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New group to push city leaders on finishing Mission Gardens

Citizen Staff Writer



Tucson matriarch Cele Peterson, who turned 100 a week ago, made a surprise appearance Wednesday at a neighborhood activist gathering near the Mission Gardens construction site on the West Side.

About 70 people involved in the newly formed Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace intend to push city leaders to complete the Mission Gardens, where adobe walls are under construction to enclose the gardens just off Grande Avenue and Mission Lane.

City Manager Mike Hein last month decided to finish the garden walls, but not build the gardens now or the Mission San Agustín or other museums that make up Tucson Origins.

Peterson said she wants to live long enough to see Tucson Origins completed.

“It’s the one place in the whole wide world that has the history we have,” said Peterson, a local fashion icon since 1931. “It is one of the most important features in this whole country.”

Archaeology on the Origins site has found human artifacts spanning more than 2,000 years within feet of each other, including the original Mission San Agustín, the ruins of which were demolished in the 1950s to create a landfill.

With Rio Nuevo tax increment financing dwindling during the economic downturn, the City Council and Hein last month decided to focus nearly all Rio Nuevo attention on the Tucson Convention Center hotel, the TCC expansion and the Tucson Arena.

The Friends sent a letter to individual City Council members with three desires:

• Complete the Mission Gardens as planned.

• Create an operations plan for the gardens.

• Put the Mission San Agustín on a firm construction timetable.

“We have to come forward as natives and express our concern,” said Bill Du Pont, organizer of the Friends group. “We have come together to urge the mayor and council to honor the ballot measure.”

Voter-approved Proposition 400 and Arizona Revised Statutes Title 48-4201, both enacted in 1999, relate to Rio Nuevo.

The statute was written to build a stadium for the Arizona Cardinals but included “multipurpose facilities,” a clause Tucson used to create Rio Nuevo with the TCC as the facility. The 1999 legislation allowed “secondary components” adjacent to or near the TCC, which is how the Tucson Origins project west of Interstate 10 qualifies.

Prop. 400, however, sold the project as “located in or near downtown Tucson and includes the area at the base of ‘A” Mountain known as Rio Nuevo.” That 1999 ballot measure described “unique historic re-creations, new and expanded museums and mixed-use development,” but made minimal mention of TCC, only committing $8 million to a TCC hotel for construction of public areas, parking and other public improvements.

“It is important that we come alive and revive the original plans,” said DuPont, who describes himself as a descendent of Jose Ignacio Moraga, the commander of the Tucson Presidio in 1791.

The Mission Lane gathering Wednesday morning included builders of the Mercado District of Menlo Park luxury housing development just north of the Origins site. Many attendees live in the immediate neighborhood, but many mission gardens supporters came from across the city, including the Reid Park area and as far away as Sabino Canyon.

“We’ve been so worried about not completing construction of the church and convento site,” said Tony Urias, chief executive of Celabrando El Pueblo de Tucson, a group that teaches the history of Tucson. “Why does it matter? This is home to us.”

New group wants city to get going on Mission Gardens project

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