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Tucson Downtown/Rio Nuevo Thread


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Per One West, as one resident put it, there was a group of "crusty old hippies" in adjoining Dunbar Spring who demanded the 1/3 affordable housing which effectively killed the project. No one actually opposed building something there, they just wanted it done a certain, infeasible way. That's usually how it happens here.

Yeah, Lofts at Fifth Avenue has been a hole for a while. I'm not sure what the hold up is, but, yeah, as I recall, the neighborhood did approve it, but there were some concerns about parking, traffic and noise, although that's always the concern it seems.

I'll repost this:

Old neighborhoods, new development

This is from just a couple of weeks ago, and they insinuate that the underground garage will be underway soon, so we'll just have to wait and see. I go by there everyday, so don't think I won't post on here immediately if something actually happens.

There's a loft project in Armory Park that looked close a couple of months ago. I'll go check on these projects this weekend maybe and take pictures, although Lofts at Fifth Avenue will not be in the photo set since it looks exactly the same as it did when I last took pictures.

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When was the last time anything major was built downtown Tucson? I see a recurring theme in AZ cities, they are exploding in population, and investment dollars but it all seems to be occuring in the form of chain box stores and suburban growth. I know why Phoenix struggles to attract investment downtown. It's competing with it's burbs for the same kind of projects. What's Tucsons reason? Is it just that the residents want nothing to do with it?

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Developers haven't been overly interested in Tucson and our economy is not nearly as robust as Phoenix's, but things have been built.

There's the Ice House Lofts, the Lofts at the Academy, a few student housing complexes including the mixed-use Sam Hughes Place and Sahara. There's also the Pima County Building on Congress (the castle), the garage on Pennington (also mixed-use) and some smaller projects throughout the central area.

You have to understand that Tucson is not a skyscraper town and probably never will be. We may get some mid-rises though. However, the density isn't there right now for these 30-story phallics all over the Downtown area. It just isn't right here.

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New Direction: Can two-way streets work on Congress and Broadway?

This has been on the board for a while. I agree with Glock though, it'll be virtually impossible to make Broadway a two-way street with the traffic volume on there now but much easier with Stone and Sixth. I don't see how they ever thought it was feasible. Broadway has maybe room for a four-lane two-way street, but you'd have to prohibit left turns, which doesn't really work because of how Downtown is laid out. You'd also have to ditch all of the street parking.

Ya know, the one-way streets here just don't really make sense because of the mess that Downtown street create. I don't know how many times I've seen people just kind of cruising down the wrong way on a one-way street, oblivious to the honking horns and waiving arms. More two-way thoroughfares may help a bit.

Don't get me wrong though, I like one-way streets. Something about them spells "Downtown" for me.

Glock was actually at my neighborhood association meeting on Tuesday, although I failed to go because I felt like crap that night (I even skipped on a cool show). He was supposed to discuss the Granada re-striping (going from four lanes to three), but I'm sure the Aviation extension and other Downtown-related stuff came up. I'll have to get with my neighbor for the scoop.

What we really need is a Downtown bypass. My idea has always been to upgrade 22nd Street and build connector ramps (over the railroad, so fairly expensive) to it from Aviation. This would give people a quicker route to I-10 and would divert traffic off Congress and Broadway (since it takes so damn long to get through Downtown now). But, the RTA says that the Aviation extension thus dumping the traffic onto Sixth Street (or actually Seventh Ave) will solve everything.

BTW, the "Mailbag" section of the Weekly's Opinion section has another one of my letters, although it's completely unrelated to anything on here.

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After my visit, I saw a ton of potential. The downtown area is not on par with a city of 500,000. But I would say that it IS on par for a metro area of it's size.

I think that's just an Arizona conundrum. Downtown Phoenix nowhere near represents a city of 1.5million, or a metropolitan area of 4million. It doesn't seem likely that anytime soon it will grow into itself either. The residents up here aren't exactly development friendly.

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After my visit, I saw a ton of potential. The downtown area is not on par with a city of 500,000. But I would say that it IS on par for a metro area of it's size.

I think that's just an Arizona conundrum. Downtown Phoenix nowhere near represents a city of 1.5million, or a metropolitan area of 4million. It doesn't seem likely that anytime soon it will grow into itself either. The residents up here aren't exactly development friendly.

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The second problem is that despite being 1/2 mile from the univesity, it is seperated

by a train track and an old dark, lonley, SCARY looking underpass. I have only met a few people willing to walk under that thing alone, and they were all men.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Look for construction activity to start Downtown in 2007

This one made me shake my head:

"Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko said the Fourth Avenue underpass and the MLK rehab are definitely coming next year, while the Post and Presidio Terrace will depend on the market interest in condos. He said he's confident the interest will be there."

At least something will start happening soon.

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Op-ed in the AZ Star today. The Star sounds like a lone voice, in favor of further downtown Tucson development. I'd love to hear of a couple high rise going in down there. Tucson has a very cool downtown. However certainly nowhere near as vibrant as it could be.

the article:

Watching changes unfold in Tucson's Downtown-redevelopment project has been like watching a human face-lift in slow motion
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And you wonder why people are so cynnical here...

This is exactly the same re-iteration. I mean, you could have printed the same article last year and it would have been just as timely and poorly received.

Since seeing these Rio Nuevo people just before Christmas close off a busy part of Congress Street to set up a tent for their awards ceremony, I've become more pessimistic toward this idealism. I mean, the last thing Rio Nuevo needs to do right now is to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Like everything that involves politics and significant amounts of money, Rio Nuevo seems to have gone the way of the politicos and it's now more about people talking out of their butts just to hear themselves speak and get their names in the papers rather than actually doing something beneficial toward the community. I mean, why does that have to be so infeasible? I thought that was the whole goal of Rio Nuevo.

Today I was instructed to change our front page to reflect the I-10 reconstruction project. I had put up a "news item" over a year ago at the instruction of our director. He had apparently just heard of it, although I had heard about it many months before but thought "this won't happen for a while regardless of when they say it's going to happen" and sure enough, it was delayed. Granted, it wasn't ADOT's fault but rather the City, who said "hey, let's put in a tunnel on I-10 through Downtown so we can have a park over it... oh, and remember, we definitely don't want to be like Phoenix... no, sir". But, supposedly, it will actually start soon.

The article from my site is here. The "alternative options" are just our regular programs. The fact is, there is no alternative plan for this particular project: they're just going to use the existing, insufficient infrastructure which means that most will just try to make it into town on Oracle or First Avenue. I guess that's what you get for living in Marana though.

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I always get the gossip on Downtown projects from my neighborhood meetings, and we had one tonight.

A couple I hadn't heard of:

  • The UA commuter lots (surrounded by 7-foot chain link, razor wire fencing) have apparently been proposed (for some time) to become married student housing for the university. I don't think this will happen, but I'm going to ask people tomorrow at work about it.

  • The TownWest/formerly Nimbus/Lot 175 (now referred to by the politicos as the "Stone/Franklin Lot") project: some Dunbar Spring and WAMO (Warehouse Area district on Toole) people have begun a grassroots opposition campaign to TownWest's current proposal. Their idea is to get council against it and get it back to what they feel was the original intent: a "sculpture garden". They plan to pack the next Downtown Links meeting (1-22 at Dunbar Spring Auditorium) and have a smaller meeting scheduled before that at the Steinfeld Warehouse (technically public, but I think they just want friendlies there) to discuss what exactly is wanted for that site.

  • The Speedway/Stone project is effectively dead, so again confirmed by the Dunbar Spring people.

  • Presidio Terrace may be dead as well because of the dramatic drop in the condo market. It was brought up several times that it should be attempted to reduce the size and density to simply save the project, but it was also pointed out that it would violate the contract between the City and the developer, but also would fall under the new Prop 207 (again, shame on you who voted for it) rules, which would make the City responsible for compensating the developer for the theoretical losses due to the decrease in density. I just want to see this built!

That's all for now.

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one day, a lightning epiphany will strike me and i will realize why i've had a bad taste in my mouth for the rhetorical promise of rio nuevo from the first time i heard about it. there's a concrete reason there, but my lazy mind hasn't been able to parse it yet. maybe it's the notion of having to put forth effort and cash to 'revitalize' an area that, in ideal terms, should define itself strictly by very present user demand - instead of building 'it' and hoping they'll come. or maybe it's the ongoing change in its backers' tone as big and small political winds blow in first one direction, and then another. or maybe it's the wrong people lined up to take credit for change that hasn't occurred - yet. everything about RN - even the basics - seems to take so damn long, and i wonder sometimes if that's been a design feature of the whole project from the beginning. gives lots of politicians and developers more wiggle-room and creates an atmosphere of permissive sluggishness. if the projects are botched or compromised too greatly, will there still be that line of applause-seekers - or just crossed arms and pointed fingers and a blame-the-public-they-stymied-things stance (nothing elected officals do angers me more, anywhere.)?

i still think there's something else...

Edited by convulso
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if the projects are botched or compromised too greatly, will there still be that line of applause-seekers - or just crossed arms and pointed fingers and a blame-the-public-they-stymied-things stance (nothing elected officals do angers me more, anywhere.)?
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Sorry to be so negative, but I honestly think Rio Nuevo is dead. Over half a billion dollars, and Tucson will get a small cultural historic park, which was what was originally approved. The actual downtown will get a new underpass and that is about it. I am SURE that the legislature in Maricopa is never going to do anything like this for Tucson again. I cannot emphasize enough how much I REGRET voting for Rio Nuevo. I would love to see Tucson develop a great downtown, but Tucson has really burned themselves in the long run when it comes to downtown revitilization.

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Actually, having attended that awards ceremony on Congress Street, it was refreshing for a number of interrelated reasons. For starters, it wasn't sponsored in any way by the City or its feeble Rio Nuevo office. I think that the dreaded words "Rio Nuevo" were mentioned but once, when Nina Trasoff was introduced as the chair of the Downtown and Rio Nuevo subcommittee.

The Tucson Citizen and Greater Tucson Leadership put it on, with some other sponsors including the Downtown Alliance. I was amazed to see over 200 people there, and the tickets were $100.

Most shocking was the sight of Chuck Huckelberry, who hates Rio Nuevo as much as anyone.

They gave out awards to private sector people who have actually accomplished things. The Flores family, which owns and operates El Charro and the Stillwell House. Herb Stratford got an award in the arts and cultural category for the Fox. Michael Keith was recognized as a developer of housing. And Roger Karber, who helped get the TIF extended last year, won an award.

No Rio Nuevo staff members even attended. They put on a pretty nice video, with interviews with all private sector people who sounded optimistic about downtown. Nobody said anything about a science center or history museums, or even the arena. Nobody said the Convento will revitalize downtown.

But they could have put that tent anywhere.

And you wonder why people are so cynnical here...

This is exactly the same re-iteration. I mean, you could have printed the same article last year and it would have been just as timely and poorly received.

Since seeing these Rio Nuevo people just before Christmas close off a busy part of Congress Street to set up a tent for their awards ceremony, I've become more pessimistic toward this idealism. I mean, the last thing Rio Nuevo needs to do right now is to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Like everything that involves politics and significant amounts of money, Rio Nuevo seems to have gone the way of the politicos and it's now more about people talking out of their butts just to hear themselves speak and get their names in the papers rather than actually doing something beneficial toward the community. I mean, why does that have to be so infeasible? I thought that was the whole goal of Rio Nuevo.

Today I was instructed to change our front page to reflect the I-10 reconstruction project. I had put up a "news item" over a year ago at the instruction of our director. He had apparently just heard of it, although I had heard about it many months before but thought "this won't happen for a while regardless of when they say it's going to happen" and sure enough, it was delayed. Granted, it wasn't ADOT's fault but rather the City, who said "hey, let's put in a tunnel on I-10 through Downtown so we can have a park over it... oh, and remember, we definitely don't want to be like Phoenix... no, sir". But, supposedly, it will actually start soon.

The article from my site is here. The "alternative options" are just our regular programs. The fact is, there is no alternative plan for this particular project: they're just going to use the existing, insufficient infrastructure which means that most will just try to make it into town on Oracle or First Avenue. I guess that's what you get for living in Marana though.

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Downtown Tucson isn't all that dead, Just the current policies, and residents are very devout in keeping things local. I would think big money that could come in and invest there doesn't want the hassle or the price is to high, or both.

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Totally agree on that, Erin. Rio Nuevo latched on to both the Franklin/Stone project (formerly Nimbus) and Presidio Terrace when they both seemed like they would succeed, but now seems to have abandoned them both as the flushing sound grows more audible. I've always seen them, with big, smug smiles, pointing at the Fox remodeling, which was nice, but doesn't constitute the success of the entire project. We want new buildings with housing!

All this opposition from neighborhoods is daunting, but you have to remember that it's only because these projects are actually in neighborhoods. The Post and MLK projects are both Downtown, where no one currently lives, which is one reason they've been able to get further where others have been stalled by bickering. El Presidio's boundaries technically go east to Stone and south to Alameda, but those in the neighborhood don't really care all that much about how high things get Downtown or what sort of places open up, as opposed to the other projects closer to home. I think that they feel, as apparently we do, almost any actual activity Downtown is good. Also, many in Tucson feel like just about anything would be an improvement from the horrid architecture and urban design we have down there right now.

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City is set to ask for bids on key Downtown plots

Could see some more development in Greater Downtown with this. The western plot is now a barren, fenced-off field that was apparently once partially home to a grocery store. Tucson's oldest tree is also here on Congress Street, which the street actually avoids by narrowing slightly. It's an ideal site: adjacent to the river (and its biking path), only a few blocks from Downtown, easy access to the interstate. It was envisioned to be a part of the El Mercado area as a mixed-use, semi-New Urbanist community. I would imagine that it will see apartments or townhouses, but probably nothing higher than 3 stories.

The eastern site is part of an old tire store and adjacent to a Tucson Water facility. I'd like to see them do more with than the "Barrio Viejo del Sol" since it has interstate frontage and has the highest potential for success as a mixed-use development.

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Mayor Walkup once again discussed downtown revitalization in his "State of the City" address Friday at the TCC, but for the second year in a row, did not use the dreaded term "Rio Nuevo". Give his speechwriter credit for knowing a bad brand. Unfortunately, the mayor has a lot of responsibility for the bad brand of Rio Nuevo.

They've stumbled along from one idea to another, never able to follow through on much of anything. There were some encouraging words from Walkup, though. He disparaged some of his council members for pushing pet projects. That would be his possible mayoral election opponent Steve Leal for pushing a $20 million Latino Cultural Center. That would be Jose Ibarra for trying to pre-emptively grab $280 million for the West Side.

He talked about how a new arena, convention center expansion, and new convention headquarters hotel will be the big topics for 2007. He'll want to get at least one of those projects rolling by the election, and Leal will want to deny the mayor anything he can take credit for. It's too bad that election-year politics will play a role in shaping public policy for downtown, but that's what will probably happen.

The big issue lately on the West Side is whether the modern streetcar will end in the Cultural Plaza--where none of the museums figures to happen anytime soon--or whether it will turn north along the new street Avenida del Convento and end at Congress Street opposite the El Rio Clinic. The Menlo Park neighbors want it extended, hoping that a Phase 2 of the streetcar would extend the line west to St. Mary's Hospital. The plan that the city approved last year had a vaguely defined end point west of the Santa Cruz, but they really didn't anticipate it going past the planned plaza.

Look for Lillian Lopez-Grant to ultimately get her way on this one.

City is set to ask for bids on key Downtown plots

Could see some more development in Greater Downtown with this. The western plot is now a barren, fenced-off field that was apparently once partially home to a grocery store. Tucson's oldest tree is also here on Congress Street, which the street actually avoids by narrowing slightly. It's an ideal site: adjacent to the river (and its biking path), only a few blocks from Downtown, easy access to the interstate. It was envisioned to be a part of the El Mercado area as a mixed-use, semi-New Urbanist community. I would imagine that it will see apartments or townhouses, but probably nothing higher than 3 stories.

The eastern site is part of an old tire store and adjacent to a Tucson Water facility. I'd like to see them do more with than the "Barrio Viejo del Sol" since it has interstate frontage and has the highest potential for success as a mixed-use development.

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Yeah, I was confused about the ending point of the streetcar. Getting it all the way to Saint Mary's would be great, but that's quite a bit of extra track. I noticed that they're building some new condos right across the street from the hospital off Silverbell. Menlo Park has a lot of potential at this point.

It is a shame though that Rio Nuevo seems to be such a derogatory term right now. But something definitely needs to happen if Walkup expects to be re-elected, especially considering that he's the only Republican left on the City Council.

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