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  #81  
Old Posted Dec 28, 2005, 6:56 AM
kaneui kaneui is offline
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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.”
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  #82  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2006, 3:18 AM
kaneui kaneui is offline
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On New Year's Eve, Tucson celebrated the restoration and reopening of the Fox Theatre, its historic downtown movie palace:



http://www.foxtucsontheatre.org


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
1.01.2006


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.
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  #83  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2006, 4:17 AM
soleri soleri is offline
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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.
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  #84  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2006, 7:52 AM
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What they've done with the Fox is wonderful. I cannot wait to check it out in person. Definitely a jewel for downtown Tucson.
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  #85  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2006, 11:24 PM
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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
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
1.04.2006


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
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  #86  
Old Posted Jan 9, 2006, 9:26 AM
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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.
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  #87  
Old Posted Jan 9, 2006, 4:28 PM
soleri soleri is offline
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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.
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  #88  
Old Posted Jan 9, 2006, 8:58 PM
kaneui kaneui is offline
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^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
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
1.011.2005


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.

Last edited by kaneui; Jan 9, 2006 at 9:09 PM.
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  #89  
Old Posted Jan 12, 2006, 9:05 AM
kaneui kaneui is offline
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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
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
1.11.2006


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."
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  #90  
Old Posted Jan 12, 2006, 2:45 PM
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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 ;-)
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  #91  
Old Posted Jan 12, 2006, 9:22 PM
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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.”
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  #92  
Old Posted Jan 12, 2006, 10:06 PM
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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.
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Old Posted Jan 12, 2006, 11:02 PM
soleri soleri is offline
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^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.
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Old Posted Jan 12, 2006, 11:28 PM
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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...
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Old Posted Jan 13, 2006, 4:22 AM
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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.

Last edited by kaneui; Jan 13, 2006 at 8:24 AM.
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Old Posted Jan 13, 2006, 4:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by somethingfast
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/Fin...port%209.1.pdf
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Old Posted Jan 13, 2006, 5:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by somethingfast
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.
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Old Posted Jan 13, 2006, 3:21 PM
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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.
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Old Posted Jan 13, 2006, 4:28 PM
Don B. Don B. is offline
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^ 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.

--don

Last edited by Don B.; Jan 13, 2006 at 4:34 PM.
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  #100  
Old Posted Jan 13, 2006, 5:39 PM
soleri soleri is offline
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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.
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