In anticipation of once again being able to host festivals, concerts and crowds, Hotel Congress is planning to expand its entertainment capacity.
Owners want to add a permanent stage on the patio, convert the banquet room into a lounge featuring mescal and wine tasting, and add bathrooms to the 102-year-old downtown Tucson hotel to accommodate more customers.
“It’s really important to try and do the work now because once things start coming back, outdoor venues will be the place to transition,” said Hotel Congress owner Richard Oseran. “We’ve seen things go in the wrong direction downtown with many closings so we want to be part of reigniting Congress Street.”
He recently appeared before the Rio Nuevo board to ask for $600,000 to help with the upgrades.
Oseran said pre-pandemic, Hotel Congress was generating about $9.2 million a year and with the upgrades expects to reach $11.4 million in 2022.
The currently empty Copper Hall, which extends from the hotel’s lobby to Fifth Avenue, would be a mescal and wine tasting room by day and at night a lounge with food service and jazz combos. The hall is close to 3,000 square feet in size and would be outfitted with large leather sofas, Oseran said. It can accommodate about 140 people.
He said the hotel has been able to keep about 80 employees — down from about 170 — and is closing at 10 p.m., per county recommendations.
The Rio Nuevo board expressed a desire to help but asked for more time to figure out how to fund it since revenue for the district has been down with the pandemic forcing many downtown establishments to close.
“We understand your need ... you are a centerpiece downtown,” board member Chris Sheafe said.
Board chairman Fletcher McCusker said this might be an example of necessary investment.
“Rio Nuevo is going to have to spend some money. ... If we don’t, these things are going to go away,” he said. “I think we’re obligated and will get back to you.”
The board did not set a date to revisit the matter but said it would soon be on an agenda.
“We can wait because we can’t do it without your help,” Oseran told the board. He and his wife, Shana, have owned Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., since 1985.
In an interview after the meeting, Oseran said he’s hopeful Rio Nuevo will be able to fund the project.
“The board appreciates us for what we’re doing for the community and, if they can, they’ll help us,” he said. “If not, we’ll do it a year from now or two years from now.”
Oseran said Hotel Congress will weather this challenge just as it did when it first opened.
“When we started out, everything was boarded up on Congress Street and the prostitutes were working the corners,” he said. “Nobody came downtown in 1985 so we created a reason for people to come downtown.”
Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at email@example.com.