The city of Tucson will soon celebrate Arizona's centennial year of statehood by laying the foundation for the destruction of the West University Historic District in the guise of the Main Gate Transition Zone.
This will allow high-rise student housing and height overlays that will incentivize the demolition of National Register historic residences.
This area is the last part of Tucson without wall-to-wall franchises and McHousing tract homes that obliterate any sense of place.
The modern streetcar, which isn't modern at all, is the ploy du jour used to justify this project.
At first glance, the streetcar seems to be the right fit, since this was a major mode of transportation when much of the West University Historic District was built. But sadly, the city will use the streetcar as a Trojan horse to justify this rezoning between East Speedway and East Sixth Street, and between North Euclid and North Park avenues. Many more rezonings west of Euclid along University Boulevard will rise from this foundation laid by the city of Tucson.
Now the streetcar is the justification for Campus Acquisitions, a developer from Chicago, to build a campus housing tower that is proposed to be taller than any building on the university campus. They say it will support the streetcar, even though the site is next door to the university rather than downtown - where students would actually need the streetcar.
The city has had its one-day courtship with the developer and has printed the invitations to the wedding. The building plans for the development are already in to the city for review, though the council meeting for the rezoning is not scheduled until Tuesday.
The city will allow height incentives over the nearby historic residences that will doom the preservation of these National Register residences in West University. They will obviously be purchased by a developer for later expansions. Hopefully, the developer would not build a multistory maze of frame construction and fire alarms that are the trademarks of the not-yet-completed campus housing project on Sixth Street near Fourth Avenue.
The streetcar is only the latest in a series of ploys used to justify demolition of historic resources over the decades.
Urban renewal was all about slum clearance and blight removal. The publicity for this 1960s ploy always showed buildings that could not be saved and never revealed all the viable businesses and residences that would be swept away in the 79-acre urban renewal zone. Businesses like El Charro on Broadway and the Plaza Theater vanished, unique adobe buildings and even residences that were considered mansions at the time became parking lots and are still parking lots.
All this destruction for the Tucson Convention Center, which was the focal point of urban renewal and has been a failure.
The next attempt by the city was Rio Nuevo. This 12-year epoch is a symbol of mismanagement, mindless spending and unrealistic projects that were never voter approved.
There is plenty of room for well-conceived and well-designed new projects in the central core of Tucson that respect what already exists. Tucson could lower the height of the planned student housing tower and remove the height incentives for the historic buildings as was recommended by the planning commission.
The streetcar is another endeavor that will end in more financial problems and destruction to the central core of the town of Tucson.
Email Ken Scoville, a local historian, at firstname.lastname@example.org