After a six-year public process, the Tucson City Council is expected to decide Thursday on a $60 million deal to redevelop the downtown Ronstadt Transit Center into a multiuse property with a hotel, apartments, transit services and commercial space.
The proposal would dramatically change the downtown landscape with four new high rises built mainly along North Sixth Avenue between East Congress Street and the railroad tracks while keeping the Sun Tran bus station on site, although it would move to a temporary location during construction.
In 2013, the city sought proposals to redevelop the transit center, a 5.7-acre, city-owned site at Congress and Sixth that houses the transit center and two parking lots.
City officials picked the proposal offered by local developer Peach Properties in 2015. The plan contained a mix of apartments; commercial (including a hotel on the corner of Congress and Sixth) and office space; public space; and up to 450 parking spots. The company’s proposal would remake the transit center into an “adaptable hub” to serve multiple modes of transportation, including buses, bike sharing, shuttle services, taxis and pedestrians.
The council is set to vote on the proposal, but the project still needs to be approved by the Federal Transit Administration, which initially paid for the development of the downtown bus station.
At this point, most believe Peach Properties will break ground sometime in 2021 if the federal government signs off on the project.
Ron Schwabe, the owner of Peach Properties, says the proposal has changed over time — hinting at one time he wanted to bring the Apple Store downtown. He said the current proposal will bring another wave of investments into the area.
“There were a lot of different configurations,” he said. “We had an Apple store and two hotels.”
Current plans — which Schwabe said are still conceptual — call for an eight-story hotel, a nine-story tower offering a mix of retail and office space as well as apartments, and a second five-story tower that would primarily be apartments.
Across the street from the transit center on East Toole Avenue, the developer has plans for an eight-story tower that would be used for a parking garage as well as apartments and ground-floor retail space.
With Peach Properties expected to invest $60 million in the project, the city would get up to $7.5 million for the sale of city-owned property along the east side of Sixth between Congress and Toole.
Schwabe is optimistic about the project despite some economists raising the specter of another recession.
“It is in a prime site, it is likely to be OK,” Schwabe said. “The downtown area has had a good trajectory, and that really hasn’t changed.”
Councilman Paul Durham supports the project, saying it represents a good deal for the city.
“The vote … is years in the making,” Durham said. “I’m confident that the FTA will agree with us that this project provides an opportunity to improve the experience of downtown transit users while providing additional parking, residential and commercial options downtown while using that valuable land more efficiently.”
Councilman Steve Kozachik agrees, calling it a big win for the community.
“If we do it right, it will be the centerpiece of downtown redevelopment,” Kozachik said.
“Having to work through and respect the FTA guidelines has made this a lengthy process, but it has had significant public input, will require the blessing of the FTA to ensure we’re enhancing the transit function, and at the end of the day it’ll bring more hotel and commercial investment into the downtown core.”
Brian Flagg, with the Tucson Bus Riders Union, said he is taking a wait-and-see approach, but said his group was crucial in keeping the transit center in downtown.
“Ultimately, the bus riders unions kept it from getting completely wiped off the map,” Flagg said.
However, Flagg says he is concerned the size of the transit center will ultimately shrink, despite promises by city officials to continue to keep the same volume of buses running through downtown.
“The mayor and City Council need to stand tall and keep their promises to the community to keep the transit center footprint intact,” Flagg said.
The council meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 255 W. Alameda St.
Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson.