they could do a lot of different things if they wanted to, instead of just hiring this loony-toon architect who designed a monument to himself. They're out of their minds."

Dec 28, 2005, 6:41 AM
Tucson is lobbying the state legislature to extend funding for Rio Nuevo--its downtown redevelopment project--by 20 or 30 years beyond 2012:

Rio Nuevo life span on way to extension

By Rob O'Dell
Arizona Daily Star

The life of the Rio Nuevo district seems to be a train that already has left the station.

Despite the fact that the Tucson City Council has never had a public discussion on extending the Downtown development district, all of the council members said they were on board to extend its life past the original 10 years. In addition, state Rep. Steve Huffman, a Tucson Republican, has begun drafting a bill in the House of Representatives to try to make it happen. "I think the council is ready to extend" the Rio Nuevo district, said Ward 4 Democrat Shirley Scott. "My sense is the council is headed in that direction."

The city also has moved up the timetable for finishing a feasibility study on constructing an underground section of Interstate 10 through Downtown, moving the deadline from March or April to the end of January. Earlier this month, the city and county asked the state to delay work on widening I-10 to provide time to study putting the freeway below ground level roughly from St. Mary's Road to 22nd Street, a part of which would be a tunnel. The shortened study period was partly brought about by the Legislature's calendar, City Manager Mike Hein said.

Receiving the report in January will ensure that the city knows the cost and practicality of a depressed freeway so it can take a vote on whether to ask the Legislature for an extension of the Rio Nuevo district, Hein said.

If the feasibility study came back in March or April, the city would have little or no time to lobby the Legislature for an extension, because the state lawmakers' session runs only until spring. Hein said a formal council vote to endorse an extension could coincide with the late-January completion of the I-10 study.

Michael Johnson, senior engineer at HDR, the company conducting the study, said he'll try to come up with a rough cost estimate, and an overview of what it would require — such as possible environmental impact studies — and a rough schedule for how long it would take to complete the project.

"We can't do a very detailed study in 30 days, obviously," he said. Huffman said he has opened a file on extending Rio Nuevo — the precursor to a bill — and is drafting its language so he can introduce it after the Legislature convenes in early January.

He said he is meeting with legislators to try to gain their support. The initial response has been positive, he said, and he expects the bill will pass this session.

Barrett Marson, a spokesman for the House Republican majority and for Speaker of the House Jim Weiers of Phoenix, said that although the speaker met with Tucson officials, including Hein, in Phoenix two weeks ago, Weiers didn't have much to say about the extension. He referred calls to Huffman, who he said is responsible for generating support to get the bill passed.

Tucson wants a 20- to 30-year extension, because 30 to 50 years is the typical life span of a district such as Rio Nuevo, said Mary Okoye, the city's lobbyist. A special law sets aside a portion of state taxes for a mix of museums, historic restorations and other cultural and commercial projects, but it requires the city to put an equal amount of its own money into the redevelopment, either in money or public projects.

The law is now expected to feed $124 million into Rio Nuevo by the time it expires in 2012. A 20-year extension would add $580 million that the city would have to match, while a 30-year extension would add $1.01 billion that the city would need to match, said city Finance Director Scott Douthitt.

The Rio Nuevo extension is being discussed now because of the proposals for an underground I-10 and for the massive suspension bridge that the University of Arizona wants to build, said Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, a Democrat from Ward 3. The $350 million bridge would be part of the UA's new Downtown science center. Another possible project that has come up in conversations with city officials is a new Downtown arena.

Getting state legislative approval to extend the diversion of taxes to Rio Nuevo could be a hard sell because it means more money for Tucson at the expense of cities in Maricopa County, whose lawmakers make up about 60 percent of the Legislature.

Huffman said the incentive for the approval by the Legislature was that an extension of Rio Nuevo would build the economic base of Downtown Tucson and would give the state more revenue in the long term.

He said voters wouldn't have to approve an extension because the electorate only authorized the creation of the district, and it was the Legislature that approved its 10-year life span.

Dec 28, 2005, 6:56 AM
Here's a local developer committed to Tucson's downtown revitalization:

Builder unveils downtown redevelopment plan

By Philip S. Moore
Inside Tucson Business
Monday, Dec 19, 2005

Developer John Wesley Miller believes one person can make a difference, and for downtown Tucson, he wants to be that person.

Miller has jumped into the speculative city center redevelopment frenzy with the purchase and proposed redevelopment of the McLellan Building, on Congress Street at Scott Avenue. Builder of the 90-plus-home Armory Park del Sol infill project as well as other housing developments around Tucson, he announced plans to transform the site of the former discount store into a four-level, 33,000-square-foot, office, retail and restaurant complex.

At a Dec. 14 press conference, with Mayor Bob Walkup present, Miller unveiled plans for the site, a block west of Stone Avenue. After Armory Park del Sol, he said a commercial redevelopment was the logical next step. “I’m committed to downtown. I grew up here in Tucson and I used to order a hamburger at the lunch counter, right here in this building. So, this is about more than making money. It’s about revitalizing downtown again.”

He said it is intended to become a focus for retail and entertainment, providing new commercial office space, less than a block from the new Pennington Street Garage, and give the downtown a place for people to go in the evenings.

Miller said he will be moving his company’s offices to the building and he has a tentative commitment from another business for 18,000 square feet of office space, surrounding an atrium entrance facing Scott Avenue. “We’re reserving the Congress Street side for retail that will attract people downtown.”

He said, “There might be a grocery store, or art galleries or a restaurant. Opportunities are open. Mostly, we’re listening because we want what’s best for downtown.”

Miller is also promoting the redevelopment as the city’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) platinum-rated commercial development, through the Green Building Council. “This will be the most energy efficient building in the community,” he said.

John Wesley Miller Companies will be the general contractor of the project, which is scheduled to begin in January. No architect has been chosen, but structural engineers Richard Ebeltoft and Al Nichols have been retained to develop the reconstruction plan and LEED certification.

Also speaking at the conference, Walkup said, “This is a really big deal. This is a major investment in downtown and other major projects are either starting as we speak or just around the corner.”

The mayor said Miller’s project, in conjunction with the other planned developments in downtown, “will make the heart of the city an instant Mecca.”

Jan 4, 2006, 3:18 AM
On New Year's Eve, Tucson celebrated the restoration and reopening of the Fox Theatre, its historic downtown movie palace:

http://i12.photobucket.com/albums/a228/kaneui/FoxMarquee.jpg http://i12.photobucket.com/albums/a228/kaneui/FoxInterior.jpg

Fox reopening is Downtown milestone
The star's view: The newly restored and renovated Fox Theatre may help draw more people to the Downtown area after dark.

Arizona Daily Star

This weekend's grand reopening of the Depression Era Fox Theatre Downtown is momentous. The building itself is a fine restoration, but its completion, or near completion — there is still minor work to be done — puts the finishing touch on one entire block of Tucson's bedraggled Downtown, a milestone in the city's revitalization effort.

It is now possible to walk the short distance from Stone Avenue to Church Avenue on Congress Street and feel the kind of bustle and excitement the city has been striving for decades to revive. After six years and an investment of $13 million, the Fox is arguably the jewel in the crown of the street it occupies. Once it starts booking events on a regular basis, it should generate lots of business for Downtown restaurants, especially its immediate neighbors to the west and east.

Once upon a time, it did just that. Construction of the movie house started just before the stock market crash of 1929 and was completed in 1930, a time when Downtown was the center of Tucson. Had the Fox's birth been delayed just a little longer, it's unlikely anybody — assuming they were still solvent — would have risked the $300,000 it cost for construction.

The theater that opened this weekend is not the place some Tucsonans remember from their youth. More will remember the place as it was in the 1950s or as the musty, water-damaged shambles it had become by the time it closed in 1974. Within 20 years of closing, the dim and dusty interior had become a sort of dormitory for homeless people who wandered the streets by day and returned to the Fox at night. There is not a hint of that past in the restored theater.

To qualify for designation as a historic structure, a staff of researchers and artisans under the tenacious leadership of Herb Stratford, executive director of the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation, spent six years peeling back the more modern layers to find the original 1930s art-deco design. Gradually, the auditorium was restored to a subtle blend of deep reds and golds and stylized motifs that suggest Southwestern themes. New, wider seats were installed, an elevator was added to the orchestra pit, dressing rooms were built, and a 1926 Wurlitzer organ will be brought in next summer. In the days of silent movies, the organ was used to enhance the drama of the speechless actors on the big screen.

The theater will be used for movies, concerts, film festivals, children's programs and drama. As a performance space, the only comparable local facilities are the Alice Holsclaw Theatre in the restored Temple of Music and Art, at 330 S. Scott Ave., home to the Arizona Theatre Co., and the renovated auditorium at Tucson High Magnet School at 400 N. Second Ave. The Fox's 1,200 seating capacity — about twice the size of the Temple of Music and Art and half that of Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona — meets the area's need for a medium-sized performance space. A couple of UApresents musical events will be staged at the Fox in February and April, and those who attend will be impressed by the superior acoustics.

The money for the restoration came from a combination of federal and local grants, a hefty loan from the city and donations from individuals and businesses. The $13 million investment is a pittance compared with the hundreds of millions of dollars now being discussed for other Downtown projects, including the UA Science Bridge and modifications to Interstate 10.

If the Fox draws more people Downtown, the return on that investment will ripple through the economy for many years to come.

Jan 4, 2006, 4:17 AM
Tucson is lucky to have the old building stock it has. Much has been lost, but any walking tour around the Presidio or Armory Park neighborhoods is a revelation. The value downtown Tucson has - let's be blunt - is mostly in its older buildings. Nurturing downtown back to life means accentuating what's valuable and minimizing what's inherently unvaluable: parking lots, nondescript modern crap, and the mandated mediocrity of newer government buildings. Lastly, it's the little projects like the Fox restoration which will ultimately determine downtown's future. There is no magic bullet with a high-rise or an arena. The small, human-scaled, fine-grained development is what every downtown needs, and was mostly sacrificed in our post-war haste to create sterilized cores.

Jan 4, 2006, 7:52 AM
What they've done with the Fox is wonderful. I cannot wait to check it out in person. Definitely a jewel for downtown Tucson.

Jan 4, 2006, 11:24 PM
With last year's hiring of Pima County administrator Mike Hein as its new City Manager, Tucson's slow-as-molasses downtown redevelopment project, Rio Nuevo, is facing some leadership changes:

Top gun for Rio Nuevo resigns
Assistant city manager takes position in Glendale

By Rob O'Dell

The most public face of Tucson's lagging Rio Nuevo redevelopment district has resigned to accept a contract overseeing economic development for the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.

Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson's resignation, which was announced Tuesday, is effective this weekend. She starts her new job in Glendale on Monday. She worked for the city for 13 years, as the community services director, and as an assistant city manager for the last four years.

Julie Frisoni, communication director for the city of Glendale, said Thoreson was hired on a three-month contract to oversee the Economic Development Department until about March. She will be paid about $30,000, Frisoni said. Frisoni said the city just started a national search for an economic-development director, and Thoreson could apply for the full-time position if that interested her.

In Tucson, Thoreson oversaw economic development and Rio Nuevo, the special downtown redevelopment district approved by voters in 1999, where limited progress has fostered grumbling by some members of the City Council and the public and became an issue in the last city election.

Since 1999, the city has spent $31.8 million in Rio Nuevo funds Downtown, although most of its planned projects remain in the planning or conceptual stages. Completed projects include the restoration of the Fox Theatre and an expansion of the ticket window at the Tucson Convention Center.

A few, like new housing west of downtown and a recreation of part of the Presidio wall that once defined Tucson, are just getting rolling. Others are still in the early planning stages, including the Arizona Historical Society Museum, the new University Arizona Science Center and a restoration of the convento, chapel and other features of the San Agustin Mission. Some, such as an aquarium and an IMAX theater, have been dropped completely.

Thoreson said she is proud of progress that has been made in Rio Nuevo, and with her departure there is a good staff in place to keep the momentum going. She said the economic-development position in Glendale was a special position she couldn't pass up. "They've got a lot going on," she said, citing Glendale's recently opened hockey and concert arena and its NFL football stadium under construction. "It's just a very special opportunity."

Thoreson has been job searching since at least this summer, when she was one of six finalists for city manager in Greeley, Colo. City Manager Mike Hein said since it has been known she was looking for another job, "in that regard it's not a surprise" that Thoreson is leaving. Hein said it is likely the city won't fill Thoreson's position, and he doesn't expect to include her position in the draft of the 2006 budget, that will come out later this year. When asked if there was a long-term plan to eliminate Thoreson's position, Hein said, "I'm always looking at a variety of things from a staff standpoint." Thoreson was paid $134,597 a year in Tucson.

She leaves with some people not thrilled with Rio Nuevo's progress. Roy Martin, a downtown lawyer who is the leader of Citizens to Preserve Tucson's History, said that much of the vision of Rio Nuevo has been "wrongheaded," with too much of it focused on the wishes of developers and not enough on historical preservation. "The people in control of Rio Nuevo to date, I think their vision has been wrong," Martin said. "Whatever the developer wants, the developer gets. It's entirely up to the developers."

Glendale's new arena is a prime location for large concerts and it is also the home of the Phoenix Coyotes. A new stadium for the Arizona Cardinals is about 75 percent completed and will open for the 2006 NFL season. Thoreson said a great deal of retail development, housing and new hotels are being built around the arena and the stadium. She said she will keep her home in Tucson, and will stay in Glendale during the week and return to Tucson on the weekends.

Frisoni said Glendale is happy to have someone of Thoreson's caliber to oversee the department for the next three months, noting that she could help the city acquire the retail and commercial tenants that Glendale is seeking and help develop its downtown as well.

Where major Rio Nuevo projects stand
●Status of some of the major Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment projects after six years:
- Re-creation of the Mission San Agustin and other historic structures from Tucson's birthplace: In Planning.
- Sonoran Sea Aquarium: Dropped.
- International Visitors and Trade Center: No Action
- New 250-room convention hotel: No Action.
- Restoration of Fox Theatre: Completed
- Arizona Historical Society Museum: Feasibility study just started.
- Flandrau Universe of Discovery Museum: Original $30 million proposal evolved into the planned $300 million University Science Center.
- New privately developed housing: Development started last year on one project. Planning being done for others
- IMAX Theater: Dropped
- Presidio Historic Park: Ground broken this year
- Arena: Not part of voter-approved plans. Feasibility study under way.
- Tucson Convention Center ticket window expansion: Done.

Rio Nuevo Funds expended to date: About $31.8 million

Compiled by Arizona Daily Star

Jan 9, 2006, 9:26 AM
Owners of a historic downtown Tucson building realize that restoring its original character makes it more attractive to prospective tenants:

Restoring Architectural Interest on Stone Avenue
Renovations to Compass Bank building nearly complete

by James Reel
Downtown Tucsonan
January, 2006


Preservationists got a lump of coal in their stockings just before Christmas. Actually, it was a report that the 1913 Bank One annex on Congress Street has been remodeled so much over the years that it doesn’t qualify as “historic” and may be razed if its owners want to include the land in an adjacent condo development.

Meanwhile, around the corner at 120 N. Stone Ave., the owners of the Compass Bank building next to the Pioneer aren’t letting decades of un-historical renovations dissuade them from treating the property like a precious antique.

In the end, Triangle Ventures, an investment group that includes Tom Warne, Yoram Levy and Don Semro, will have spent around $4 million acquiring and fixing up the building. The dollars are all private; no grant money is going into this project.

Why bother? To begin with, Semro notes that historically-minded renovations make a property like this more attractive to tenants, although that’s not something he can quantify. The greater motivations are qualities not usually associated with capitalists in the popular imagination: aesthetics and altruism.

“Our desire is to see that Downtown gets back the same architectural interest and character it had in its past,” says Semro.

Three years ago, Triangle Ventures restored the interior of the original Thomas-Davis clinic on Scott Avenue for the Udall Foundation. The partnership has been acquiring many holdings Downtown and elsewhere in Tucson; in December 2004 Triangle Ventures purchased the Compass Bank building (it’s actually been leased to, not owned by, the bank). During the first quarter of 2005 it negotiated a lease of the second floor to the organization that was created to succeed GTEC (Greater Tucson Economic Council)—Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, or TREO. March through June saw a flurry of work getting the second-floor interior ready for TREO’s July occupancy.

Beginning Memorial Day weekend, efforts turned to the façade; after a delay in finding materials, work should be completed any day now. Remodeling, though not renovation, of the first-floor interior awaits commitment to a lease from new tenants. The bank will remain, says Semro, but it will occupy less space than in the past.

The interior hadn’t been refurbished in at least 10 years, but plenty had been slapped up in previous decades. Some of what workers uncovered has been permanently exposed; other features have been stabilized but covered again.

A TREO conference room now boasts a striking feature: a cornice from what was the exterior of the Pioneer Hotel until this building was erected. The cornice was not only saved, but left exposed and illuminated from above the ceiling line. This same cornice design is being replicated on the building’s exterior.

Workers also uncovered the original stone crest of the Pioneer Hotel, although that had to be merely stabilized and concealed again. The second floor, which TREO calls home, was for many years the Pioneer Hotel’s ballroom. The original wooden dance floor still lingered under a couple of other layers of material, but unfortunately the wood had deteriorated too badly to be saved. Now, there’s carpet in its place.

“We found lots of changes that nobody knew about,” says Semro. “It seemed like every day during those first seven or eight weeks we were finding something new.”

Semro notes that the interior work was done in four months, a remarkably short time. “That’s a testament to the city’s Development Services working very nicely with us and the architect and contractor,” he says. The project’s architect is David Diebold, and the contractor is Ollanik Construction.

Fixing up the face of the building hasn’t quite been so easy. Things looked promising initially. Around Memorial Day, crews removed the façade along Stone Avenue, which had probably been put up in the 1960s; much of the building’s original exterior was still intact, including eight lead case windows.

But then the project stalled out for several weeks. “We were trying to find material that could be affixed to the upper third of the exterior wall that would duplicate the look of the original building,” says Semro. “We just couldn’t find anybody who could produce lightweight material that would look like concrete panels. Either the panels wouldn’t replicate the original appearance, or they were too heavy for the existing wall system to support the added load.” Finally, the venture found what it needed at Sierra Stone in Ohio.

Exterior fix-ups stretch from the restored cornices at the top down through the building’s re-encased columns to a rehabbed ATM area and new trees planted out in front.

The partners haven’t decided what to do with the as-yet un-remodeled parts of the building, including the second-floor pool area.

Triangle Ventures’ investment to this point, including the purchase price, has been $2.7 million. “By the time we’re done,” says Semro, “we’ll put another million to a million and a half in it.”

Clearly, nobody will be tearing down this building anytime soon.

Jan 9, 2006, 4:28 PM
Historic preservation as an urban virtue usually dates back to the 60s in NYC after Penn Station, a building of immense grandeur, was destroyed so a replacement of immense horror could replace it. In Tucson and Phoenix, the lag time is measured in decades before such insights begin to gel. During this period we've given up a ransom in architectural treasure so our local Chamber of Philistines could preen before the fun-house mirror of modernism. The old Pioneer Hotel, nearly lost in a deadly arson crime in the 70s, was reclad in hideous alumiunum and turned into an office building. What a coup if they could restore that beauty! Tucson's historic barrio was bulldozed for a creepy convention center, and the glorious Santa Rita Hotel was razed so a charmless substitute could mock the very idea of architecture.

Tucson is more fortunate than Phoenix in many respects: it's older, higher in altitude, blessed with higher mountains and more beautiful sunsets. It also has many more historic buildings. Tucson's future is its storied past, not in remaking itself into Little Phoenix. Now someone please tell Jim Click and Don Diamond.

Jan 9, 2006, 8:58 PM
^Hopefully, as suggested in this article from a year ago, the new owners of the Pioneer will restore the outer facade of the historic building:

current facade:

original facade:

Pioneer may lead the way
Profitable sale of building may augur well for Downtown, Rio Nuevo project

By Joseph Barrios

The former Pioneer Hotel building, an 11-story office tower in the heart of Downtown, sold last month for $7.8 million, almost $6 million more than its sale price in 1998.

Sandy Alter of buyer Holualoa Cos. thinks the building is a Downtown gem sitting in the middle of the coming Rio Nuevo revitalization. Once Downtown's most prominent hotel, the Pioneer burned in 1970, killing 28 people. It went through waves of renovation before and after the fire.

The purchase price for the Pioneer, at 100 N. Stone Ave., is $5.75 million more than the $2.05 million that Texas-based Cummings-Baccus Interests paid six years ago when it bought the Pioneer from John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.

The building's appreciation may be a positive sign for Downtown in its attempt at revitalization, but other factors also determined the price.

Cummings-Baccus invested millions in the building, refurbishing the lobby and many of the suites inside, said Alter, Holualoa's asset manager. The building wasn't up for sale early this year when Alter took a tour of Downtown. She remembers walking into the lobby, buzzing with people at Ike's coffee shop and adjacent sandwich stand, called Rachel's Downtown Market, and being impressed.

"It wasn't for sale then. The first thing I noticed was ease of parking and access to the building," Alter said. "Just walking into the lobby, seeing a line at Rachel's to buy things at her stand, seeing the energy and the synergy in a building that had clearly been renovated . . . it was just really neat."

Alter arranged the deal through Downtown real estate broker Buzz Isaacson, himself a tenant in the Pioneer. A few weeks after the first inquiry, representatives of Cummings-Baccus said they might be interested in selling.

Ross Cummings of the Texas company declined to comment on why it sold.

"It was just a good fit. I think it's simple," he said.

Cummings did say that when his company acquired the building in 1998, occupancy was below 50 percent. Now it's about 93 percent occupied.

Isaacson said the Downtown real estate market is not a good place for speculators wanting to make a quick buck. It's really a place for investors with long-term interests.

"We haven't built a big building in a long time. We get those calls (from speculators) once in a while. Quite frankly, I think they're too late," Isaacson said. "It's a very efficient market, and there's very little on the market."

Nevertheless, Rio Nuevo projects including new housing, demolition of a parking garage, the construction of another and renovation of the Fox Theatre are catching the attention of investors, Alter said. For evidence, she need look no farther than right next door.

Tucsonans Tom Warne and Don Semro just bought the Compass Bank building at 120 N. Stone Ave. for $1.15 million. Warne said Compass Bank is the only tenant in the two-story building, which also has a basement. Plans are to refurbish space there and make it available to new tenants.

Warne forecasts increasing interest from the private sector because organizers of the Rio Nuevo redevelopment project think more tax dollars than the predicted $120 million will flow into Downtown to help pay for projects. Rio Nuevo is funded with a portion of state sales tax revenue collected in a swath of Tucson, including Downtown.

"Things are happening and are going to happen. There's going to be a lot more investment going on. I think that's going to leverage up in the private sector," Warne said.

For the Pioneer building, Alter said her company is considering removing a metal frame added to the top of the building in the 1970s. The goal is to restore its historic appearance.

The Pioneer Hotel, which opened in 1929, helped give Tucson a skyline. In its heyday, it was known as the premier hotel in Tucson and catered to the business elite.

After the fire, developer Allan Elias converted the building to offices with extensive remodeling and facade work in 1977. Later, John Hancock Mutual Life spent $1.3 million renovating the building, including hallways and other common areas.

Jan 12, 2006, 9:05 AM
With recent reports that Tucson pays nearly 100 city employees over $100k, one of them has been cut loose from Rio Nuevo, the city's downtown redevelopment project:

City gives the boot to Rio Nuevo executive
By Rob O'Dell

Housecleaning in Tucson's Rio Nuevo Downtown redevelopment district continued this week, with word that another high-ranking official is being pushed out.

Randy Emerson, Rio Nuevo's director of development, said he was told Monday "that my position is being eliminated from the budget. I will be departing in the next 30 to 60 days." In a formal notice to Emerson on Tuesday, Deputy City Manager Mike Letcher said the city is in the process of evaluating the Rio Nuevo office, and "as we discussed, your position of Rio Nuevo project director will be eliminated effective Friday, Feb. 10."

Letcher said in the letter that the move was being made to reduce the management overhead cost of having two Rio Nuevo directors and "does not reflect your contributions to our efforts to revitalize downtown." Letcher would not comment further on the move.

As development director, Emerson is paid $120,661 annually. His boss, Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko, makes $123,510.

The special Downtown redevelopment district was approved by voters in 1999 to allow state taxes and matching city revenues to be used to revitalize the city center. Its limited progress has fostered grumbling by some city officials and the public, as $31.8 million in Rio Nuevo funds has been spent, while most of its projects remain in the planning or conceptual stages.

Emerson is the second high-ranking Rio Nuevo official to leave the city this month. Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson announced on Jan. 3 that she had quit her $134,000-a-year job, in which she was the most public face of Rio Nuevo, to work on a three-month contract for the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. As with Emerson, her job was being phased out of the city budget, and she likely wouldn't have been replaced.

City Manager Mike Hein said he is still considering what to do about the position as part of an overall effort to cut staffing. Emerson said he was surprised because he had no indication his position would be axed. He said he was disappointed because he won't see Rio Nuevo to completion, but he said he still strongly believes in it.

"I believe it's going to be successful and will just require some more time," he said, noting that the city just started receiving funding for the district in 2003. "Some projects will start to come out of the ground in the next few years. I believe people will be pleasantly surprised."

The former vice president of sales and marketing for the Larson Co. said he took the Rio Nuevo job in April 2004 because it was "too good of an opportunity to pass up." He said he will likely return to the real estate and development sector. Emerson is currently negotiating the terms of his departure with the city, and he said he will stay on for 30 to 60 days to ensure an orderly transition. "I believe the manager (Hein) wants to go in a different direction with Rio Nuevo," Emerson said, adding that he respected Hein's decision.

Shelko said he doesn't see the the departure of Emerson and Thoreson as part of a larger Rio Nuevo shake-up, and he didn't anticipate any further personnel changes in the program. He called Emerson's departure "a business decision" that was a budget and personnel matter for the city manager. "With Karen and Randy's departure, I don't think it will in any way diminish our ability to deliver Rio Nuevo," he said.

It also won't affect the city's decision to pursue an extension of the Rio Nuevo District that it is currently asking the Legislature for, Shelko said. The city is asking for a 20- to 30-year extension of the current 10-year district to potentially pay for a below-ground-level freeway through Downtown, to build a new arena, and to possibly construct a new science center for the University of Arizona with an "iconic bridge."

Mayor Bob Walkup said the housecleaning won't complicate those efforts. He said he's "convinced we can stand a little tighter belt at the top end." "This is the kind of thing we need to do on a regular basis," Walkup said. "It's part of doing business."

Jan 12, 2006, 2:45 PM
Well, I live in Tucson and I have to say that I am unimpressed with the Tucson's DT vision pre- and post-Rio Nuevo. For instance, they talk about replacing aging 9,000-seat TCC arena with, um, a 10,000-seat arena. Hello? What significantly different kind of show can you attract by that small addition? They should build a 20,000-seat arena since they're starting from scratch and then you can pull in a NCAA Regional bc this is a CBB town. But that's small potatoes. The bottom line is, nothing much is happening (still) DT. Incentives, people, incentives. Hire me and things will happen ;-)

Jan 12, 2006, 9:22 PM
I'm posting this too-long piece about the "Rainbow Bridge" architect since it may well have an impact on Tucson's decision to go ahead with that project.

Life Getting Hot
For Architect Rafael Viñoly

By Jason Horowitz
New York Observer

Rafael Viñoly, the celebrated New York architect, is having a great run in a tough town by most architects’ standards.

He’s working on a host of coveted projects: the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Bronx Criminal Court Complex and the CUNY School of Architecture. To say nothing of the buildings he’s built all over the world in recent decades.

But his reputation may yet suffer a blow in another building: the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

His firm has until Jan. 16 to work out its differences with Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Prospects of a settlement don’t look good.

The organization filed suit against the architect in November 2005, accusing Mr. Viñoly of being “an architect who had a grand vision but was unable to convert that vision into reality, causing the owner to incur significant additional expenses to correct and overcome the architect’s errors and delays.”

According to the office of Judge Jan E. DuBois, both parties have been ordered to continue negotiations until Jan. 16, at which point they must give the judge a status report.

But Frances C. Gretes, a spokeswoman for Mr. Viñoly, seemed to think that the case is headed for trial.

“We can’t talk about this until we go to trial, and that’s in the end of January,” said Ms. Gretes, who said that there is “absolutely no validity to [the Kimmel Center’s] claim.”

It’s not the only legal challenge facing Mr. Viñoly, whose eponymous firm built a record of success in New York and around the world over the last 20 years, and whose name became a household word when it participated in the consortium that narrowly lost the coveted World Trade Center commission, to Studio Daniel Libeskind, in a last-minute reversal by rebuilding authorities.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority has also sued Mr. Viñoly, along with other architects, arguing that the heating, cooling and sound systems are flawed in its $850 million convention and exhibition center. They also say the curved roof leaks during heavy rains.

William Smith, an attorney at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, said that he too expects the case to come to court.

“There is a trial date set for June,” said Mr. Smith, adding: “There are series of deficiencies and errors set forth in the complaint.”

But it is the Kimmel case, first reported by the Associated Press on Nov. 27 last year and later splashed on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer, that is proving to be the 62-year-old architect’s biggest headache. The managers of the Kimmel Center, the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, blame Mr. Viñoly’s firm for going $23 million over budget in the center’s construction.

The case sheds light on an issue that has dogged architecture firms that attempt massive and politically difficult urban projects, while at the same time attempting to deliver state-of-the-art design.

Witness Mr. Libeskind’s increasing marginalization at Ground Zero, or the recent shouting match from which architect Frank Gehry absented himself over the weekend over his plans for the Atlantic Yards terminal.

Even organizations like the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, which are willing to go through a difficult construction process to deliver a great building, are aware of the difficulties such architects face.

Carol Enseki, the president of the museum, which Mr. Viñoly’s firm designed and is building for a 2006 opening date, said that she understood that the costs can go up when working with a dynamic architect who is interested in using unorthodox materials to make bold buildings.

“His office has been clear about decisions about new materials and higher costs,” said Ms. Enseki, whose $43 million museum is being mostly paid for by the city. “It occurs in most projects where there is a desire to do outstanding architecture and not typical been-done-before architecture.”

For the artier architects, who traffic in form first, their notoriety tends not to be as businessmen, and also they don’t tend to be trained in the types of nuts-and-bolts things that would allow them to get a job in on time and on budget,” said Philip Nobel, a prominent architecture critic and author of Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero.

The Philadelphia Story

In legal papers, Mr. Viñoly’s firm is accused by the managers of the Kimmel Center of being “wholly unable” to convert the project from concept to construction. “In many ways, this is the most important part of what an architect does and is hired to perform.”

The lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, sets forth that the Kimmel Center hired Rafael Viñoly Architects in April 1997 to design and construct a “world-class” facility. In turn, according to the suit, the firm received $8.9 million and “agreed that its performance was to be held and judged according to a higher standard of care than normally accorded professional architects.” (According to a clerk in Judge DuBois’ office, Rafael Viñoly Architects has not filed an answer with the court.)

Originally, the suit alleges, the owners wanted Rafael Viñoly Architects to provide designs, while another, lesser-known firm would convert the designs into specifications for subcontractors to build the $157 million center.

“Often times architects will pair up; a big name will create the design, and then another will come in and do the more nuts-and-bolts work,” said a source close to the case who is sympathetic to the Kimmel Center. “Viñoly said that he could do both. He couldn’t.”

The lawsuit alleges that R.V.A., as Mr. Viñoly’s firm is known, habitually failed to meet strict deadlines, and its delays in completing designs held up contract biddings which relied on the completion of those designs. The Philadelphia Regional Performing Arts Center, which manages the Kimmel Center, cited a clause in their contract with R.V.A. that states that they had the right to hold Viñoly responsible for any losses incurred if the firm failed to keep up with the project schedule.

“Things started getting delayed from the foundation on up,” said the Kimmel supporter. “From the concrete and steel.”

According to the lawsuit, R.V.A. should have completed designs for bidding by steel subcontractors by September 1998, but the steel specifications were received at the end of February 1999, went out for bid only in April, and were awarded in July—a nine-month setback. During that period, the price of steel increased, as did the cost of the project.

Furthermore, the lawsuit contends that the final construction drawings also arrived nine months late, and were rife with errors.

“Since the Kimmel Center was going to be the new ‘home’ of the Philadelphia Orchestra,” says the lawsuit, the orchestra “would lose money if it had to cease performances because the orchestra had to wait for the concert hall to be completed.”

“If the Kimmel Center did not open as promised, it could signal problems with the Project causing concern and/or disappointment with donors, thereby threatening the success of the Project. Thus, having the Project ready for the opening date was critical not only because of the scheduled performances, but also to maintain and attract donor support.”

But around the time the steel and concrete bidding began, in spring 1999, R.V.A. said it needed an extra $3 million dollars to complete the job, even though construction on the project had not begun. The lawsuit argues that R.V.A. was effectively shaking the Kimmel Center down with a “Hobson’s choice.”

It was then that the organization first began weighing legal action.

“There were considerations about it: Is it better to incur additional costs now, and additional delay, or is it better to deal with the situation later?” said the source with knowledge of the Kimmel Center’s position. “That’s where the balancing happened: Do you pay and argue about it later, or do you say no, and have a delay?”

They paid and the work went ahead, but the managers of the center felt that they needed to compensate for all the earlier setbacks. An acceleration of the work schedule was necessary, according to the suit, and resulted in higher costs in overtime, extra workweeks and additional materials.

“It didn’t come out when it should have, it wasn’t accurate when it came out, parts of it that should have been there weren’t,” said the source, who specifically cited the 425,000-square-foot glass barrel-vaulted roof as one such problem.

“The architect never identified how the roof would be attached to the building. The general contractor had to hire someone to figure it out and they had to be paid.”

The project was completed in the summer of 2002, at a total of $180 million dollars, roughly $23 million over budget.

The Kimmel owners approached R.V.A. with their claim on July 22, 2003, and a long and ultimately fruitless period of mediation in hopes of a settlement took place before the lawsuit was filed on Nov. 23 of last year.

But Ms. Gretes, Mr. Viñoly’s spokeswoman, noted that the Kimmel Center was met with ecstatic reviews. Indeed, The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in December 2001 that with its capacious glass arch and “magical” interiors, “Even the most jaded heart should race …. It has been a long time since Philadelphia allowed itself such a flamboyant piece of architecture, and its presence should help the city stop thinking of itself as a has-been place.”

Ms. Gretes also supplied a statement to The Observer, saying in part: “We are extremely disappointed by the complaint filed by the Philadelphia Regional Performing Arts Center regarding the Kimmel Center. The same people who praised the building are now criticizing it.”

The Starchitect Chamber

Mr. Viñoly, well known for wearing as many as three pairs of glasses at a time—on his head, on his nose, around his neck—was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1944. He moved to Buenos Aires with his family when he was 5, and showed an early talent as a musician, eventually training to become a concert pianist.

But by the time he arrived at the University of Buenos Aires, he had decided to study architecture instead, because he thought it was a safer career choice. In Argentina he went onto a brilliant career, building the celebrated Mendoza Stadium, folded into the cliffs of the Andes, and a large television studio with a public park on the roof.

In 1979 he came to New York, and opened up his firm, Rafael Viñoly Architects, in 1983. He eventually took up residence on Fifth Avenue and got himself a house in the Hamptons, while his firm became a favorite with the cultural classes, especially for its work on universities and museums.

But the moment that set him apart from other lesser-known but talented architects came in 1989, when he defeated 394 contenders to build the $1.5 billion Tokyo International Forum, a performing-arts and convention center. That complex, completed in 1996 and widely considered a resounding success, put him firmly in the global spotlight.

Since then his firm has established new headquarters in London and offices around the world. He is now considered the type of architect who can wake up a sleepy town with an astonishing building. But he can also build in the big city. He has built widely in New York, starting with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1988. Since then he has built the Jazz at Lincoln Center theater, renovated the Queens Museum and designed the posh Bungalow 8 Restaurant and Lounge.

But his most important and significant proposal for the city by far was his vision for two soaring latticework towers at the World Trade Center. The THINK team that Mr. Viñoly headed up, which included architects Frederic Schwartz and Shigeru Ban, became one of the main contenders in the competition. Mr. Viñoly’s profile skyrocketed. He began appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Today and Charlie Rose to plug his project, and The New York Times’ architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, gushed that Mr. Viñoly’s plan was a “soaring affirmation of American values.”

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation also seemed intent on choosing Mr. Viñoly to rebuild at Ground Zero, but met with a veto from Governor George Pataki. “You’re not going to build these skeletons,” Mr. Pataki told LMDC officials, according to New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, in his book Up from Zero: Politics Architecture and the Rebuilding of New York.

Mr. Nobel said he thought that Mr. Viñoly’s reputation had been burnished by the near win of the THINK group of architects that he led in the Ground Zero competition, especially since so many troubles have subsequently arisen with current designer Daniel Libeskind. He noted that Mr. Viñoly creating an architecture fellowship in his Lower Manhattan studio speaks to his elder statesman status in the starchitect constellation.

“This seems like dirty laundry discovered at an inopportune moment,” said Mr. Nobel. “If these complaints are at all for real, it is bad timing.”

“The trajectory of the star in star architects is hard to predict; their destinies depend on the commissions they receive,” said Rick Bell, the executive director of the American Institute of Architects New York, who remembered that five years ago, when Mr. Viñoly was building a bold courthouse in the Bronx along with a spate of other projects, he wondered, “How could he have been doing more? Well, he has done more since.”

At least some of that success Mr. Bell attributed to what he called the “mystique about runners-up in competitions.”

“I think [the World Trade Center] was the commission of a lifetime, of the century, as Libeskind said. Everybody was aware of what was going on. It’s hard to underestimate the significance that can have on someone’s career.”

“I think he was and is a great architect,” said Frederic Schwartz, the New York architect who collaborated with Mr. Viñoly on the THINK team that nearly won the competition to rebuild Ground Zero. “People call me and e-mail me, they always talk about what could have been. I hear that every day. The group was a pretty special moment.”

Mr. Schwartz, who said that he had not caught wind of the lawsuits, said that he continues to be impressed by Mr. Viñoly’s projects, which are dotted around the country. “What I admire most is his body of work more than any one project. It’s his thought process, which is very rigorous, very inventive. He gives multiple solutions and alternatives, not one answer. Remember in the [World Trade Center] competition we produced three designs. It’s taken to a degree of excellence.”

But that project is not the last to suffer in its passage from idea to building.

The estimated cost of a Viñoly-designed science center and bridge at the University of Arizona has ballooned from an initial $100 to about $350 million and is expected to be completed in 2009.

A proposed art museum in Tampa failed to raise enough funds to get off the ground, but officials there said that Mr. Viñoly’s expensive design, which called for an aluminum canopy and added $25 million dollars to the already unreachable $51 million, was no help.

“We selected him for who he is, for an impact on the community. What we found is that perhaps it wasn’t the most efficient design,” said Bonnie Wise, director of the Revenue and Finance Department of the City of Tampa, who worked closely with the museum.

“The museum was unable to secure its financing. The design was very expensive, and when you have an aluminum canopy, the price is going to go up.”
Massimiliano Fuksas, another world-renowned architect known for his unorthodox and challenging designs, such as Armani’s flagship store in Hong Kong, Vienna’s twin towers and Milan’s sprawling new fairgrounds, called the exposure of architects like Mr. Viñoly to such lawsuits “depressing.”

“I think he does impressive work—he has the idea of architecture as sculpture and comes up with very interesting solutions,” said Mr. Fuksas, who said he regretted that Mr. Viñoly’s team was not chosen to rebuild Ground Zero. “He is one of the most precise architects.”

Jan 12, 2006, 10:06 PM
Anyone want to paraphrase this one? Me? No, really, I couldn't.

Seriously, I won't comment bc nothing in Tucson ever gets built. Hell, we can't even get a cross-town freeway built here and we're pushing a million. This bridge thing will never get built. I'll be happy to eat my words though.

Jan 12, 2006, 11:02 PM
^in a nutshell, Vinoly is an extremely talented, world-famous architect who seems to have a problem either cost-estimating his designs, or keeping them within budget. I can't say what this means for the Tucson project, but if it's already controversial, these revelations won't help.

I disagree with you about the Tucson cross-town freeway. I'd rather see traffic choking Tucson's streets. Why? Because there's nothing more destructive to a city's urban fabric than a freeway. Granted, there's not much "city" in Tucson to begin with. But another freeway is a surefire method of keeping Tucson suburbanized in character. Without a freeway, people will be much more motivated to live closer to their jobs, and closer to the core. Which means, in effect, more urbanism. In metro Phoenix, we're building freeways as fast as we can, and the net result is out-of-control sprawl. Freeways enable sprawl. And vice versa.

Jan 12, 2006, 11:28 PM
I understand your points at an emotional level. But at a practical level, it doesn't make a bit sense. Tucson is already sprawled to ends of the earth, like Phoenix. Actually, I bet Tucson's density is considerably LESS than Phoenix's. You know, I'm not necessarily in favor of massive freeways but I do believe a couple of depressed, two-to-three lane, unimpeded arterials are much needed. It takes, no kidding, forty minutes to go about ten miles in the town most of the day. Public transportation isn't gonna solve the problem in a low-density metro like Tucson. But I hear what you're saying...

Jan 13, 2006, 4:22 AM
The AZ Daily Star did publish an article a few weeks back about Vinoly's legal problems with his projects in other cities, so Tucsonans are probably now even more skittish about plunking down $350M for his proposed "science center bridge", particularly with only $100M committed to date.

Frankly, as Tucson doesn't have sufficient funds to keep up with its current transportation and other infrastructure needs (thanks to all the surrounding unincorporated development), I doubt that $350M will ever get allocated and/or raised for such a project, as iconic and worthwhile as it may be, even if state funding for Rio Nuevo gets extended for another 20-30 years. And with the current spiraling of construction costs, it could be much more than that by the time construction begins.

I think half of that price (in the $175M range) should be feasible and sufficient to build a worthy, defining structure for Tucson's redeveloping city center, considering the city's immediate and future budgetary demands. Otherwise, a half-finished megabucks project such as this, mired in never-ending litigation, would be the death knell for Rio Nuevo and a rejuvenated downtown.

Jan 13, 2006, 4:57 AM
Well, I live in Tucson and I have to say that I am unimpressed with the Tucson's DT vision pre- and post-Rio Nuevo. For instance, they talk about replacing aging 9,000-seat TCC arena with, um, a 10,000-seat arena. Hello? ...

I'm not terribly impressed with Rio Nuevo's accomplishments to date, nor am I convinced their execs know how to pull it off, as uninspired as it may be. But now that City Mgr. Mike Hein has let go of a few top RN execs, it may now be headed in another direction, and hopefully at a quicker pace.

Regarding the arena, I too was surprised that the replacement version would not be in the 15-20,000 capacity range, given Tucson's size and growth rate (actually the consultant recommended it should hold about 12,500). However, that's the number their statistics showed Tucson could support for the near future given current metro demographics--income per capita, local corporate hdqtrs., leisure spending, etc. (But we all know how skewed consultant reports can be.)

The consultant's complete report is available on the city's website: http://www.tucsonaz.gov/tcc/pdfs/Final%20Market%20Analysis%20Updated%20Report%209.1.pdf

Jan 13, 2006, 5:13 AM
I understand your points at an emotional level. But at a practical level, it doesn't make a bit sense. Tucson is already sprawled to ends of the earth, like Phoenix. Actually, I bet Tucson's density is considerably LESS than Phoenix's. You know, I'm not necessarily in favor of massive freeways but I do believe a couple of depressed, two-to-three lane, unimpeded arterials are much needed. It takes, no kidding, forty minutes to go about ten miles in the town most of the day. Public transportation isn't gonna solve the problem in a low-density metro like Tucson. But I hear what you're saying...

And I hear what you're saying.

In Phoenix, we spent many years kvetching about the same unsatisfying choices which plague Tucson today. You're damned either way, it seems. But horizontal growth becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with freeways. Tucson is at a crossroads, so to speak, and ought to think deeply about which path it decides to take. The one path, the one Phoenix and all other Sunbelt cities took, diminishes urban energy for the sake of the single family house and the one person-one car transportation method. Once you commit to freeways, you're hooked. The other path, the one Portland, Oregon took, emphasizes mass transit, growth boundaries, and a vibrant downtown. The city is a jewel. While Tucson may never rival Portland for urban energy, it's a worthy goal, and certainly a better one than emulating Phoenix. Indeed, Phoenix serves as an example to Tucson the same way Los Angeles does to Phoenix. Cheap growth being a narcotic, we ignored all the damning evidence of LA's dystopian car culture and proceeded to establish our own. My advice: visit Portland and then decide which city you'd prefer Tucson to be like. You don't have many opportunities to get these things right, and once you commit to freeways, your fate is sealed. No vibrant downtown, very few high rises, no urban character, and little civic pride.

Jan 13, 2006, 3:21 PM
I agree with you still. But I think what you're not factoring in is that Tucson is simply bankrupt of ANY ideas. Their is no leadership, no vision. All they know is that they don't want to become like Phoenix. Density is a major component in the success of mass transit. Tucson doesn't have it and is not managing growth to achieve it. Ever. You can't kick against the pricks on issues like this. If the people want sprawl, they're going to get it. You still need to get them from Point A to Point B somehow, someway. I'm not in favor of growth at all costs. But Arizona has always been a frontier-mentality state. It isn't going to change. Tucson is gonna have 1.5 million people by 2030 and it's going to look EXACTLY like Phoenix did in 1985. Damage has already been done. The town needs a crosstown freeway and then we can talk about solving the transportation issue. We need to catch up to Cleanslatesville first.

Don B.
Jan 13, 2006, 4:28 PM
^ Not to mention that Portland already has tons of freeways, including at least two or three that probably qualify as "cross-town" freeways. I have family that lives in several different parts of Tucson, and I go down three or four times a year, so I know the city fairly well. My aunt and uncle live near Sabino Canyon in NE Tucson, in the foothills, and two cousins (with their families) live in NW Tucson in Marana, off of Silverbell in Continental Ranch. Then I have friends that live in SE Tucson, near Vail, off of I-10.

The problem is that Tucson can't acquire commercial investment because it is viewed as a backwater to Phoenix (and this is really scary because Phoenix is generally viewed as a backwater to cities like Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle and so forth). What few start-up dollars that are invested in Arizona flow to Phoenix, with the result that Tucson's economy is much more lethargic than Phoenix's economy. When you can't even build a decent transportation system, people tend to look down upon you as a conservative backwater, and that does not bode well for attracting the "creative class."

Americans don't give up their cars when they can't travel around a city like Tucson. They merely kvetch about it, sit in traffic and do less, so the lack of mobility hinders development and makes the city most unattractive to some. The people you do attract are conservative, anti-tax retirees and libertarians who love a low-tax, low service area like Tucson. Why do you think Tucson is so much poorer than Phoenix?

Building a single-cross town freeway/beltway in Tucson won't turn it into another Phoenix. Ceasing to annex far flung areas and Pima County limiting development in outlying unincorporated areas would do far more to prevent further sprawl. Unfortunately, we all know that isn't going to happen, not in a state like Arizona. Investment in simple things like sidewalks (so people don't have to drive everywhere), streetlights and decent streets and roads, not the narrow two-lane, pot-holed mess that most of Tucson is presently, would go a long ways towards improving that image.


Jan 13, 2006, 5:39 PM
The solution to a transportation mess like Tucson's will, ultimately, be holistic. If you do decide to take the freeway route, it's important to note that you won't stop at one. Phoenix didn't, and the 20 year sales tax increase metamorphosed into another 20 year tax extension. Freeways beget sprawl which begets more freeways, ad nauseum. Probably what the cheap growth advocates are hoping is that the frustration with traffic congestion will eventually override all other concerns. A tipping point arrives and people finally acquiesce to the logic of the horizontal growth: cars, freeways, far-flung subdivisions - the whole catastrophe.

Portland's freeways were all in place BEFORE the landmark 1970 growth boundaries legislation. In fact, the freeway fronting the Willamette River was removed and today there's a park in its place. Portland has EVERYTHING you'd want in a city: density, high rises, mass transit, and a real downtown core. They decided to emphasize quality of life over quantity of consumption. This being America, the heresy of such a choice is regularly attacked by the right wing, particularly in places like the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

The solution is holistic because you can't simply decide not to build freeways without also proscribing development on the far fringes, or funding adequate mass transit. Portland got the answer right with a key insight about how cities work. Each piece dovetails with another, like a functioning ecosystem. Portland is the anti-Phoenix, a place so celebrated that it's the only medium-sized city in America which attracts tourists for its downtown alone.

If your love of cities is for high rises alone, you should still prefer Portland to Phoenix as a civic model. The logic of sprawl ultimately means FEWER skyscrapers in the core. In the Cities section of this site, Phoenix (the 6th largest city in the country) has only 51 high rises, fewer than Syracuse, Omaha, Oklahoma City, and Winston-Salem. Nationally, we rank #47 in this category (Portland is #25, despite being about 1/3 as large). High rises are POINTLESS in car cities. There's really no need for them. Cheapness of this sort tends to magnetize more cheapness, as Phoenix and Tucson have discovered.

In conclusion, freeways and cars are the antithesis of genuine urbanism, and mean more right wingers, more anti-creative class types, and more anti-tax kooks. Tucson is approaching the moment of truth. Don't blink. Don't assume Phoenix is better. It's not.