When Kerstin and Spencer Block bought the piece of land adjoining a shopping center they owned, the plan was for Spencer to open a bed and breakfast while Kerstin ran Buffalo Exchange, the couple's other business.

That plan changed in September when Spencer Block died from pancreatic cancer, leaving Kerstin Block to fulfill her husband's vision.

"He pretty much conceptualized the design of the place and got it all started," she said. "I certainly was not going to give up on it, so I took it over. It is not in my nature to not finish things."

The four-bedroom, eco-friendly Cat Mountain Lodge, 2740 S. Kinney Road, is scheduled to open March 27.

Inspired by a Mexican hacienda, the 4,000 square foot lodge is meant to allow people to experience Tucson's natural beauty firsthand, Block said.

The bed and breakfast's "best attribute is its location," Block said. "It is in the desert right outside the Tucson Mountain Park and it is close to the Desert Museum and the Saguaro National Park."

The project, which cost more than $750,000, is meant to make guests feel as if they are staying in a friend's home, she said. It is also built to be extremely energy-efficient.

Bryck Guibor, owner of Brick by Bryck, built the structure. He said the building uses rain- and gray-water harvesting, solar panels and individual in-room heating and cooling systems as a way to minimize the carbon footprint.

The 10-inch walls, made of concrete-filled styrofoam blocks, also provide excellent insulation and are completely soundproof, he said.

The bed and breakfast has 45 different species of plants in a design by Doug Larson, a horticulturist with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Block, who serves as president and owner of Tucson-based Buffalo Exchange, a resale-apparel chain with locations in 14 states, said the project became her main focus after her husband's death.

"It is a good thing I have a lot of capable people working at Buffalo Exchange," she said. "I have definitely had to be preoccupied with getting this place set up."

Kimberly Schmitz, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Southern Arizona's more than 120 bed and breakfasts are a key part of the region's tourism industry.

"People love beds and breakfasts," Schmitz said. "It is a much more personal way to travel, and some people really prefer that."

Cat Mountain Lodge will be maintained by a live-in innkeeper, have two wheelchair-accessible rooms, and guests will eat breakfast at the Coyote Pause Cafe in the adjoining Cat Mountain Station shopping center. Block owns both the restaurant and the shopping center.

Schmitz said people like Block are key in terms of being able to successfully promote Tucson as a destination for tourists.

"It is people like her who really are those ambassadors, are our cheerleaders that make people want to come back," Schmitz said.

If you go

• What: Cat Mountain Lodge grand opening.

• When: March 27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Where: 2740 S. Kinney Road

• Contact: 505-4769

"People love beds and breakfasts. It is a much more personal way to travel. ..."

Kimberly Schmitz,

Convention and Visitors Bureau

Contact NASA Space Grant intern Ian Friedman at 434-4083 or at friedman@azstarnet.com