Some time in the next decade, Bookmans’ flagship store could be looking for a new home — the second time a road widening has forced the homegrown company to relocate.
The city of Tucson is trying to purchase the property Bookmans is in to make way for the Grant Road improvement project, says Hector Martinez, the city’s real estate program director.
On Sept. 24, the City Council voted to ask the Regional Transportation Authority for $25 million to pay for the next phase of the road project, which is now widening Grant between North Oracle Road and Park Avenue. The RTA approved the request the following day.
The city will use the money to buy properties in their entirety along the portion of East Grant Road between Stone and Park avenues, which is considered Phase 2 of the 20-year project.
“As far as total ‘takes,’ we are looking at 70 parcels,” Martinez said. “That’s why we needed so many dollars.”
The city also plans to purchase seven additional properties that are not part of Phase 2 but will be needed as the project continues.
One of those key parcels is at the southeast corner of Grant and North Campbell Avenue, which is home to Tucson’s oldest Bookmans.
Bookmans’ original location was on the corner of Broadway and Tucson Boulevard. In the late 1980s, with the Broadway widening project underway, the building was slated to be torn down.
So they packed up their books and moved to a new, larger building at 1930 E. Grant Road, where a Bookmans has been located since.
Bookmans President Sean Feeney has known for years the Grant Road property eventually would be razed to make way for the improvement project.
“This has been going on for so long, even keeping exact timelines of what is (happening), when, is very difficult,” Feeney said.
Construction crews won’t reach Campbell and Grant for another nine or 10 years, Martinez estimates. But the city hopes to save money by purchasing the parcel now.
If it waits and the property — which also has a vacant Walgreens on it — is improved or renovated, it could cost a lot more by the time the city is ready to buy it.
“I may have to pay a lot more because now I’ve got new structures on it than if I were to strike a deal today,” Martinez said.
If the city purchases the property, it plans to lease it back to the current owners, Campbell/Grant Joint Venture LLC, which could then determine who will rent the space.
“They would retain use of the property under a leaseback situation with the understanding that once I give them notice, I would have the right to come in and do the demolition,” Martinez said.
Until the last week in August, the building also housed Tucson’s then-oldest Walgreens drugstore. Walgreens closed the Grant and Campbell location and replaced it with an updated structure just up the street, at Campbell and East Fort Lowell Road.
“That was a 45-year-old store that had limited customer parking and accessibility,” said Phil Caruso, a Walgreens spokesperson. “It had nothing to do with the expansion.”
Mike Perlman, a representative of Campbell/Grant Joint Venture LLC, which owns the property, said the lease with Bookmans is still in place.
“We would like tenants to stay there as long as they can, as most landlords would,” Perlman said.
He also confirmed Campbell/Grant Joint Venture LLC is negotiating with the city and trying to find a tenant to fill the empty Walgreens space.
“Everything is just really up in the air right now,” Perlman said. “The best I can say is that we’re working with the city.”
Bookmans doesn’t have any immediate plans to pack up, according to Feeney.
“At this point the most difficult thing for Bookmans has been the uncertainty, ” Feeney said. “We love that building and consider it an icon in Tucson.”
Before the city can close on any properties associated with the Grant widening project, Martinez will have to return to the City Council with a resolution to acquire and condemn the properties.
“We’ve already started dialogue with them,” Martinez said. “I can’t tell you when we’ll consummate the transaction. I am hopeful that it will be prior to year end.”