Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

The city, Rio Nuevo board need to quit bickering and get downtown done

Do you know where the hottest commercial real estate market in the metro area is?

The Oro Valley-Marana area? Nope.

The Vail-Collossal Cave area? Nope.

The Southwest side? Foothills? Midtown? Nope, nope and nope.

It’s Downtown.

That’s right, the much beleaguered, oft derided, can’t-find-a-place-to-park downtown is going gangbusters smack dab in the middle of the worst recession in 70 years.

Apparently, while the downtown powers that be have spent the past decade squabbling and squandering money, their fitful, ridiculed efforts to revitalize downtown have begun paying off.

In the past year new housing complexes, new retail shops and several new killer restaurants have opened. So far this summer, new retail developments have been announced, some of the best restaurateurs in town are close to opening second or third versions of their award-winning eateries and artists are lining up 10 deep to get into the renovated warehouses the city acquired from the state. The first of those renovations is done and already 100 percent leased. A new, huge office tower has begun construction and other, older towers and office buildings have been purchased and renovations for them announced.

Michael Keith, the executive director of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, earlier this year predicted Downtown would be out of available retail space in three years.

Last week during a report to the City Council, he revised that to 18 months in light of the incredible summer downtown’s real estate market has experienced.

Those private sector developments are on top of public sector projects recently or nearly completed that are helping grease the skids of the downtown economic boom. Among those are numerous street improvements, building façade improvements and new parking garages.

But there is a long way to go to get to the ultimate paydirt – a vibrant, culturally significant, fun, livable, revitalized downtown.

The modern streetcar needs to get across the finish line. Not only will that tie the three most significant nightlife, epicurean and entertainment districts in town together – Main Gate Square, Fourth Avenue and Downtown – but it also will tie in key retail and cultural developments planned for west of Interstate 10 and the river, namely the Mercado and Tucson Origins.

It also will make easier the University of Arizona’s decision to put student housing downtown because students will be able to get to school without having to drive (helping relive UA of its constant, crushing parking problem).

It also will be key in making planned expansions of the convention center and the hotly debated convention center hotel successful. The streetcar will easily, cheaply and quickly transport conventioneers to dozens of dining, entertainment and cultural and historic venues. That will help make attending a convention in Tucson fun, which is key to booking repeat business.

There is no underestimating the importance of the convention center and its necessary connected hotel in the success of downtown.

But the powers that be, meaning the city and the Rio Nuevo district, could still screw this up:  the city and Rio Nuevo continue to bicker about who’s running the downtown show; dozens of important Rio Nuevo cultural and historic projects are dead or stalled; Republican state legislative leaders are eagerly awaiting an audit of Rio Nuevo so they can use its expected findings of past waste and mismanagement to take the district’s funding away; the city got into a tiff with the Regional Transportation Authority over Sun Tran, which inexplicably put the streetcar in jeopardy; and the city’s financial woes have scared the council away from helping to pay for the convention hotel.

Keith’s report about downtown’s incredible economic boom this past year should be the wakeup call to the city, Rio Nuevo, the RTA and the state that success is at hand.

Put the egos and hidden agendas aside and get downtown done.

Search site | Terms of service