An agreement between the University of Arizona and private developers to build student apartments downtown as well as other areas off campus could be announced as early as next week.
There is a need for more student housing, UA leaders say, but the school doesn't have the money or the space to build on campus. The solution is a public-private partnership that could lead to as many as 1,200 students living downtown - a boon for downtown redevelopment efforts.
The deal is essentially a marketing agreement. The UA would give only its name and not other financial help. But it would refer students to the projects and perhaps help with marketing and management. The UA endorsement and commitment to funnel tenants to the projects could help some builders get better lending terms and financing rates.
The UA could pick any one or a combination of developers with which to negotiate the marketing agreement. Once the commitment is made, a future deal over land and other issues could be made with the UA and the city at a later date.
The UA is particularly interested in high-quality design on sites that could contribute to its new UA-Downtown concept. So far, the branch includes a set of classrooms at the corner of North Stone Avenue and East Pennington Street, and the new National Institute for Civil Discourse on East Broadway just east of Stone Avenue.
At least four of the projects pitched to the UA would be located downtown.
The UA also wanted sites along the proposed 3.9-mile streetcar route, which will connect the UA to downtown, running from University Medical Center through campus and downtown and ending up on the west side of Interstate 10 at the Santa Cruz River.
Downtown commercial development, the streetcar and student housing are like three legs of a stool, said developer Jim Campbell, who has partnered with a national student housing developer for a proposed project next to the Rialto Theatre.
"They all lean on each other," Campbell said. "If one thing stands alone, it doesn't work so well."
Ron Schwabe, of Peach Properties, who represents a proposed project just south of the Rialto across East Broadway, said more than 1,000 students living downtown will make every business downtown more viable. "It's gonna light it up," Schwabe said.
More students downtown means more patrons in restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores, said developer Scott Stiteler, who has a proposal for a site north of the Union Pacific Railroad at the edge of downtown. "It's an integral part of having downtown revitalize."
Downtown backers and promoters have longed for the UA to put more classrooms, facilities and dorms downtown. Now, with the UA locating classroom space and student housing, the UA-downtown nexus is possible, said Fletcher McCusker, the chief executive officer of Providence Service Corp., which just located its headquarters downtown. McCusker also just bought two properties downtown and is involved with several groups regarding downtown, including the Downtown Tucson Partnership and Tucson Regional Opportunities Inc., or TREO. He gave space to the new civility center.
McCusker said the student housing could create a "connected, young, urban, hip area" that connects downtown and the UA to form one continuous area.
Since last summer, a UA team has been evaluating seven proposals, although one of the parties, Campus Acquisitions, has since dropped out. Another bidder, Clark Realty Capital, did not respond to inquiries about their proposal.