Citizen Staff Writer
The Tucson Museum of Art will ask for Rio Nuevo to pay for its vision of creating a cultural plaza that ties together the museum, El Presidio Plaza, the old Pima County Courthouse and the west side of the main library plaza.
Museum officials on Thursday piqued the interest of the City Council’s Rio Nuevo subcommittee, which wants Robert Knight, TMA’s executive director, to return in September with a more specific proposal. In the meantime, Knight will hash out details with Rio Nuevo and city urban planning staff.
“This is exactly what we need downtown,” Councilman José Ibarra said. “The question is, is the city of Tucson willing to step forward to truly partner with you?”
The city owns El Presidio Plaza, so the council must approve the museum’s redevelopment plan as well as the museum’s pending request to use Rio Nuevo tax increment financing for the plaza work and to build a 280-vehicle garage for museum use. Rio Nuevo can be used for infrastructure projects, such as parking garages, for private projects, Rio Nuevo director Greg Shelko said.
Council member Nina Trasoff, who chairs the Rio Nuevo subcommittee, said she was enthusiastic about the museum plan and wants Knight to work with city staff to create a more specific proposal “so we can see our role in this.”
Knight has had several talks with Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to see if the old courthouse building, built in 1929, could be converted for museum use. Huckelberry has said he is willing to share the north third of the building, but it’s contingent on a new city/county courthouse expected to open in three years.
Ibarra, who leaves the City Council at the end of the year, said the Tucson Museum of Art’s proposal merits city attention, especially since the museum has stuck to downtown through decades of decline.
“There has to be some real connection and real commitment to show it was worth it for you to stay here all these years,” Ibarra said. “I think we have to do everything we can to get a true partnership.”