State's plan to sell properties may displace downtown artists

2010-03-06T00:00:00Z 2014-08-20T09:30:26Z State's plan to sell properties may displace downtown artistsColey Ward Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 06, 2010 12:00 am  • 

The state plans to auction off 10 properties, all but one in Tucson's downtown, early next month.

Buildings going on the block include the leaky, creaky home of the nonprofit Gloo Factory, 106 E. Council St., and the former home of ArtWORKS! at Toole, 35 E. Toole Ave., an inner-city program for high school youth.

It will be the largest auction of properties that the Arizona Department of Transportation acquired more than 15 years ago to make way for the extension of the Aviation Corridor, before plans for the road changed.

Between 1986 and 1991, ADOT purchased 37 properties for a proposed expansion of the Aviation Corridor through downtown.

The city's easement over six of the properties expired last month and control over the lands reverted back to the state.

"We've sold off a couple over the years, but we held off on selling any properties that might have affected the Downtown Links," said ADOT spokeswoman Teresa Welborn. "But now we're selling those, too."

The sales have triggered concerns that Tucson's downtown artists will be displaced.

"Just selling these buildings off to balance the state's budget deficit will work in the short term, but be much more painful in the long run," said Dwight Metzger, who owns the Gloo Factory, which prints buttons, bumper stickers, T-shirts and pamphlets for social justice groups.

For years, many of the city's artists and grass-roots organizers have taken refuge in downtown warehouses. The warehouses weren't glamorous, but they provided affordable workspace.

Moreover, the warehouses were a natural fit for the artists who called them home.

BICAS, a downtown bicycle co-op, leases one of the buildings that ADOT intends to sell next month. The nonprofit has leased the former boxing gym at 1080 N. Contzen Ave. since last April, when it feared it would have to move from its longtime home in the Steinfeld Warehouse at 101 W. Sixth St.

BICAS was able to stay at the warehouse and now uses the old gym as a metal shop, where co-op members can weld art that is sold in BICAS's boutique.

"I was under the impression that when we leased this building we'd probably have it for a while, but I knew there was a chance we might not," said Erik Ryberg, a BICAS board member.

Two state lawmakers from Tucson have heard the artists' pleas and are trying to help.

Democrats Phil Lopes and Daniel Patterson have introduced legislation that would allow the state to sell buildings directly to a city or county instead of going to public auction, but neither is optimistic the bill will pass.

"Unless I can find another bill to amend it to, it's not going to go anywhere," Lopes said after a committee declined to hear the bill this week.

The Tucson City Council, at the urging of Councilwoman Regina Romero, recently voted to support the measure.

ADOT has auctioned off a handful of properties in the last six months.

In October, Peach Properties paid $252,000 for Zee's Warehouse, 1 E. Toole Ave., which is vacant but was once home to Zee Haag, an artist.

In November, developer Steve Fenton paid $101,000 for the building that is home to Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave., a gallery and music venue.

The next month Fenton paid $512,000 for the building at 15-19 E. Toole Ave., which housed the rehearsal space of Salvador Duran, a Latin singer and flamenco guitar player, in addition to Astro Fab furniture makers, and artist Jessica McCain's studio. All have since moved out.

Both of the warehouses Fenton bought face a vacant lot where Pima County and the city of Tucson plan to build a new courthouse. That project is on hold.

Not everybody thinks the sale of the state's buildings to private investors is a bad thing.

Solar Culture owner Steven Eye said he's happy with the work Fenton has done.

Eye says Fenton has improved the building at 15-19 E. Toole Ave., removing paint from the brick walls by blasting them with walnut shells.

"As someone who's been here on the block for going on 23 years, it's amazing to see the progress that's happening in a short amount of time," he said.

Progress is coming, but at what cost?

Metzger has thus far raised $22,000 to "save the Gloo Factory." But he knows his resources are limited and he'll likely have to find a new building.

"I'm looking at alternatives," he said.

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