New office building, road improvements set for Five Points
Watching the east, west and north ends of downtown see new investments, Roy and Annie Laos want businesses to set up shop at Five Points, too.
That’s the odd intersection at downtown’s southern edge, where Stone Avenue gets spliced off of Sixth Avenue and 18th Street cuts across the splice, creating a five-pointed intersection.
The Laoses will make the first major investment: nearly $1 million to build a two-story office-commercial building with a design that would reflect the historic look of the Alamo Apartments across the street.
The 5-Points Gateway Plaza would be the biggest enterprise to hit Five Points in the 50 years that Roy Laos Jr. has had Roy’s Arizona Pharmacy one block to the north at 647 S. Sixth Ave.
It would add new architecture to the $2 million roadway project starting this summer that will convert Stone And Sixth to two-way traffic south of Broadway and add bike lanes and a continuous left-turn lane, said Jim Glock, the city’s transportation director.
The nine- to 12-month project will also reconstruct the Five Points intersection and repave Sixth and Stone with rubberized asphalt.
“We need to get a gateway here at Five Points so it becomes the southern entry to downtown,” said Albert Elias Sr., owner of Old Pueblo Printers, 255 S. Stone Ave.
Elias, the Laoses and about 15 businesses near the Stone-Sixth-18th intersection formed the loose-knit Five Points Business Coalition a few years back when a prior road proposal called for closing access to 18th Street from Sixth Avenue. The coalition fought off that plan.
Elias hopes the Laos project triggers business development throughout the Five Points area.
“There are things we need in this area,” said Elias, who has been the power of the printing press for local politicians for decades. “We just don’t have many services of any kind. Business people have been afraid to invest money here.”
The brick and stucco 5-Points Gateway Plaza building will have a stretch of covered balcony, rectangular windows that evoke a historic look, a bell tower and a tile roof. The hope is to build it this year and have businesses move into the 6,000-square-foot building in early 2008.
“We have a lot of people ask,” Annie Laos said. “An accountant. I know lawyers would come. A young man wants to put in a men’s barbershop and salon. We want to put in a small eating establishment.”
Annie Laos said the plot of land where Gateway Plaza would be built has been in her family since 1872. A Victorian home stood there into the 1930s but was demolished. The plot at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 18th Street has been mostly vacant since then.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Laos project emerged from a neighborhood battle. Annie Laos in 2000 fought city Transportation Department’s plans to turn Stone into a two-way street and relegate Sixth Street to a secondary street, block off 18th Street as well as lead to condemnation of the Laos property where they are now getting ready to build Gateway Plaza.
Laos has launched, and indefatigably won, many a monumental battle since fighting for school desegregation and keeping Safford Junior High School (today’s Safford Magnet Middle School) open in 1970.
She fought the bulldozing of historic neighborhood homes 1970 to build a Butterfield Freeway to link Golf Links Road to Interstate 10.
And in 1986, Laos was the voice of opposition to put Speedway in a tunnel under the University of Arizona from Cherry to Park.
“I see something I know that shouldn’t happen. I’ve got to get out,” she said.
Age does not dim the trio’s neighborhood passion one bit, with Annie just celebrating her 77th birthday, Roy at 85 and Elias counting 78 years.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Annie Laos asked. “We’re already retired. We’re doing this for fun. You can’t ever lose desire.”
Roy Laos Jr. spoke more practically: “The desire to make money. That’s what keeps us going.”
Annie and Roy are the parents for former City Councilman Roy Laos III, and the Laos Transit Center was named for Roy’s father, Roy Laos Sr.
Like the Laoses, Albert Elias Sr. has lived his entire life a few blocks south of downtown. He is the father of Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias and city urban planning director Albert Elias Jr.
“By God, the only reason we’re here is we’ve lived here all our life,” said Elias, one of 10 recipients of Mayor Bob Walkup’s Heart of Downtown award said. “We all have a stake in this community.”
Five Points sits at the southwest edge of City Council member Nina Trasoff’s ward. She appreciates the Laoses’ creativity at the intersection.
“They’re such good people and they’re really trying to do something,” Trasoff said. “They’re passionate about their neighborhood.”
Architect Richard Fe Tom, owner of The Architecture Company, anticipates applying for a building permit in April with the desire to have Gateway Plaza finished by January 2008.
But he still needs to work out some building code wrinkles involving parking and loading areas with city building officials to make the project work on the narrow lot. Tom will rely on the recently approved downtown in-fill incentive district, which gives city officials flexibility with codes and development standards. Entrepreneurs interested in a business at Five Points can call Albert Elias Sr. at 624-5851 or Annie Laos at 623-4824.