Downtown Tucson is showing progress, signs of a real downtown. Finally.
The photo report in Sunday's Star gives cautious optimism that a revitalized downtown will become a hub of employment, living, tourism and entertainment.
Downtown redevelopment has been a frustrating series of anxious fits and disappointing busts. Since voters in 1999 approved a tax-increment-financing district that redirected a portion of sales-tax dollars into district improvements - Rio Nuevo - ideas have sparked and fizzled. Remember the aquarium? The Rainbow Bridge?
Downtown redevelopment has been plagued by missteps, mismanagement and malfeasance. The Rio Nuevo board and the city of Tucson have squabbled for control of the funds and vision. Sweetheart deals abound and property sold for pennies remains undeveloped.
Amid the mishaps and setbacks, construction cranes swing overhead and building and business activity flourishes.
Hip restaurants, like Hub, Reilly Pizza and Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, and bars, like the rooftop Playground and Borderlands Brewing Co., have joined cornerstones like El Charro Café and Café Poca Cosa.
Housing is being blended with retail and business uses. The University of Arizona has a presence in the former Walgreens space, and Madden Media makes its home in the three-story flatiron, the MacArthur Building.
A few highlights from Sunday:
• The seven-story Pima County Courthouse building is expected to be complete this year.
The courthouse sits on the site of early 2000s nightclub Coconuts. Importantly, the property was also the first cemetery established in Tucson after Southern Arizona became part of the United States. The cemetery operated from about 1850 to 1875. Remains found when the property was excavated were identified and reburied in accordance with cultural tradition. We appreciate the respectful, dignified way the county treated our forebearers.
• The block that houses the Rialto Theatre will add two restaurants, a beer and wine shop, and a business incubator.
The theater anchors the east end of the Congress street entertainment corridor, with the Fox Theatre on the west. The Rialto also completes an east-end entertainment triangle with Hotel Congress and Maynard's Market & Kitchen.
The theater and owners of the Rialto Block property were in a high-stakes tug of war that threatened the future of the theater. We hope the new restaurants and the incubator indicate stability that will enable the theater to thrive.
• The Cadence, two towers of student housing near the Rialto, will infuse much-needed housing and bring young people to downtown. The ground floor will house a World of Beer.
We applaud the mixed use of housing and retail, but putting alcohol in ready proximity to students causes us some pause. Three words: Check every identification.
While progress downtown is encouraging - there's still plenty to do. Such as:
• Get the streetcar on track. Much of the track for the four-mile route streetcar line is in. However, the first streetcar, due to be delivered in October 2012, is now expected in August. Tucson is paying a consultant more than $4 million to monitor construction of its streetcars.
We encourage the Tucson City Council to direct staff, and possibly the consultant, to explore what can be done to help the manufacturer's welding torches burn hotter and faster, including collecting late fees from the manufacturer now rather than at the project's end.
• Keep parking cheap. Despite the streetcar, people will continue to drive downtown. Parking must be accessible, well signed and reasonably priced.
• Fix the arena. The Tucson Arena is pitiful. Economic stalwart the Gem and Mineral Show has long complained about the dated, inadequate facility. Tucsonans are hesitant to attend functions at the scuzzy facility, and visiting performers don't like to present shows in the arena.
• Think concert hall. Broadway in Tucson has left the Music Hall for UA Centennial Hall and major music organizations prefer the exquisite acoustics of the Catalina Foothills High School auditorium. For downtown to be a center of the arts, a first-class concert hall is a must.
• Add more shopping. Retail - lots and lots of retail - needs to be a major part of downtown. Boutiques and local shops, destination stores and a grocery store will keep residents and visitors coming downtown.
• Be accountable. Transparency and openness - especially with taxpayer dollars - are a must. The Star will continue its vigilance of downtown development.
Arizona Daily Star
On StarNet: Check out the Star's interactive map: What's developing in downtown Tucson at azstarnet.com/online/multimedia