Citizen Staff Writer
So much has sprouted at Main Gate Square in recent years.
If you haven’t been down to University Boulevard in three or four years, you will be shocked to see that viable university district.
Even in the past two months or past two years, a slew of new merchants have popped up. Come back in another month or more and new businesses will have come on board.
Main Gate Square is the relatively new identity taking root for those two blocks of University Boulevard spilling off the University of Arizona’s west entrance.
That stretch has served as Tucson’s university district since Louise Marshall established the first retail foothold in 1922. Her namesake Marshall Foundation still owns nearly all the University Boulevard property between Park and Euclid avenues.
The street had a variety of ups and downs during the 20th century, and “then we did the greatest sin of all in the ’80s: We created an arcade (with covered sidewalk and streetside arches) and all the retail was hidden,” said Jane McCollum, the foundation’s general manager since 2003.
But now Main Gate Square is right at the flash point of achieving an “urban pedestrian experience for shopping, dining and services” that has taken nearly 20 years to assemble and some $12.5 million in Marshall Foundation investments since the heavy lifting started with the construction of the Marriott University Park Hotel in 1995.
The run of the 2000s, especially, have brought nonstop reshaping of the retail-dining corridor on University Boulevard.
Most notably, the arched arcades of the University Drug Co. are gone, as is University Drug itself and the building that stood at University and Park.
In its place stand two brick buildings that match the architectural design of Marshall’s first retail structure from 1922.
That’s part of a five-phase redevelopment that has rebuilt the entire block on the north side of University Boulevard from Park to Tyndall avenues and north to Second Street.
Still to come: Phase 5, a six- to eight-screen movie complex and plaza just east of the Marriott.
Across University, the look is entirely different, so much so that even neighboring storefronts have such different designs that it’s hard to believe it’s a single building.
If McCollum has brought nothing else to Main Gate Square, she has given the street a green lushness and all varieties of windows to businesses, many walls giving way to windows of all shapes and sizes. Check out American Apparel – two stories of window.
“I’m a very big believer in poking holes in walls,” McCollum said.
Each side of the street and each block have a distinct look.
Main Gate’s 34 percent vacancy rate from 2003 has dwindled to 6 percent and leases are signed on nearly all the remaining 8,570 square feet of Marshall Foundation’s 149,000-square-foot leasable holdings.
“We have people working to take everything we have,” McCollum said.
Since 2003, Main Gate has grown from 11 retailers to 20, from seven apparel shops to 16, and from 21 restaurants to 31.
Main Gate Square has become Tucson’s downtown shopping-dining-hangout place.
It offers the first Bakerzin restaurant in America, the first Life is Good clothing store west of the Mississippi River, the only Ed Hardy clothing store in Arizona and the only Johnny Rocket sit-down restaurant in Tucson.
“I tried to get developers not to think of it as a shopping center but think of it as an urban experience,” McCollum said. “Around every corner there is something new to enjoy.”
Martyn Meisner and Michael Foster moved from the coffee capital of Seattle to take a chance with Caffe Lucé at 845 N. Park Ave., where they roast coffee beans.
“With the coffee roasting, we’re already bringing in people going to other places on Speedway and Broadway,” Meisner said. “Down here (in Tucson) we have spas, country clubs and restaurants we want to roast for.”
Don Falk, an associate professor at UA’s Tree Ring Laboratory clear across campus from Main Gate, typically bicycles to Main Gate once a week.
“Often I sit down and have a coffee with a colleague,” Falk said. “I’d say the options are better. The food has gotten healthier. It’s a fairly friendly area to get around on a bicycle.”
Hallie Drake sat outside Espresso Art one morning reading.
“It’s really convenient to campus, especially since I’m an art student,” Drake said. “It’s a nice area to just relax after working on things all day. It’s an interesting mix of people you get in here.”
Along with the merchant mix and diverse architecture, McCollum has supplemented the existing trees with 82 large planters and 23 hanging plant baskets. The plants, grown at Torque Ranch in Dragoon, fare well in the desert climate, she said.
“Over the four years I’ve been here, I’ve been able to create a lush landscape,” McCollum said. “It creates a sense of wanting to be here.”
What’s the appraisal of all these recent changes from the vantage point of Mort Edberg, who has owned Landmark Clothing & Shoes and previously Franklin’s Mens Store on University Boulevard since 1959?
“I will tell you that the people who are running it now are by far the best that have ever been here,” said Edberg, whose property is one of only four at Main Gate not owned by the Marshall Foundation. “They know how to get tenants. Somebody’s out front picking up cigarettes right now. They know how to keep the streets clean. We used to have problems with panhandlers. Not any more.”
McCollum estimates 60 percent of Main Gate customers come from UA. She would love to see Tucsonans from across the metro area give Main Gate a try.
“We want to grow our pie immensely,” she said.
Main Gate Square sits six blocks from Fourth Avenue, which is a couple of blocks from Hotel Congress. The modern streetcar – a Rio Nuevo transportation project slated for 2010 – one day will link the three areas, which would create an interconnected patchwork of urban attractions.
“I think of San Francisco,” McCollum said. “You go from place to place and you get a different experience, but it’s all San Francisco.”
Said John Sedwick, executive director of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association: “I use the term city center – the warehouse district, them, us, downtown.”
Main Gate Square and the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association are keeping each other in mind for future joint projects. McCollum wants to get the three-year-old Main Gate Square identity firmly in place first.
“I think the upgrades and renovations (at Main Gate) improved the whole area,” Sedwick said. “At the same time, it accentuates the difference between them and us. It made them more a university district.”
MAP: WHAT’S AT MAIN GATE SQUARE?
* new since 2003
1. UA building
2. Marriott University Park Hotel
3. future movie complex and plaza
*4. Arizona Bookstore
5. Paradise Bakery (under construction)
7. U.S. Post Office
8. Johnny Rockets
*9. Fashion Eye
10. Penguins Frozen Yogurt
*11. La Salsa Mexican Grill
12. Pei Wei Asian Diner
13. Princeton Review
14. Gentle Ben’s Brewing Co.
*15. Wells Fargo ATM
16. Spring Nail Salon
*18. Pita Pit
20. Urban Outfitters
21. Arizona Wildwear
*22. Ed Hardy
23. Chipotle Mexican Grill
24. proposed future building
25. Sultan Palace (under construction)
*26. The Cereal Boxx
*27. Caffe Lucé
*28. Jamba Juice
*29. Hollywood Tan
30. Which Wich (under construction)
*33. Style America
*34. Salud Spa Bar
35. Wilko (under construction)
*36. The Joint
*37. Auld Dubliner Pub
38. Sunglasses and Spectacles
39.-40. Brightstar Tutoring
42. Blades Hair Design
*43. Joel’s Bistro
*44.-45. The Real Estate Group 42
47. Café Paraiso
*48. Ben’s Bells Open Studio
49. Marshall Foundation
50. No Anchovies
51. Frog & Firkin
52. Landmark Clothing & Shoes
53. Boss Shears
54. Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins
*56. Blue Monkey Trading Co.
57. Grand Central Clothing (under construction)
58. Campus Athletic
*60. Espresso Art
*61. Panizza Italian Bistro
*62. American Apparel
63. Cost Cutters
64. Fat Greek, moved since 2003
*65. Jimmy John’s
66. Silvermine Subs
*68. Peter Glenn Ride Shop
*69. American Apparel
70. Oriental Express
*71. Makenna Kali & Associates
*72. Gerald Todd
*73. Threshold Inc.
*74. Sanctity Tattoo
*75. Daggwood Café 2
*76. Villa Thai
MANY CHANGES SINCE 2003
• Creation of the Main Gate Square identity
• Demolition of the University Drug Co. building, which was replaced by a brick building matching the design of the original 1922 structure at that location at the northwest corner of University Boulevard and Park Avenue.
• Restaurants have to do something beyond just being a restaurant, such as offering live music or coffee roasting.
• Valet parking added.
• Two-hour visitor parking offered in UA’s Tyndall Garage.
• All merchants validate parking from 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays in Tyndall Garage.
• New storefront facades installed on the south side of University Boulevard for Fat Greek, Campus Athletic, American Apparel, Espresso Art and Blue Monkey Trading Co. This created a distinctive “building” for each tenant, even though they are in the same building.
• Dozens of new businesses added.
• Tenants have to upgrade signage as leases come up for renewal.
• Benches installed east of Tyndall Avenue.
• Partnership with Fourth Avenue Merchants Association to launch the Big AZ Music Festival.
• Partnership with ASUA for Family Weekend, UA Votes, Bear Down Fridays and Homecoming.
The Marshall Foundation is at the tail end of a five-phase redevelopment for the north side of University Boulevard between Park and Tyndall avenues:
• Phase 1 – Urban Outfitters opened February 2000 at University and Tyndall
• Phase 2 – Three-store strip built next to Urban Outfitters, also in 2000 but not fully occupied until 2002.
• Phase 3 - the five-story building with Arizona Bookstore opened in 2004.
• Phase 4 – the building replacing the University Drug Co. opened in 2006.
• Phase 5 – entertainment complex, awaiting preleasing; hope to start construction in fall 2008
There are 82 planters and 23 hanging plant baskets gracing University Boulevard:
They contain asparagus ferns, oleanders, jasmine, potato vines, trumpet vines, Texas ranger, bottlebrush, orange jubilee, Arizona rosewood, heavenly and golden bamboo, nandina, holly, hearts and flowers, bougainvillea, peppermint willow and privet.
Grown at Torque Ranch in Dragoon.
SOUTH SIDE OF SIXTH STREET: WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITIES?
What about the south side of Sixth Street? Could it become another Main Gate-like destination?
Not any time soon.
First, that stretch is not in the possession of a single owner, like nearly all of Main Gate Square.
Second, the University of Arizona has a memo of understanding with the Rincon Heights Neighborhood Association to support the existing commercial enterprises for an indefinite period.
Right now, there’s a string of homes between Euclid and Park avenues. UA owns two or three of them with a long-term desire to build a research building at Sixth Street and Park Avenue, said Mercy Valencia, UA’s assistant vice president of real estate administration.
Between Park Avenue and Warren Avenue, Sixth Street offers a random collection of laundromats, restaurants, a tattoo parlor, a couple of bars, a bike shop, Mansfield Middle School and the UA Student Recreation Center. UA owns the Circle K at Cherry Avenue.
Another string of homes sits between Warren Avenue and Martin Avenue. The final block to Campbell Avenue offers a sub sandwich shop, a pizza parlor and a hair salon.
“Long term we hope to develop Sixth Street,” Valencia said.
That could include open space by the recreation center and the research building at Park. Valencia said retail could come into play, but the university has not yet mapped out a long-term vision for the south side of Sixth Street.