Tucson’s officials promised the streetcar would transform downtown. But first it will transform how the festivals along the route operate.
Some events, like the upcoming Fords on Fourth car show, could be forced out of Tucson entirely. Others will have to adjust routes or spend more for police and barricades.
Still others, like the Pride Parade and the All Souls Procession, will have to keep their floats, flags and costumes under 13 feet to avoid touching the streetcar’s hanging wires.
“It’s just different now,” said the city’s transportation director, Daryl Cole. “We have a streetcar running right down the middle of these events. People want to have the same footprint historically. But everybody has to adjust.”
One of the biggest changes could come to one of Tucson’s biggest events.
El Tour de Tucson president and race founder Richard DeBernardis said he’s working on shifting the route to avoid the streetcar, with its bicycle-unfriendly tracks.
Everything’s on the table at this point, DeBernardis said, including moving the start and finish lines north of the tracks and possibly redirecting the final leg of the race from the I-10 Frontage Road to Greasewood Road.
“It presents challenges,” DeBernardis said. “It’s new and a little bit complicated right now. ... But it’s about what works best for everybody.”
Though it’s inconvenient to reroute the race, DeBernardis believes the streetcar will ultimately benefit El Tour.
DeBernardis’ outlook reflects most organizers’ views right now said Mia Hansen, treasurer and past president of the Festivals & Events Association of Tucson & Southern Arizona.
She said since the streetcar just started testing, event organizers are figuring out what changes they will have to implement. Despite the inconvenience, organizers are staying optimistic the streetcar will attract more revelers and be worth the extra efforts.
New requirements for extra barricades and off-duty police to accommodate the streetcar could balloon costs high enough to force some, like Fords on Fourth, to move outside city limits.
For the past seven years, Fords on Fourth event has cost roughly $800 to produce. It draws about 200 entrants each year while raising a few thousand dollars for charity.
“leave us hanging”
But the sponsoring Southern Arizona Mustang Club was notified about a month before this year’s March 2 event of the new requirements, which will push the price tag to about $5,000 —about $3,500 for barricades and just over $1,000 for police officers, said David Carroll, event chairman.
That would take most of the money raised away from charities and put it in city coffers, he said.
“We’re a club. We don’t have a lot of money to deal with,” said Carroll. “And this is just sucking the money right out of it.”
City officials say the higher costs are the new normal, now that the streetcar is here.
Deputy Transportation Director Carlos de Leon said costs will probably rise for everyone putting on events using city streets to some extent.
But the highest increases will be for those that block major intersections or high-traffic buildings like apartment complexes or churches because, like the car show, they will have to hire off-duty police for traffic control and possibly more barricades. Off-duty Tucson police officers cost between $40 and $50 an hour.
“We didn’t find out about the barricades or the police until the last week or two,” Carroll said. “When it happens that quick you can’t prepare for it. … This kind of leaves us hanging.”
While the Mustang Club is locked in to Fourth Avenue this year because of late notice from the city, Carroll said they will have to re-evaluate plans for the future.
Although nothing has been decided, he said he already informed city officials he wasn’t going to produce an event just to pay the city.
If the car show moves out of Tucson, it would cost Fourth Avenue restaurants and businesses an event that attracts up to 8,000 people every year, said Kurt Tallis, events and planning director for the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association.
“This is a huge boon to our businesses,” he said. “Not only on the day of the show, but for branding purposes that we can show lots of people that it’s not scary down here and it’s a really cool place to come.”
Tallis said this is the latest blow Fourth Avenue merchants have had to absorb from the streetcar.
He said some higher costs were expected because of the streetcar, but no one expected them to rise that much.
De Leon said the city doesn’t rent barricades, and it is event promoters who are responsible for getting the best price.
Tallis said the city does a poor job communicating with organizers and tend to announce changes at the last minute, with the end result being many events flee the city to other municipalities.
“These events aren’t going away. They’re just going somewhere else,” Tallis said.
Councilman Steve Kozachik agrees. “If we keep treating civic events like this, we can keep losing them,” said Kozachik, whose ward covers Fourth Avenue and downtown.
He believes event coordination should be coordinated through an outside group such as Visit Tucson, to improve communication and attract events.
“We’ve shown to what extent we run events,” he said. “We run them right out of town.”
“We’ve never had anybody in charge of events where organizers can turn to for what’s required and what isn’t,” he said. “We can’t settle for last-minute letters informing organizers about policy changes. We have to do better than that.”