Tucson's colorful history, cultural diversity and unique natural setting would share star billing in a proposed "geotourism center" near downtown.
Pima County and the University of Arizona are cooperating to develop a concept for a facility that would introduce tourists to the area's wonders, said county Supervisor Sharon Bronson.
"Pima County did an economic-development plan, and part of the goal was a focus on geotourism," Bronson said.
She said the term refers to travel based on an appreciation of an area's ecological and cultural attractions, scenery and "sense of place."
"We're unique not only in our cultural diversity but in our ecological diversity and parallel natural beauty," Bronson said.
She said the bond-funded geotourism center would be a building with visitor information, onsite learning opportunities, and access to a demonstration garden.
"People don't just want to come and be couch potatoes," she said. "They want to participate and be interactive - and I think the center would provide that opportunity for them."
Preliminary plans would place the center along the Santa Cruz River west of downtown.
"It would be right near the site of an old fort wall and a demonstration garden," Bronson said. "It would be ideally situated to give tourists an opportunity to learn about the cultural beginnings of Tucson and the natural history of Tucson."
The proposed geotourism center would benefit Tucson residents as well as visitors, said Joaquin Ruiz, executive dean of the UA colleges of Letters, Arts and Science and dean of the College of Science. He is helping develop a concept for the center.
"Something that's close to my heart is to take advantage of the geotourism initiatives to educate our own community about what a great place we live in - to give our own community a sense of place," Ruiz said.
"At this point, we're talking about land acquisition plus costs of the facility itself," Bronson said. "We don't have a solid number (for the project cost). We're working with the University of Arizona to get a better sense of costs. ... It would probably be in the $5 million range, at least."
She said costs could be included in a bond package as early as next year.
Moving forward with the project and outlining a time frame for construction "will depend on the economic recovery," Bronson said.
"I personally would hope we could do it sooner rather than later because - as we experience economic recovery - the tourism piece is beginning to recover rather nicely," she said. "In the end, it (the center) would be an economic development tool. It would draw people to the region and boost our region's economy."
Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz