Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Plans for lots near Fourth Avenue underpass take shape

Forty-two months is the milestone date for the Plaza Centro project at the east end of downtown, as described in the city development agreement with developer Jim Campbell.

In those 3 1/2 years, the city pledges to design and build a roughly 375-space parking garage, while Campbell gets his 2.47-acre residential-and-commercial project ready to start construction as soon as the garage is finished.

Campbell, president of OasisTucson, a local development company, proposes to build 100 to 150 residential units targeted toward university students and 40,000 square feet of commercial space on two plots of land bisected by Congress Street. One lot is the former Greyhound lot just east of the Rialto Theatre and the other is across Congress just south of the Fourth Avenue underpass.

The City Council scrutinized the project in a Tuesday study session, with formal approval of the development agreement expected May 19.

Either the city or Campbell can terminate the contract if the 42-month tasks are not completed. However, the agreement spells out that Campbell “will not be deemed to be in breach . . . if developer is unable to secure financing . . . on commercially reasonable terms” as long as he resolves financing within two years of the garage’s completion.

Campbell would pay the appraised value for the land, which an appraiser will determine in the next 90 days. There is no preliminary inkling what the land is worth, said Lou Ginsberg, the city’s real estate program director.

The three-level garage would cost an estimated $3.5 million to $5 million and would potentially be funded with a revenue bond, City Attorney Mike Rankin and ParkWise coordinator Chris Leighton said.

Council members Regina Romero and Karin Uhlich were concerned about spending money on a public garage as the city is wrestling with a huge budget deficit.

“I think it’s proper to have a Plan B for that garage,” Romero said.

City Manager Mike Letcher, Leighton and the City Attorney’s Office will meet in the coming week to determine the financial feasibility of the garage.

“If it doesn’t pencil out, we don’t build a garage,” Assistant City Attorney Chris Avery said.

Leighton said in an interview that a 2004 parking study revealed that downtown has a shortage of about 1,000 spaces east of Stone Avenue and north of Broadway.

Campbell expects to invest $25 million to build three four-story housing structures – two on the Greyhound plot and one atop the garage – with a variety of commercial space on street level that could include a gym, retail, services and an Underpass Cafe. There would be walkways along all three sides, Campbell said.

The Plaza Centro project has been in the works for nearly four years, but has been on hold while the neighboring Fourth Avenue underpass was under construction.

In the meantime, Campbell was part of the brief life of the Downtown Tucson Development Co., which brought together financier Scott Stiteler, Williams & Dame Development and Campbell to master plan east downtown development from Sixth Street to Armory Park.

The partnership collapsed within two months earlier this year, Williams & Dame left town, and Stiteler and Campbell are independently negotiating development agreements. Stiteler’s involves Depot Plaza and its One North Fifth Apartments, the Rialto Block and the Ronstadt Transit Center.

“We could not come to terms on how we could work together,” Campbell said.

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