Rio Nuevo: another year and little progressby Teya Vitu on Jun. 09, 2008, under Edge, Local
Tucsonans have waited for more than eight years with growing impatience and even a sense of futility for new landmarks to redefine downtown.
By comparison, Beijing in roughly that same time frame built a Summer Olympics complex with multiple stadiums and an Olympic village plus substantial subway line extensions in time for the opening ceremony Aug. 8.
In Tucson, no substantial downtown buildings have risen from the ground since last July, the last time the Tucson Citizen took a look at the status of 13 high-profile projects. Other than the reopening of the Fox Theatre and construction of Presidio San Agustín del Tucson, the downtown streetscape hasn’t changed during the life of Rio Nuevo.
The most significant progress in the past year has been converting the Martin Luther King Jr. Apartments into One North Fifth, also an apartment structure.
Otherwise, many projects prompt the same question they did in July 2007 (or 1999, when voters approved the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District): Who knows when or if they will ever be completed?
Once again, the Tucson Citizen is updating the trials and tribulations of downtown redevelopment on a project-by-project basis.
THE 13 PROJECTS
1. The Post
The project, long plagued by delays, awaits an appraisal update this month, with hopes of starting construction about 30 days later. This comes three months after developer Don Bourn told the City Council construction would start in late May. Bourn informed City Council members in a letter May 19 that foundation and building permits should be quickly in hand once his construction lender reviews the appraisal. He plans to build a seven-story, 52-unit condo complex at 20 E. Congress Street.
2. One North Fifth
The former Martin Luther King Jr. Apartments, converted to 96 studio and one-bedroom apartments, is expected to be ready for occupancy by August. A year ago, Williams & Dame Development/Peach Properties expected to have the building ready for residents in March. But getting federal approval to sell the city-owned MLK delayed the start of construction a few months. Partner Ron Schwabe at Peach Properties said 18 apartments have been reserved with nonrefundable deposits. Work is also under way on a commercial strip that will run along Congress Street in front of One North Fifth. Schwabe said businesses could be open in September or October.
3. The Mercado District
The Mercado District of Menlo Park is taking shape on the West Side, south of Congress Street, with 16 all-masonry homes completed by four builders since 2006. Eleven are occupied. Only one home is under construction now, but the builders hope to erect 35 to 40 more in the next two years.
Tucson Artisan Builders has completed six homes and is aiming for 11 more by 2010; Innovative Living has built three homes and hopes to build seven more in the next two years; Street Scene Development has finished six homes and wants to build 10 to 14 more in the next two years; and City Loft is finishing its first home, with two more planned.
A fifth builder, Rio Development is aiming for seven homes over the next two years.
4. Tucson Origins
The landfill at the site has been cleared to make way for a rebuilt Mission San Agustín west of Interstate 10 and south of Congress Street. Building permits have been issued, but City Manager Mike Hein has put the project on hold. Adobe bricks were supposed to start going up about now, but Hein has decided to put off mission work until construction starts on the Arizona History Museum, possibly in fall 2009.
5. Presidio Terrace
The controversial Presidio Terrace condo project is proceeding on parallel paths. On one, Glenn Lyons, chief executive of the Tucson Downtown Partnership, is looking for a new developer for the parking lot at 30 W. Paseo Redondo, west of the Tucson Museum of Art. The other path has Peggy Noonan weighing whether to file a lawsuit against the city for terminating her development agreement to build a seven-story, 101-condo complex there.
6. The Rialto Block
The project on Congress Street between Toole and Fifth avenues, which is connected to the Rialto Theatre, stands empty. Co-manager Doug Biggers’ vision to restore the 1919 structure as a mix of retail, restaurants and residential, is in flux.
“The complications of financing and tenant recruiting and successfully integrating the project with the Rialto Theatre has delayed the start of rehabilitation work,” Biggers said.
7. Plaza Centro
Developer Jim Campbell of OasisTucson plans to start construction on this retail-dining complex as soon as the Fourth Avenue underpass work ends in early 2009. Plaza Centro will fill 2.25 acres on either side of Toole Avenue where Congress Street, Broadway and Fourth Avenue converge. Campbell is negotiating a development agreement with the city, which owns the land.
“The issue is public parking; whether I build it or the city,” Campbell said.
Campbell originally intended to build an urban mix of street-level business and upper-level residential.
“I want to rethink that,” he said about potential housing. “I don’t want to be in (The Post developer) Bourn’s situation.”
8. 44 Broadway
Property owner James LeBeau and his new development partner John Dunn, president of Jobax General Contracting in Mesa, started work on the former federal courthouse annex at 44 E. Broadway in March. LeBeau hopes to have 30 condos and four penthouse units ready for high rollers in March 2009. The redesigned layout includes condos averaging 1,295 square feet and penthouses with 2,222 square feet and 2,372 square feet. Condo prices will range range from $350,000 to $550,000. LeBeau plans to open a sales office in about a month.
9. Santa Rita Hotel
Owner Humberto S. Lopez wants to reopen this shuttered 1904 property at 88 E. Broadway as a boutique hotel. He has an architect working on design concepts, but don’t expect to see construction workers anytime soon. “I’d like to see downtown get going,” Lopez said. “I’ve got to see some other things happening downtown before we move forward.”
A new Tucson Convention Center hotel dates back to the 1999 ballot initiative that created the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District. On Tuesday, the City Manager’s Office will present the City Council an agreement for Garfield Traub Development to start design work on a Sheraton hotel next to the TCC, buy a 7-acre parking lot owned by Allan Norville and have Dev-Con Development start site planning work for the entire convention center area. The city recently decided not to buy the Hotel Arizona.
11. Tucson Arena
The City Council gave the city manager until early August to determine how big a new Tucson Arena can be and where to build it while staying within the budgeted $130 million. A year ago, the thought was to start arena construction this summer, but that is now pushed back until at least summer 2009. Rich Singer, director of the Tucson Convention Center, isn’t offering potential start dates.
12. Tucson Convention Center
The April 2007 request for proposals for a TCC hotel set the goal of having a development agreement in place by the end of 2007. The TCC hotel, arena and expansion have dragged on because the city decided to combine elements of three developer proposals instead of choosing one. This has involved negotiations with two acknowledged tough negotiators: Humberto S. Lopez to buy his Hotel Arizona and Allan Norville to buy his parking lot behind the federal courthouse on which he stages the GJX gem show every year.
13. The 14.3 acres on Congress west of I-10.
The April 2007 request for developer proposals outlined picking a developer by December 2007 and finishing negotiations for a development agreement within 120 days or the beginning of May. That agreement with The Gadsden Co., now expected to reach the City Council in summer, will spell out the timelines to build the project. A year ago, the expectation for Rio Nuevo was that a developer would fully develop the acreage in four to six years “under normal regulatory and market circumstances.”