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Tucson Downtown/Rio Nuevo Thread


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the thing i'm ambivalent about is people's attitudes toward the aesthetics of any proposed design for medium-to-large-scale development. a multistory building with a glass frame and brick facade doesn't mesh with the other buildings, true. a spiral arched bridge over I-10 wouldn't have matched anything...anything at all (and i'm glad it's dead). a ped bridge styled like a reptile doesn't really have a visual precedent here either.

but, what new design could fit in in a place that has no history of modern building? anything modern that gets designed for the downtown area is going to be a hard sell, visually, to those who want to 'capture' or acknowledge the culture and historic authenticity of this area. by definition, modern multistory buildings bear no unforced relationship with tucson's past. so i think any design is going to be contentious here, no matter how hard it tries to be sensitive of its place. there's no historic forebear for a 20-story office tower here.

for all of the beotching about the supposed inappropriateness and inefficiency of phoenix's glass-and-steel towers or the tacky newness of everything in vegas, at least there's a little bit of recklessness in the design vocabulary in those places. those cities don't have the deep history that tucson does (so they lack the local opposition tucson has), and i think they're both mostly ugly when it comes to their visual choices for mid-&-high-rises, but i do admire that they get things built. sometimes i feel that everything here gets shouted down or compromised to death.

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C'mon, don't hold back. Tell us what you really think. :)

I'm glad that you brought up the Vegas thing, because I think it can act as almost an antithesis of Tucson in this situation. I personally believe that the lack of opposition to height in Vegas is due to there being an established height already, the fact that that height actually drives Vegas' economy (who would go to Vegas if it was all 5-10 story hotels?), but most importantly, I think it's partially due to a lack of community there.

A friend in town from Tempe last night remarked about how much she hated Las Vegas because it was just a nasty place. I have to agree. Once you get past all of that marketing/PR bs, Vegas is pretty disgusting.

But, in Tucson, particularly in the neighborhoods closer in to town, you have people who have lived here for more than 10 years, know each other, and are genuinely concerned with and involved in the community. That's why grassroots movements work so well here: people actually care enough to spend time and organize and band together against the things they perceive as detrimental to their community.

So enough soapbox, back to the TownWest project.

I have to disagree in that there's no architectural consistency in the Downtown area which could be used in the design of the project. El Presidio has a pretty consistent style of architecture, and this was captured well in the recent projects within the neighborhood. The Toole Avenue stretch is also fairly consistent, and could be simulated into a "new" design, mainly through use of colors. I see three things that this project needs to have architecturally (sorry if I've stated this before):

1. A design complimenting the adjoining El Presido neighborhood

2. A design complimenting the adjoining Toole Avenue warehouse area

3. An iconic design that represents what Tucson means and is collectively

The Rattlesnake Bridge wins almost every year in the Best Public Art category, but that may just be because it's so visible. Why not the giant life saver in the median of Alameda in front of the Art Museum (wintergreen during the day, usually strawberry at night)? Why not the Navajo-themed interchange structures on I-10? Why not Steve Farley's Broadway underpass? And there's lots of others, but the Rattlesnake Bridge is one of those love-hate things. But, regardless of which side you take, it still says "Tucson" more than many other public art projects. And the iconic element of this project needs to be just that, but better, especially since this is the northern gateway to Downtown.

I'm critical of the glass towers just because that seems to be the architectural flavor of the month at this point in time, and the last thing we need is a structure that people will be able to easily recognize 20 years down the road as being built at a certain time. Why not something timeless? However windows are, of course, incredibly important in this project because of its mountain views.

Also I think Reyes can do better. He's probably the best man for the job, and certainly has enough experience in Tucson to really capture what the city means and needs in this structure.

Just a thought.

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Just curious about 1 project, I doubt it is part of rio nuevo but it used to be mentioned in conjunction with it.

There was a project called "One West" http://www.azstarnet.com/dailystar/sports/88586.php . The developer was running into opposition in that the neighbors wanted 33% of the units to be WAY below market rate. It sounded like it would go forward eventually ( obviously not with that requirement ), but then

it just seemed to disappear off the radar. Do you know anything about the status of that project?

It would be nice to have density near the university, but I know the neigborhoods strongly oppose this as temporary out of state, 20-year-old, non-stakeholding residents don't make the best neighbors :). I hope some of these projects go through, because if the city could change its super-low density development pattern and get some nice infill, Tucson would rock!

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I just wanted to update this because I spoke with a Dunbar Spring resident yesterday, and this project is effectively dead. According to him (somewhat of an anti-development hippy type), the developer paid canvassers to try and get people out to the meeting in support of it (packing it), so the project was initially approved, but that vote was overturned last week and the developer has become frustrated and no one is talking anymore.

Also, the City apparently owns the main lot, but the developer owns some of the lots around it.

It sucks, but maybe another one will pick it up soon. It's a good lot in an emerging neighborhood.

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The thing is that these people just don't seem to get it.

I'm all about affordable housing and think that developers should incorporate some, if only to receive some HUD subsidies, but I'm realistic about it. It helps hold back gentrification while still allowing the community to move forward with in-fill growth.

But if you say something like "33% is unrealistic" they just kind of stare blankly at you. The same thing happened I think that people can't see it from the developers' perspective, but also developers can't see it from the people's perspective, so you get these two extremes and neither really wants to compromise. And, unfortunately, the Tucson market, especially now with our plummeting condo demand, just isn't strong enough to keep the process of finding middle ground in the developers' best interest: they just kind of say "F You" and work on something else, like a strip mall on Houghton or another freakin' Walgreens.

I drove by the new four acres or so of shopping they've put in on Oracle and Wetmore this weekend and thought about how awful it really is. For one, it's 100% chains, second they actually shut down a Circuit City and Home Depot across the street, as well as a Walgreen's a block away and just rebuilt them here, leaving the old retail sites abandoned (although someone has bought and is re-developing the Home Depot site, but I forget who). It's upsetting that we haven't moved passed this yet because I'm sure many were excited about all of it.

The worst part is that they actually have even more land set aside for new construction.

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Another Downtown twist in this courts complex construction, although it's probably been on the drawing board for a while (not like I'm in a loop or anything).

County will buy B of A Downtown for $24.1M

Once the new complex is complete, Colin's next move would be to level the #$*!er and build something that's aesthetically pleasing and actually complements Downtown, although that won't actually happen for many years. This is not the worst building in town (Tucson has plenty of competition for that) but being part of the Downtown skyline it's so visible and therefore detrimental to Downtown's image.

One issue I see with this is what is the county going to do when the new complex is completed and they still own this building? I don't believe that they're going to have much luck in selling it, but what do I know about real estate, right?

But maybe my idea will go forward with that new owner and we'll get some sort of beautiful mixed-use iconic skyscraper (yeah, right!) in its place.

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The completion of the new city-county courts complex at the Coconuts/Cemetery site won't have any impact on the County's need to occupy the BofA Plaza. The County needs at least 200,000 sq.ft. of office space, they say, not counting the new complex.

In other words, when the new complex is completed, the County won't be moving offices from B of A over there.

I think the County should build more office space on top of the YMCA garage as they originally intended, evacuate the old Walgreens building so a restaurant or retail can go in there, move the assessor's, treasurer's, and recorder's offices out of the old courthouse into ground floor space at one of the god-awful buildings they have on West Congress next to Superior Court, and let the Tucson Museum of Art expand into the old courthouse.

They should also sell the building they bought at Scott and Congress, sell the parking lot opposite Santa Rita, and move the assessor's office out of the space at 21 E. Congress and let that space become a restaurant or retail, or a club.

Another Downtown twist in this courts complex construction, although it's probably been on the drawing board for a while (not like I'm in a loop or anything).

County will buy B of A Downtown for $24.1M

Once the new complex is complete, Colin's next move would be to level the #$*!er and build something that's aesthetically pleasing and actually complements Downtown, although that won't actually happen for many years. This is not the worst building in town (Tucson has plenty of competition for that) but being part of the Downtown skyline it's so visible and therefore detrimental to Downtown's image.

One issue I see with this is what is the county going to do when the new complex is completed and they still own this building? I don't believe that they're going to have much luck in selling it, but what do I know about real estate, right?

But maybe my idea will go forward with that new owner and we'll get some sort of beautiful mixed-use iconic skyscraper (yeah, right!) in its place.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I guess it's time for the media to get the Tucson public excited about Rio Nuevo.

The Daily Star is running a series on the developments. Today's is a great resource for the various projects and even shows some renderings:

'Infill' neighborhoods promising, polarizing

Also, a very interesting article that sort of exemplifies the type of frustrations developers have faced when working with neighborhoods here:

Old neighborhoods, new development

Probably more tomorrow.

Also, the Weekly ran a very good article this week on the fact that Rio Nuevo is actually happening (the convento construction is about to start).

At Last!: The Rio Nuevo gamble is about to show dividends--but Tucsonans remain skeptical

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For the newly proposed development above the Ronstadt Transit Center Downtown:

Bookman's wooed, could help boost Downtown's draw

Bookman's could be nice, provided that they can pull their customers away from their current location on Grant. That particular location has quite a bit of activity in the evenings, especially on open mic nights, and Downtown needs activity on those off-nights.

The problem I see is that this is not a street-level development, so you're probably going to get people coming Downtown for Bookman's, parking, walking directly to it, then walking directly back and leaving, without walking down Congress, since the closest garage (unless they build a new one, of course) is just across Sixth Avenue. You almost need to force people onto the streets for Downtown to become more viable.

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The Daily Star ran a piece today with the question "What would it take to lure you Downtown?", a very valid question right now.

http://www.azstarnet.com/business/158302

The one that makes me just cringe is "something like a chain, like an On the Border or a Macaroni Grill".

Tacky, overpriced chains, that's just what we need more of here. :wacko:

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The Daily Star ran a piece today with the question "What would it take to lure you Downtown?", a very valid question right now.

The one that makes me just cringe is "something like a chain, like an On the Border or a Macaroni Grill".

Tacky, overpriced chains, that's just what we need more of here. :wacko:

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Glad to see you haven't left us, Ben. Even in spite of our magical, disappearing moderator.

You're absolutely right though and I agree with everything.

There is a whole separate culture here who are chain-oriented and will not change that just because we build them non-chains and say "Look, it's a store! And you'd be supporting your community by shopping there!". I think though that if you can show them how cool some of the non-chain stuff we have Downtown is (not just Downtown, but also Fourth, Lost Barrio and Main Gate), they would take more interest in getting away from the chains. I love how anti-chain people are here in Downtown. At one of the Nimbus project meetings someone articulated the whole mentality by saying "I don't want to see a Gordon-Biersch sign hanging up there". And it's not just anti-chain, but it also gets back to that whole anti-Phoenix thing: no one wants Tucson to ever look like Phoenix, save for maybe a few developers and misguided Phoenician and Californian transplants. But those are the same people who will tell you that Tucson is boring.

But you're right, chains can and do revitalize, but chains wouldn't do very well in Tucson's Downtown. I'm very supportive of Downtown, but I sure as hell would not patronize an On the Border or Macaroni Grill even if it was Downtown. Tonight I got dragged out to Red Lobster (by Tucson Mall in one of the chain clusters) where my friends ate (I had water) overpriced, poor quality food while there are decent seafood places here that have better food for less money. While we were eating, one of them said "Yeah, I don't really like chains" so I shot back with "But for your birthday, we went to Chili's right down the street". Maybe it's just self-righteousness on my part. But I think it's more to do with people being afraid of new places, especially when they've never heard the name.

But per chains creating a dynamic environment (non-Phoenix), Evanston is a good example, Ralph's is often credited as spawning SD's Downtown rennaissance, and even Boulder has quite a few chains along Pearl Street. And I remember Randall's (Safeway child) was the beginning of Midtown Houston's comeback.

So, I wouldn't mind seeing a chain place Downtown (Subway's already here), but I just don't want that to be the anchor that everyone identifies with Downtown. And it depends on the chain: most people Downtown would not be adverse to a Trader Joe's, Wild Oats, Sunflower, or even like a Fry's, but that's just because we NEED a grocery Downtown. Oh, do we ever need a grocery Downtown.

So Colin's answer to that question: GROCERY STORE! I mean, everyone shops at them, and how cool is it to be able to walk to the store from your place? I lived in a place in Houston for a year where I could do that and it was great.

But it does come down to people's impressions of Downtown. I've heard people go off about how they won't walk in the city limits because it's so dangerous, and that Downtown is nothing but bums and drugs and violence. Bringing me back to my whole thing about gentrification: it's either sanitize Downtown and let it lose its character (i.e. - Mill Avenue), or go with what's been happening and try to slowly bring in businesses which will in turn bring in the people. Maybe that's optimistic, but I still think that's best. You'll ostricize people either way.

There are lots of not-so-secret secrets in Tucson though. And maybe they are better left out of the ears of the chain people. I think it's one of the main things that keeps Tucson feeling like a small city, which is nice.

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every time i've been there, is walking through ralph's in malibu and the gelson's in hollywood and looking at (and being looked at by) everybody else to see if they (or you) were famous or somebody vaguely recognizable as a Person In The Biz
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  • 2 weeks later...

More One West (Speedway and Stone) developments:

One West finds hotel after same location

The article sort of re-interates what I had posted earlier about what happened to this project.

The "boutique hotel" idea is familiar and always sounds to me like developers just stabbing in the dark. I think it's a cool area, and a hotel isn't a bad idea, but it's certainly not a boutique hotel area (that would be better Downtown). The lot would be better as it was originally planned: mixed use condos and retail.

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