Guest Column: Proposals for UA museum, office tower downtown worth studying, refining

2013-06-21T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Proposals for UA museum, office tower downtown worth studying, refiningChuck Huckelberry Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Nothing happens if no one puts a proposal on the table. A recent story in the Arizona Daily Star highlighted some opportunities to help revitalize the city's heart by assisting the University of Arizona in building a bigger presence downtown.

The two proposals introduced in the May 31 story are among many others vying for a chance to go before voters in a November 2014 Pima County bond election.

One of the requests is for a new museum to house university photography and art collections.

A second request envisions a 10-story office tower downtown that would house retail services, academic spaces and office spaces, while supporting startup entrepreneurial ventures advanced by the UA.

These are just ideas. No concrete is being poured.

There is a long way to go between now and then.

Proposals will undergo a vigorous vetting by the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee, a group of committed volunteers who provide recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on the merits of various projects. It is likely these ideas and proposals will undergo substantial change and modifications.

It's a process of refining and smoothing that is a bit like a rock tumbler for wish lists.

As projects are weighed against others in the mix, there is a heightened focus on managing expenses, phasing in elements to make projects more affordable, and identifying ways for partners to share in both benefits and costs.

Regardless of whether these are the precise projects voters will ultimately weigh in on, the concepts behind them remain worth exploring for a number of reasons.

Aside from the potential to help downtown revitalization by creating a tourist draw and taking advantage of underutilized space, the proposals mesh in a general sense with a goal in Pima County's Economic Development Action Plan to do a better job of leveraging the intellectual capital of the UA.

The university is a huge asset for this area, ranked among the top 20 public research universities nationwide. Still, we have not taken full advantage of the opportunities that exist to incubate technologies and grow new business connections, whether they are in optics, the environment, biosciences, geotourism or sustainable urban design.

Bringing the university downtown will not only expand access to broader audiences, it will provide increased accessibility to county, city and state government leaders, which would only help strengthen those areas of partnership.

This kind of collaboration has worked elsewhere. In fact, Arizona State University's Downtown Campus got its start through a municipal/university collaboration.

The city of Phoenix contributed $223 million of bond funds and 20 acres to jump-start the project; ASU has invested about $100 million. Already, the campus has 10,000 students and 1,700 faculty members; and the project, which is projected to have an eventual $570 million economic impact, already has resulted in significant private development and economic growth.

We don't even have to go up Interstate 10 to find such success stories. We have one right here on the south side.

During the past decade, the University of Arizona and Pima County have worked together to develop a major teaching hospital and behavioral health pavilion at Ajo Way and Country Club.

Today, the University of Arizona Medical Center's South Campus is a full-service academic medical center, expanding the quality and variety of health care for Southern Arizona while training future generations of physicians and other much needed health-care professionals for our community and state.

The proposals put on the table are starting points, but also are intriguing, offering an opportunity to transform the cultural and educational landscape downtown and expanding on the university's $8.3 billion statewide economic impact. The concepts deserve serious consideration.

Chuck Huckelberry is the Pima County administrator. Email him at CHH@pima.gov

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

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