Police station moves in; businesses open, revamp
The biggest scare Bill and Ann DeVinney experienced lately was barking dogs that startled them when they walked in their Miracle Manor neighborhood.
That hasn’t always been the case.
Their midtown community used to be infused with prostitutes, drug dealers and random ne’er-do-wells, who would spill over from nearby Miracle Mile.
“I’ve had drug dealers come up to my car when I was at a stop sign,” said Bill DeVinney, who is in the investment business. This would happen inside the neighborhood, not just when he was out on the strip.
The Miracle Mile strip, a 1.5-mile stretch between Interstate 10 and Oracle Road, has been a breeding ground for illegal activities and all the characters who come with it.
“A lot of people would drive slowly around,” Bill DeVinney said, “looking for something.”
From about the mid-1980s until the early 2000s, anyone seeking the seedy, illegal or violent could find it on Miracle Mile.
Now they find the largest and newest Tucson police station, the Westside Service Center at 1310 W. Miracle Mile , several new businesses and revamping of existing ones. Even the 40-year-old Golden Pin Lanes, 1010 W. Miracle Mile, is undergoing a $1 million makeover.
Other plans in the works include the renovation of the historic Ghost Ranch Lodge into affordable senior housing and the transformation of six acres of homes into a $20 million crime lab next to the police station.
None of this happened overnight, and none was the result of a single entity.
“It’s a team effort,” Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said. “We’re all working as a team.” She said that team consists of law enforcement, City Council member Karin Uhlich, community and neighborhood groups, business owners and private residents.
DeVinney is active in the Miracle Manor Neighborhood Association, the Centre Court Homeowners Association and the neighborhood and business coalition known as the Oracle Project.
Nearby Balboa Heights and Amphi neighborhood associations also have been instrumental.
Another improvement project that’s been going strong since fall is the Oracle Area Revitalization Plan. DeVinney said the most useful tool for revamping the area has been public awareness.
“It’s letting others know what resources are available to help people help themselves,” he said.
Police presence has played a big part, area residents and business owners say.
Tucson police’s Westside Service Center opened in September at a site that had been a Kmart.
“It was a trash dump over there,” Miracle Mile business owner Dennis Carson said. “The police station is the latest thing, the best thing to ever happen here. The prostitutes are all but gone and the homeless faction has subsided.”
But police said the problem hasn’t disappeared, just relocated.
“We don’t solve problems; we move problems,” Tucson police spokesman Officer Chuck Rydzak said. “If they’re not on Miracle Mile, they’re down on Grant. If they’re not on Grant, they’re on Prince.”
Others are glad they are anywhere but Miracle Mile.
“It’s been so much better,” said Vanisha Desai, 18, who helps her father, Mike Desai, run the Dream House Motel, 1365 W. Miracle Mile, across from the police station.
The teen said she was in a state of shock when the family moved here from suburban Ohio three years ago.
“It was very crazy,” she said, “(with) a lot of undesirables coming up to the property and knocking on doors.”
Things have quieted down a lot because of the police’s proximity, she said, and the motel has even gone through some renovations of its own.
Other new neighbors include La Paloma Family Services, which built a facility at 870 W. Miracle Mile in October.
The organization specifically picked Miracle Mile because of its location, said chief executive officer David Bradley.
“It was the 05 ZIP code,” he said. “This is one of the ZIP codes where a lot of the child welfare cases come from.”
La Paloma specializes in helping kids, which means helping their families, and its new facility includes nearly three acres of administrative offices, a group home and a community center.
“You know the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? I like to say, ‘It takes a child to raise a village,’” said Bradley, who is also a Democratic state representative for District 28. “Typically it’s been my experience people tend to rally around children when they hear they need help.”
The Ghost Ranch Lodge, designed by Tucson architect Josias Joesler with its logo by artist Georgia O’Keeffe, is expected going to be converted into affordable senior housing. The lodge, at 801 W. Miracle Mile, once known as Tucson’s finest hotel, was recently purchased by GRL Apartments LP, a subsidiary of Connecticut-based Atlantic Development and Investments.
Renovations could start as early as this summer, said Ward 3 council aide Tamara Prime, and will fit with the neighborhood’s revamping plan.
“We asked the new owners to work with surrounding property owners and neighbors,” Bronson said. “This has been a priority.”
Gospel Rescue Mission, with a 17-room shelter at 1130 W. Miracle Mile, is also in discussions with the city to buy a motel on the strip, Wayward Winds Lodge at 707 W. Miracle Mile.
The motel’s 42 rooms would greatly expand the shelter, said associate executive director and pastor Danny Hansen, and add a chapel and dining facility.
Gospel Rescue Mission has already built transitional housing behind the motel on 15th Avenue and all its facilities are staffed, fortified and monitored.
DeVinney said the mission’s move and expansion would not necessarily be a detriment to the area.
“They’re already on the strip,” he said. “I don’t know that it matters one way or the other.
“It is another sign that the motel market for Miracle Mile is not what it used to be and never ever will be again.”
The $1 million makeover of the bowling alley is nearly complete, one more upgrade of the area. Renovations include new lanes, flat screen scoring monitors, painting, fixtures and carpet.
“Since the police station came down the street, Miracle Mile is changing like it used to be,” said Golden Pin co-owner Pete Tountas, who moved to the area in the mid-1960s, before the bulk of the area’s decay. He and Don Allan bought the bowling alley in 1974.
Once the renovations are complete, they plan to offer weekday bowling for 99 cents to drum up summer business, Tountas said.
“It would have been bad for the city and the neighborhood,” Tountas said, if Miracle Mile had not started to bounce back to its former glory. “I’m glad they are trying to revise it. We’re doing our part. We invested a lot of money and we’re here to stay.”
Carson, who owns Tackleman’s Fishing Supply at 1293 W. Miracle Mile, said the area’s improvements started about four years ago. His business, which is in a building that was originally a 1927 ranch house, just got a new roof and new lime green paint job.
“It started with a little of this, a little of that,” he said. “A major improvement was when they bulldozed the porn shop.”
Carson was referring to the city condemning and tearing down Tropicana Adult Video Theater in 2004.
The Oracle Project, which works to improve Oracle from Drachman Street to Miracle Mile, was born around that time.
Tucson’s Oracle Area Revitalization Plan, which kicked off last fall, is an 18-month project targeting the Oracle area between Speedway Boulevard and Miracle Mile. It aims to revitalize by encouraging more services, recreational opportunities and housing options to move in while preserving the area’s historic character, according to the city’s Department of Urban Planning and Design.
A topless bar still operates on Miracle Mile, as does a handful of inexpensive motels.
Roman Moreno, who has worked in the area for the past six years, hasn’t noticed a grand improvement.
“It’s about the same, or it’s gotten worse,” said Moreno, 48, a groundskeeper at Evergreen Cemetery, at North Oracle Road and West Miracle Mile.
He said Miracle Mile’s repaving in 2005 led to increased traffic.
“Now there’s more transients,” he said, “and the same number of drug dealers and prostitutes.”
He still finds syringes thrown on the cemetery lawn and once caught a prostitute taking a shower in the cemetery fountain.
But he agrees the police station’s move down the block improved police response time when he had to call them.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Bronson said, “but we still have some work to do.”
Miracle Mile timeline
1930s: Miracle Mile Strip, which included some of what is now Oracle Road, was built as a northwest gateway into Tucson and hailed as the best road ever made.
1937: Miracle Mile gets high acclaim in Arizona Highways magazine. “There was nothing like it the Southwest,” the publication said. The strip had thriving businesses, mainly hotels, for the next three decades.
1960s: Interstate 10 completed, diverting travelers away from Miracle Mile and hurting businesses. The strip begins its decline.
1983: Massive police sweeps result in the arrest of 400 suspected prostitutes and 87 men for soliciting police decoys.
1986: Shootouts common, usually involving pimps over their real estate and human property.
Late 1980s: “Miracle Mile” name taken off sign south of cemetery because North Oracle Road businesses didn’t want the Miracle Mile reputation.
2002-2004: Miracle Mile found to be the most violent section of the city in Tucson Citizen analysis.
2004: Birth of the Oracle Project, a coalition of neighborhoods and businesses working to improve Oracle from Drachman to Miracle Mile.
March 2004: City condemns Tropicana Adult Video Theater because of building code violations. The building is torn down.
Sept. 2005: Miracle Mile repaved.
Fall 2007: Beginning of Oracle Area Revitalization Plan, an 18-month project to revitalize the area that includes Miracle Mile.
September 2007: Tucson Police Westside Service Center opens at 1310 W. Miracle Mile.
October 2007: La Paloma Family Services moves to 870 W. Miracle Mile.
January 2008: Police receive OK from City Council to buy six acres next to West Side station to build new crime lab.
May 2008: Golden Pin Lanes gets $1 million makeover.
Source: Tucson Citizen archives