Tucson’s Oceanfront property — minus the ocean

An oasis in Tucson's concrete jungle

2014-07-24T00:00:00Z 2014-08-06T14:27:06Z An oasis in Tucson's concrete jungleBy Cathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

You might want to start humming a little George Strait “Ocean Front Property” as you pass the MLK Lot downtown on Friday.

Over the past several days, the gravel-strewn MLK Lot on North Fifth Avenue at East Congress Street — in the shadow of the MLK Apartments — has been transformed into a beachy oasis smack in the middle of Tucson’s concrete jungle.

There’s no body of water, but a large, sandy beach perfect for volleyball games takes up a chunk of the 16,225-square-foot space. A cool AstroTurf lawn rings the space, and lawn chairs, beach umbrellas and beach toys dot the space. The lot is ringed by a picket fence, and there’s even a palapa stand like the ones you see in Rocky Point parked out front.

“Anything you can think of doing either in a park or on a beach you can do in that space,” said Downtown Tucson Partnership CEO Michael Keith, ticking off ideas that included birthday parties for kids, family reunions, beach volleyball tournaments, neighborhood barbecues or a simple afternoon sprawled out on a beach towel reading a book.

Or you could do what Hotel Congress has planned Saturday to welcome the Sun Link streetcar: The Wet Hot American Block Party.

Hotel Congress will block off North Fifth Avenue Saturday night for what it describes as Tucson’s “most ridiculous summer gathering.” The party will spill onto the street from Hotel Congress and fill the beach. Activities include a water slide, a mechanical bull and live entertainment from Slobby Robby of Generation Cool, Jalph.net and Malcolm Flowers.

“Right now it is just the empty tarmac. Activating a space like that is just smart,” said Hotel Congress entertainment coordinator David Slutes. “It’s a great use of that space, and I’m glad someone had the vision.”

Keith said the project was inspired by East Coast cities that have transformed little-used open spaces into parks and public gardens.

After getting the blessing from the MLK Apartment residents and Tucson developer Scott Stiteler, who has an option to build on the lot, Downtown Tucson Partnership teamed up with the Regional Transportation Authority’s MainStreet Program to develop what it has dubbed Summer in the City. The idea was to create something that would give Tucson residents an excuse to venture downtown during the hottest and slowest month of the year: August.

The project cost about $19,000 and was paid for by private donations, including support from Cox Communications and Friends of the Modern Streetcar.

Like summer itself, the pop-up beach has an expiration date. It will be up through Aug. 31. If it proves popular and the space remains undeveloped, Keith said they could resurrect the beach next summer.

“The idea is that we are going to expand Summer in the City to an annual event every August,” Keith said. “It’s the Tucson way of embracing the summer instead of turning our back on it.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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