This spring’s Fourth Avenue Street Fair will be forced to drop 71 vendors because of scheduled streetcar testing, officials say.
And that’s got the executive director of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association crying foul.
John Sedwick said he’s been asking the city since October to suspend streetcar testing for four days so the annual spring street fair, which starts March 21, can proceed at full capacity.
“Our merchants have gone through a lot and suffered through delay after delay after delay with the streetcar,” Sedwick said. “We’re asking them to delay four days. ... We don’t think that’s asking too much.”
But city officials won’t budge, saying four days of lost testing would put the streetcar even further behind schedule.
Sedwick said he’d reduce the number of street fair vendors by about 20 percent on Wednesday morning. The move will cost the merchants association an estimated $50,000 in revenue.
Sedwick has known for about a year that both the winter and spring street fairs would have to adjust boundaries to accommodate the streetcar once it is running.
Last summer Sewick got a reprieve for the winter street fair from Tucson Department of Transportation Director Daryl Cole.
However, Cole said the spring fair would have to follow the agreed-upon realignment, which would require relocating artists and vendors who would normally set up between Eighth and Ninth Streets to new locations along Seventh Street, just past Fifth Avenue.
The change was necessary to accommodate streetcar testing, Cole said.
Sedwick was comfortable with the plan until he learned in October the Pima County Flood Control District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are moving forward with a drainage improvement project that will close parts of Eighth Street and Third Avenue for six months.
Sedwick said he wasn’t certain exactly what date the project would begin, but he deduced it would coincide with the spring street fair.
“It’s a roll of the dice, but you can see where the dice would end up,” he said.
Suzanne Shields, director of the Pima County Regional Flood Control District, confirmed that work will start this winter.
“We can’t shut off the water in the summer months when everybody’s using the reclaimed water,” Shields said.
When the street closures occur for the drainage project, it will render the new street fair realignment unfeasible, Sedwick said.
Since the drainage project wasn’t on the radar when Sedwick agreed to the city’s plans over the summer, he continued to lobby the city for a reprieve for the spring street fair, with some help from Councilman, Steve Kozachik.
Both said they got no response from city officials for three months, until Tuesday afternoon, when the answer came in an email from the city to Kozachik.
The email, sent by Tucson’s streetcar co-manager Andrew Quigley, said a stoppage of testing from the time the street fair is set up to its breakdown could result in up to 120 hours of lost testing time, which would hinder the city’s effort to get the streetcar running as soon as possible.
The Federal Transit Administration requires each car to undergo extensive testing on Tucson’s tracks before it’s certified for service. Since streetcar delivery is already months behind schedule, city officials want to utilize every possible testing hour.
“It’s a completely phony argument that we have this project on a fast track,” Kozachik said. “We’re two years behind on this project ... and we can’t give up a weekend? I’m not buying that excuse.”
There are solutions to the problem, Kozachik said, such as running the cars on the west side of the streetcar line or over the tracks through the University of Arizona.
“The merchants have been through hell with this thing. We owe it to them to try to find a solution,” Kozachik said. “But instead, we’re choosing the path of most resistance.”
Quigley said the city clearly informed the merchants association the city would eventually need the area between Eighth and Ninth Streets for testing and access to the maintenance garage.
Regardless of what was said in the past, Sedwick said, the city should work with the small businesses when unexpected issues arise instead of ignoring their pleas.
The two sides sat down Wednesday afternoon seeking a solution, but couldn’t come to a resolution.
Quigley said the city was working with the Army Corps of Engineers and others to see if they can adjust the project schedule. While he believes that will eventually happen, he doesn’t expect an answer until next week.
But Sedwick said the deadline for notifying vendors whether they were in or out was Wednesday morning.
He said he can’t plan the street fair on what-ifs, so he will have to move forward with fewer artists this year.
Quigley said the city would continue working on a solution, although Sedwick said it may be too late to allow a full complement of vendors.