Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Developer departs, but downtown must move on

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

An ambitious proposal to plan and develop a large portion of downtown has hit a snag – but the project is so important we hope it survives.

Williams & Dame Development, a highly regarded group from Portland, Ore., has left a three-way partnership that had big plans for the east side of downtown Tucson.

It is important to note the company’s departure apparently was because of the sagging national economy, not problems in downtown Tucson.

While the Williams & Dame departure is a major blow, two Tucson firms remain in the partnership and have indicated they hope to carry on.

WDD brought a wealth of downtown experiences to Tucson. As its Web site notes, “From the reinvention of Portland’s Pearl District to the rebirth of Los Angeles’ South Park District, Williams & Dame Development has been creating visionary residential and mixed-use developments for more than two decades.”

In Tucson, Williams & Dame had barely started. It took over the hulking Martin Luther King Jr. apartment building for the elderly and turned it into One North Fifth – about 90 hip rentals that have brought many young people into the core of downtown to live.

A new strip of retail space on East Congress Street has been built as part of One North Fifth and soon will be available for businesses.

So it was exciting when WDD partnered with downtown developer Jim Campbell and luxury-home builder Scott Stiteler to plan and build housing, commercial and other developments on 75 acres at the eastern edge of downtown.

The three formed the Downtown Tucson Development Co. Its immediate focus stretched north and east from Congress Street and Sixth Avenue, but eventually was to include investing $2.5 million to rehabilitate two dozen century-old warehouses for the Warehouse Arts Management Organization.

The development company committed to spending $10 million in pre-development work over three years.

In exchange, the three were to receive an option on city-owned land, including the Ronstadt Transit Center, a small downtown parking lot and the former Broadway Volvo dealership at Broadway and Park Avenue.

Williams & Dame now has pulled out of the company, leaving the two remaining partners.

The developers approached the city with a sound proposal. The ideas they developed remain sound.

Both Campbell and Stiteler indicated they hoped to continue their work despite the loss of Williams & Dame. We indeed hope that is the case. Downtown Tucson needs them, their ideas and their enthusiasm.

Williams & Dame had downtown expertise. But two energetic and enthusiastic developers remain.

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