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colin

Tucson Downtown/Rio Nuevo Thread

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There has been a lot in the past few months regarding Tucson's Downtown, Rio Nuevo development, and I wanted to start a thread to capture it.

Today's AZ Daily Star has an article about the proposed demolition of what had been deemed a historic building on Congress Street and Stone Avenue currently used by Bank One for use in a condo project.

More story

This condo project has been the stickler for Rio Nuevo. One proposal several months ago had it using an open space, park-like area next to the main library. Another had it demolishing a public housing complex just down the street from this (this has been changed to being a more mixed-use development). No matter where it ends up being, everyone agrees that bringing residential development Downtown is essential for the success of Rio Nuevo.

It's also interesting to note that there was a bit of controversy several months ago when renovations were going on at this building when Chase merged with Bank One. There was a supposed historic, 1920's mural created by a famous artist that was removed which caused a bit of community outrage. However, it was discovered that the historical documents were wrong, and the mural was actually created in the 1960's by a lesser-known artist.

First Article

Second Article, three days later

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Since constructed, I-10 has supposedly divided Downtown and caused the two sides to develop unequally. There is now a proposal to sink I-10 near 22nd and Congress Streets. It's estimated that this would add $100 million dollars and several years to a project that is already set to close all Tucson entrances and exits to and from I-10 for at least three years, and would use federal, Rio Nuevo dollars for the addition.

I found that this idea has been around since 2001, but it is getting new interest now that the I-10 corridor through Downtown Tucson is going to be re-done.

Story

I think the whole thing is a little ridiculous. I-10, in this area, parallels the Santa Cruz River, which lies sometimes less than a block from the roadway. The Santa Cruz, although rarely flowing, takes about a 50-foot, uncrossable swath of sand, shrubs, shopping carts, debris, and homeless campsites. It's a natural barrier that has always existed, and the idea that Downtown somehow has a past and future on the west side of the river is ridiculous. This is a separate neighborhood, mostly considered part of Barrio Hollywood, and any other designation would be detrimental to both sides of the river.

Just a thought.

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I've heard a lot about Tucson but I haven't been to that area of Arizona yet. I'd like to visit sometime but I'm not sure if I could live there. I think the long summers there might be a little too much for me. :D

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Top gun for Rio Nuevo resigns

In a huge blow for the project, the figurehead, Karen Thoreson, has left her 6-figure position for a similar, temporary position in Glendale. It's said that the city will more than likely not fill Thoreson's position.

The linked story also includes quite a bit of information on the various statuses for Rio Nuevo projects:

[*]Re-creation of the Mission San Agust

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Fox Theatre: Down to the wire (Arizona Daily Star)

The Start of Act Two (Tucson Weekly)

The New Year's Eve grand opening included a champagne toast at midnight and a performance by Bruce Hornsby, and was open to all willing to shell out the $250 for a ticket.

The night before, carpet and other materials were laying outside the front door on the street. My friend and I joked while walking past that the place probably smelled of fresh paint and new carpet, and that they didn't really need the alcohol.

The free, proleteriat opening, labelled as a "block party," is this weekend (Saturday, January 7th).

The theatre opening had been delayed. The Puro Mexicano Film Festival (sponsored by the Fox) in mid-November had to go on at other screening rooms Downtown although it was intended to be based at the Fox.

Edited by colin

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City gives the boot to Rio Nuevo executive

As the budget deadline approaches, the city is beginning to eliminate positions, specifically the six-figure Rio Nuevo big wigs. This may be a result of the new Democratic-controlled city council (all except the mayor are now Democrats) trying to clean up the bureaucratic mess that Rio Nuevo has become.

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Reduced Nimbus proposal turned in

Tucson's most popular local brewery (they have a couple of good varieties), Nimbus, has submitted a scaled-down proposal for moving Downtown after several others expressed interest in the same land.

The land in question is a concrete slab adjoining the railroad track that is mainly used for a parking lot now. Nimbus now sits several miles from the city on a side street in an industrial area, but remains a popular venue each night it's open despite being isolated and difficult to find.

The original proposal by the Nimbus owner included a monstrosity of a structure with 70 condos above the brewery and an enormous restaurant. He walked away from it after neither side budged.

The proposal was submitted two days before the deadline, showing, in my opinion, how stubborn the owner is as he was obviously waiting for the city to come to him, begging him to build, which didn't happen.

If built, this will be a great addition to Downtown and will easily drawn in crowds from the suburbs, who may otherwise be going to Thunder Canyon (far to the north of the city with terrible beer) or BJ's (CA-based chain, newly opened about seven miles to the north of Downtown).

No one's saying who the other interested parties are, but I have the feeling that Nimbus is probably the best choice as they are not a chain, and would offer something that would greatly aid to Downtown's atmosphere.

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Developer's plaza may kill 4th Ave. underpass

The Fourth Avenue underpass was built in 1916, has a vertical clearance on the roadway of about 9 feet, and is well-used by pedestrian and car traffic as it connects the Fourth Avenue commercial area to Downtown.

The re-construction is not only needed to modernize the underpass, but also to widen it so that it could be used by the streetcar extension to the recently renovated train station.

The underpass became a source of contention when the low bid came in at $31 million, despite the original cost estimate being $20 million. This is an essential part of Rio Nuevo though.

The developer in the project, Jim Campbell, is known to Tucsonans for recently purchasing and then threatening to level and develop the historic Fort Lowell site on the city's northeast side. The city averted the situation by swapping the land with the soon-to-be-demolished Greyhound bus station, which is the land now in question.

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Since constructed, I-10 has supposedly divided Downtown and caused the two sides to develop unequally. There is now a proposal to sink I-10 near 22nd and Congress Streets. It's estimated that this would add $100 million dollars and several years to a project that is already set to close all Tucson entrances and exits to and from I-10 for at least three years, and would use federal, Rio Nuevo dollars for the addition.

I found that this idea has been around since 2001, but it is getting new interest now that the I-10 corridor through Downtown Tucson is going to be re-done.

Story

High cost sinks I-10 tunnel plan

ADOT has rejected the proposal to re-build part of I-10 below ground through Downtown Tucson. The increased amount of time needed as well as the extra cost (construction as well as new ROW purchases) were most likely the deciding factors.

My opinion: it wouldn't be too smart to build a depressed freeway 50 feet from a river which has historically leaped its banks about every 25 years, especially when no viabled alternate route is available (the Tucson Downtown bypass, I-710, was never completed, but may be extended by an upcoming transportation initiative).

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I've heard a lot about Tucson but I haven't been to that area of Arizona yet. I'd like to visit sometime but I'm not sure if I could live there. I think the long summers there might be a little too much for me. :D

Nah, its not that bad. I'll take a Phx summer over a Minneapolis winter any day!

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City looks at building avenue for Rio Nuevo

Tucson is planning "Avenida del Convento" which would run through the western Rio Nuevo site to the Arizona Historical Society museum and the re-created convent of the historical San Agustin Mission, which was destroyed in the 19th century.

From what I understand, this was already on the plan, but none of the streets had been named up to this point.

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Nimbus' high-rise land deal hits a snag

This is one of the key projects in Rio Nuevo. It would be put up in a vacant lot owned by the City and now used as a parking lot. The lot is adjacent to a railroad on the north side of Downtown. Despite wanting to more or less give the land to Nimbus and the developer, Town West, for the project, the state would have to be paid back over $640,000 unless the site is used in a way that the law accepts (mostly transportation-related).

I've been involved in this project quite a bit, as I live only a few blocks from it and my neighborhood association has taken much more than an active interest in it. Although its taken no official position, most are supportive of the project, but not the way Town West has gone about developing it.

Last week, on the day this article was published, there was a public meeting for the surrounding neighborhoods. I had been to a previous, more informal meeting with WAMO (Warehouse Arts Management Organization) which mostly consisted of attendees complaining about height, lack of affordable housing/art space, and having the outright wrong idea. I expected much of the same.

The meeting was an open, public discussion where individuals could ask questions of the architect while three city council members, who represent the surrounding neighborhoods, listened idly.

The only truly positive comment where the speaker urged the council to accept the project as it was was a speculator from Toledo who referred to Tucson residents as "Tucsonians" (which illicited not as many chuckles as it should have).

The rest was decidedly negative, mostly complaints regarding the speed at which the City and the developer are trying to push through the project.

This snag will decidedly delay the proposal, but no one knows how long, as no one has decided how to proceed at this point.

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Colin how tall is this proposed building. Are the residents complaining that it's to high? I'd love to see Tuscon get some real tall buildings. It has the potential to have the tallest buildings in AZ because Phoenix is capped off at 500 feet. I'm headed down to Tuscon next weekend to drive around, maybe take some pics. Do you have any suggestions?

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12 stories at its highest. It was somewhat terraced.

Some people didn't like the height, but that's not the big argument. The major point of contention is the design itself. The site is sort of the gateway to Downtown, and will be moreso when the Stone Avenue makeover is complete (this year, I believe). Therefore, many are upset that the design is very generic and doesn't really say "Tucson". No one wants another Oil Tower or Bank of America building springing up in town.

Also, there is an art district next to the site which is demanding art spaces be included in the design. Thus far, the developer has put in "office/art spaces" which hasn't really helped. Though the parking garage next to the main complex was changed to one of those elevator-loading garages and an art space complex.

There's also the affordable housing argument that comes up at every Downtown meeting regarding development. People are trying to fight gentrification. I'm very cynnical toward the futility of that fight, personally.

Mainly though, everyone is upset that the developer did not work more with the surrounding neighborhoods to improve the project. This is in stark contrast to the Presidio Terrace development going up soon across the street from me (Architect's site), where the developer spent close to two years working with the neighborhood before finalizing the plans.

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colin, is there a single particular news outlet that provides pretty consistent information on this and other land-use projects in & around tucson? i just moved here and am wanting to learn as much about this sort of thing as i can. thus far, your post has been as informative as anything i've seen in the AZ Daily Star or Tucson Weekly. thanks for the constant updates.

not to hijack, but does anyone know the status of the proposed 350-ft. science center bridge over I-10? that was a shocker, having never heard about it until i bought my first newspaper here two weeks ago. it's a strange gesture for a city that still has only tentative ideas about what type of urban center it wants to define for itself.

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colin, is there a single particular news outlet that provides pretty consistent information on this and other land-use projects in & around tucson? i just moved here and am wanting to learn as much about this sort of thing as i can. thus far, your post has been as informative as anything i've seen in the AZ Daily Star or Tucson Weekly. thanks for the constant updates.

Welcome to Tucson!

The Weekly has the most detailed articles about these things. The Star is generally the quickest and most reliable with its stories. I'm personally involved in some Downtown stuff, so I just hear about a lot of it. Of course, I do read both the Star and Weekly regularly.

not to hijack, but does anyone know the status of the proposed 350-ft. science center bridge over I-10? that was a shocker, having never heard about it until i bought my first newspaper here two weeks ago. it's a strange gesture for a city that still has only tentative ideas about what type of urban center it wants to define for itself.

I have a thread open on the "rainbow" bridge in "Urban Discussion" because I wanted to see what others from outside the area thought of it.

The Rio Nuevo folks are acting as though this is set in stone and going through, but there are still some questions about funding sources, design and impacts which remain unanswered. I'm very unhappy with the whole idea, personally, and plan to attend any future public meetings. There should be some more coming up soon.

It isn't sudden though, necessarily. The bridge idea has probably been in the Rio Nuevo plan for almost 2 years. The architect's rendering came out last November, I believe. They've just started the PR machine on it only fairly recently though.

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Extension of tax area for Rio Nuevo has few friends, little time

http://www.azstarnet.com/metro/130593

Rio Nuevo must extend its tax special designation before this current legislative session ends. It got an extension last time, but people are less sympathetic now, possibly because of the fallout in the Nimbus deal, and the appearance that the district has done nothing thus far.

Some in the Senate, mostly from Maricopa County, are concerned that too much is being funneled from the Tucson malls currently in the tax district, Park Place and El Con. Another senator wants to outright kill the district.

It's unfortunate that Rio Nuevo was bogged down in mis-management and politics so early on that it's now being criticized so vehemently. I'd like to see it extended, personally, because there are still a few projects that would be very helpful to Downtown Tucson which wouldn't otherwise be built.

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Colin what exactly is Rio Nuevo, it's kind of hard to tell from how you talk about it.

"New River" of course!

Rio Nuevo is a TIF (tax increment financing) district where the money is funnelled to aide Downtown development in Tucson. For these TIFs, there are generally some pretty specific limits on what money can be used for, but I've never been able to find such a description for Rio Nuevo.

Rio Nuevo is different from other TIFs (even in Tucson) in that it uses sales taxes instead of property taxes to fund itself, mostly from two of Tucson's malls (mainly Park Place, which you'll understand if you've ever been to El Con). I'm also not really sure why Tucson Mall doesn't participate in this as it is also in the city limits. There are other funding sources, but those are the main ones.

TIFs have expirations though and must be extended pretty often, which is what we're seeing now. Rio Nuevo's a bit of a cash hog, so I'm sure that the state has some other plans for the money. How about a 10-lane beltway around Phoenix that crosses the Verde three times, has a causeway over Lake Pleasant and goes through Snaketown for potential housing development?

One of the politicos heavily involved with this thing could probably explain it much better than I can. I'm not overly aware of all the intricacies and eccentricities of this whole funding nightmare. Go to any meeting involving development though, and you'll probably hear the word "TIF" at some point. They love their acronyms.

Here's a Weekly article on Rio Nuevo and its TIF from '99. Its project info is now outdated, but the TIF description is still pretty spot-on:

http://www.tucsonweekly.com/gbase/currents...t?oid=oid:41840

[edit]

I was trying to find another example of TIF in Tucson, but couldn't, although I know that the re-construction of the MLK public housing apartments Downtown has one, and I believe the proposed Depot Plaza has one.

Anyway, if you're more interested in TIF, Downtown San Diego used it several years ago for its rennaisance. If you can get past the "Download the TIFF version of this" links on Google, you should be able to find something about it. I also believe Portland used TIF for some things, maybe even its MAX light rail line.

[/edit]

Edited by colin

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The current Weekly makes a brief note about the Rio Nuevo extension up for vote in the state senate (including a shot at the plan) with this quote (from Jim Nintzel, who I think is hilarious):

"In other action at the special-interest Wheel of Fortune known as the Arizona Legislature: Local business leaders took a buscapade up north to persuade Senate President Ken Bennett to support the stalled Rio Nuevo legislation. The bill, which has already passed the House of Representatives, would extend the special downtown taxing district for an additional 30 years, allowing the city to capture sales-tax revenues that would otherwise go the state. What's on the wish list if it were to pass? How about a new arena? A rainbow bridge for the UA Science Center? Maybe a downtown elephant enclosure? Hey, if you can create a PowerPoint presentation, you've got a shot at the money."

Full article is here

Jim is well-known to be anti-bridge though, and has been very critical of Rio Nuevo in the past, so this should come as no surprise.

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thanks for the welcome.

it sounds as though TIF initiatives are most likely to be successful in cities that have most of their actual metros inside the city limits (tucson being a good example). something like this would never work in my hometown of birmingham AL, since literally less than 25 percent of the metro's 1.3 million population actually lives inside the city - hence the revenue is generated on the outskirts while the city itself languishes.

come to think of it, i don't even know whether my area (in tucson) falls within a corporate limit or not. it's foothills, north of the river rd. city limit boundary. it reminds me a lot of the sort of posh urban flight area that appeals so strongly to the rich types in Bham. there's a lot of growth (such as it is) in that direction; i wonder how much of it goes to the city vs. pima county.....i have a lot to learn.

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Actually, Tucson Metro has over 1/3 of its population outside of the city limits.

2003 estimates:

Tucson: 514,725

Tucson Metro: 892,798

Tucson Metro includes Marana (40,000+), Oro Valley (25,000+), Catalina Foothills (50,000+), Casas Adobes (50,000+), Sahuarita (20,000+), unincorporated West Tucson (Picture Rocks, Tucson Estates, Three Points), Vail and, I believe Benson. The census MSA also includes Santa Cruz and most of Pinal County as well.

The city limits is generally right along River Road. The TIF allows state tax money on good purchased in the city to be used for Rio Nuevo. This means that all businesses inside the city (including all malls except Foothills and La Encantada) are potentially subject to the tax.

The threat to annex the Foothills has always been there, and there have even been incorporation movements. If it does ever happen, it won't be for a few years.

People in the Foothills historically don't come Downtown very often, so they wouldn't really get any benefit from Rio Nuevo projects. Tucson's somewhat culturally segregated that way: people on the east side stay over there, people on the south side stay there, people in the central area stay in their area, and people in the Foothills stay in dem dar hills. Generally, of course, but most people I've met living in their areas, stay in their areas and are typically unaware of what's happening outside of their area (me included, as I rarely go east of Wilmot or north of River).

Most of the Rio Nuevo residential projects seems catered towards new people coming into town, and people speculating. Few people are going to say "Now I can finally move Downtown!" especially since most of these condos will cost the same as their house.

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The description you gave, of how people stay in the same areas, and don't know what's going on outside of them, is pretty characteristic thru out the country.

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it's not characteristic of me (but i have 50,000 miles on a 6 month-old car). i imagine it is very accurate of many people in settled suburbs, urban cores with full services, etc.

my hope in learning more about tucson from the start is to become familiar and comfortable with as much of the city as i can, so that when that one-year apartment lease is up, if i want to move downtown, i'll be in a better position to.

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Downtown renovation subsidies criticized

http://www.azstarnet.com/dailystar/dailystar/131317

Very critical article of Rio Nuevo in today's Daily Star also with a nice map of some Rio Nuevo projects (popup-linked on the right). It seems that the Star has completely jumped ship on Rio Nuevo at this point.

The article is very justified in pointing out that almost all projects are residential in nature, this despite the office occupancy rate Downtown hovering above 90% for the past few years. The only Downtown office project to pop up since I've been around was the Oil Tower's twin to be built on what is now the concrete slab at the northwest corner of Stone and Broadway. That tower was originally intended when the Oil Tower was built (in the early '80's, I believe) but never went through for various reasons.

The parking garage mentioned in the article is the Pennington Garage, which, although painted an ugly greenish color and doesn't match with anything Downtown, also serves as a mixed-use development with some retail space on the ground floor (where Little Poca Cosa moved).

I personally feel like the goals are a little outdated: the mass of condos was to try to cash in on the real estate boom, and now that it's about to bust, these projects won't end up making money as the demand for high-end real estate Downtown (and everywhere else) collapses. I think a lot of people want to move to Downtown Tucson, but not into a $350,000 condo. Diversification would be the best route at this point, IMHO.

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