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Old Posted Oct 13, 2005, 2:40 AM
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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.”
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Old Posted Oct 13, 2005, 4:34 PM
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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.
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Old Posted Oct 17, 2005, 7:10 AM
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Tucson remains smarter than Phoenix

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.)

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Old Posted Oct 20, 2005, 12:24 AM
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Slim Prospects for new Rio Nuevo Housing

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.”
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Old Posted Oct 20, 2005, 4:51 AM
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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.
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Old Posted Oct 20, 2005, 8:16 AM
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^ I agree.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2005, 1:00 AM
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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:

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Old Posted Oct 23, 2005, 9:20 PM
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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."
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2005, 3:42 AM
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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."
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2005, 1:32 AM
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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.
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2005, 10:43 PM
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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:

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

I'm thinking this could now probably be renamed the 'Tucson Development' thread, or something .
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Old Posted Oct 29, 2005, 3:48 AM
kaneui kaneui is offline
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Originally Posted by camelback_road
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.
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Old Posted Oct 30, 2005, 7:28 PM
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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.

Last edited by kaneui; Sep 8, 2006 at 11:05 AM.
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Old Posted Oct 31, 2005, 11:04 AM
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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:

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Old Posted Oct 31, 2005, 6:34 PM
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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.
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Old Posted Oct 31, 2005, 10:34 PM
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^ 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.
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Old Posted Nov 7, 2005, 9:29 AM
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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.”
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Old Posted Nov 7, 2005, 11:21 AM
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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.
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Old Posted Nov 11, 2005, 6:26 AM
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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.
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