Tucson Mall is getting a new community arts and makerspace this summer.
The Southern Arizona Arts & Cultural Alliance plans to open the 14,000-square-foot Catalyst arts center in the former Gap and Gap Kids retail space by the end of the summer.
Catalyst, the first space of its kind in Tucson, will have makerspaces, flex education rooms, collaborative co-working for creatives and performance and art gallery spaces. It will have a culinary education kitchen, a robotics and engineering lab, an arts and crafts studio, and a music, film and digital media production studio.
Catalyst is part of a 10-year redevelopment plan in which the mall is refocusing its larger spaces as retailers seek out smaller locations, said Kate Marquez, executive director of SAACA.
“We’re just one part of the equation,” Marquez said. “If you could envision the entire mall being 40 to 50% experiential, that’s where they’re going. There’s an escape room. We’re looking to start an artist-in-residency program. There’s a community theater here. So the mall has truly reshaped their idea of how they engage with the community, and this is really the start phase.”
Tucson Mall’s management company, Brookfield Properties, which also manages Park Place Mall, did not respond to requests for comment about this story. But changes like these are being seen in malls and shopping centers around the country.
“You’re seeing more entertainment uses in malls and shopping centers because it’s kind of the way the culture is now,” said Greg Furrier, retail broker with Picor Commercial Real Estate. “People are waiting longer to buy homes, and priorities have shifted to have experiences rather than material goods.”
Plus, with retailers looking for smaller footprints, malls are left with space to fill, Furrier added.
An example of that is Round 1 Bowling & Amusement moving into the former Sears space at Park Place. Or the Splitting Timber ax-throwing range at Tucson Premium Outlets in Marana.
“The logical thing is entertainment,” Furrier said. “Entertainment has always been part of malls. Park Place has always had a theater. It draws people. They go out to dinner and go to a movie.”
Arizona Rose Theatre has been located in Tucson Mall for about 2½ years, and it has been working out really well, said Brandon Howell, managing director of the performing arts theater.
The foot traffic generates interest in upcoming shows and classes. And it gives people the option for a whole evening out since they can eat at the restaurants at the mall and then see a play.
“I think it’s great with an organization like SAACA coming in,” Howell said. “It makes the mall a central place people can go for various cultural and arts events.”
The hope is that Catalyst will be, well, a catalyst for future creative development within and outside its mall space, Marquez said.
The space has been developed to give artists and makers the chance to teach classes, rent space and interact with other creatives while giving the community the chance to engage with the arts through camps, classes, workshops and performances.
“We picked the name Catalyst because it was so important to us to show people what can happen in these four walls,” Marquez said. “That’s why there’s glass on all the walls. Maybe you never thought you were interested in robotics, but when you saw somebody doing it you think, ‘oh, that doesn’t look too hard.’ ”
Collaboration is also a big part of it.
“We envision things like you take a cooking class after you’ve made your wine glasses or plates in the art studio,” Marquez said. “Or what happens when we put tech partners with chefs. What kind of new machinery could they envision for cooking.”