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Rio Nuevo OKs 'new direction' for Congress St. lot
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Rio Nuevo OKs 'new direction' for Congress St. lot

Developer Don Bourn received approval from the Rio Nuevo board on “a new direction” for a long-vacant lot on East Congress Street in downtown Tucson.

Facing a deadline to produce a building permit, Bourn pitched an $18 million project to the board, including a modern food court, offices and apartments. No parking is included.

The Rio Nuevo board approved the plans, with Chairman Fletcher McCusker calling it “an extraordinary project.”

Bourn also is renovating the historic Indian Trading Post and the Chase Bank annex building, which are on either side of the vacant land, between Scott and Stone avenues. Bourn Cos. moved into the annex building.

Bourn bought the property from the city for $100 in 2004 as part of a deal for him to develop it.

Rio Nuevo spent $900,000 demolishing buildings, including the 100-year-old Pusch Building. The block once was occupied by the Thrifty Drug Store, Fields Jewelers and Little Cafe Poca Cosa and is sometimes called the Thrifty Block. The Indian Village Trading Post was forced out of its building in 2007.

Financial and legal issues stopped progress for years.

In 2013, Rio Nuevo approved an agreement with Bourn and the city, giving Bourn two years to have a building permit or give the property to Rio Nuevo. Two one-year extensions were included. Bourn already received one extension, earlier this month, which was automatic under the agreement.

Bourn was required to send quarterly progress reports. “While some time has gone by, we feel like we have been making some progress,” he told the board.

In 2013, Bourn had proposed a $20 million, five-story project called The Post.

The new project, called City Park, would be six stories and cost about $18 million.

Bourn said it will be “an urban oasis in the middle of downtown.”

He will use Rio Nuevo’s approval in his proposal to lenders and in his application for city incentives. He said he could start building in March.

Councilman Steve Kozachik predicted the project would pass the required economic analysis to qualify for city incentive programs but said the city should also take another look at the level of incentives it’s approving as the real estate market and lending environment improve.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@tucson.com or 573-4346. On Twitter: @BeckyPallack

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