UA wants $176M in tax funding

County bonds would finance office tower, art/photo museum
2013-05-31T00:00:00Z 2013-05-31T13:32:35Z UA wants $176M in tax fundingJoe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The University of Arizona wants to build a 220,000- square-foot, 10-story office tower in downtown Tucson.

The school also wants a new 125,000-square-foot museum to house an extensive photography and art collection.

And they want Pima County taxpayers to pick up the $176 million tab.

New university buildings have historically been a state responsibility. This would be the first time county residents would be asked to pay for UA expansion through property taxes.

The university has formally submitted the two projects to be considered by the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee, which is expected to sort through more than a hundred proposals for possible inclusion on a November 2014 bond ballot.

The twin UA proposals will compete with wish lists from cities, towns, schools and even community groups.

A nearly $100 million UA request is to create a walkable corridor from the Tucson Museum of Art on the north edge of downtown to the Museum of Contemporary Art on the south edge. Backers believe the proposal would highlight significant cultural points of interest along the way between the two museums.

The proposed Stravenue/Wilde Way Urban Development Project calls for building a 125,000-square-foot museum and a complete renovation of the historic Pima County Courthouse, where collections of Western and Native American Art would be displayed. No site for the new photo and art museum was identified.

Supporters say the trail highlights the work of important artists including the fountains - currently empty - and landscapes at the Tucson Convention Center created by well-known landscape designer Garrett Eckbo 43 years ago; the Mayan-inspired Charles Clement sculpture and fountain complex at the old courthouse; and designs of architect William Wilde, who designed the Tucson Art Museum and the former main firehouse, which has been transformed into the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Taxpayer funding would be augmented with as much as $10 million in private donations. Both museums would also seek grant funding.

The second project, called the Pima County Small Business Entrepreneur and Academic Center, has a price tag of $76 million, although planners believe the cost would be closer to $64 million if the planned parking structure were shelved.

The facility would house a small-business incubator and new classrooms.

Backers believe co-locating academic classrooms with leased space priced at attractive rates for small-business entrepreneurs will help to retain fledgling companies coming out the UA's McGuire Entrepreneurship Program.

Although a first for Tucson, the UA's soliciting local taxpayer funding is not unique.

In 2006, Phoenix voters approve $223 million to pay for the construction of ASU's downtown Phoenix campus.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the two UA proposals grew out of conversations between the county and university in an attempt to build on prior successes, noting the takeover of Kino Community Hospital as an example.

"We've had a lot of discussions with the University of Arizona related to economic development," Huckelberry said.

He said the Stravenue project would help the university leverage an art collection that few outside of campus regularly see.

"It doesn't get many visitors," he said.

Bob Smith, UA vice president for business affairs, said it has been difficult to expand the Center for Creative Photography or the Tucson Museum of Art.

"We are pretty much landlocked," he said.

Smith said some artwork is locked away in vaults, since there is not enough room in either facility.

The project still needs to be refined, Huckelberry said, noting he will want to see economic studies before bringing it to the Board of Supervisors.

"It is a start, but it is far from a done deal," Huckelberry said.

In terms of the 10-story tower downtown, both Huckelberry and Smith said this would be an expansion of already existing program there.

The UA leases the county-owned Roy Place Building - the recently restored Walgreens Drug Store on North Stone Avenue and Pennington Street - and uses it to host a number of graduate programs as well as the Drachman Institute.

The county bond committee will look at the two requests next week, along with an estimated $1.3 billion in other projects.

County officials have previously said they want to submit a bond package of $500 million to $750 million to voters.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@azstarnet.com or 573-4346.

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

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