Tucson's old places matter to the health of our businesses

Tucson's old places matter to the health of our businesses

On June 14, the mayor and City Council unanimously moved forward with plans to protect Tucson's historic and iconic signs that contribute to our unique character, history and identity. The plan is modeled on the U.S. secretary of interior's standards for historic preservation and encourages maintenance, restoration and reuse of historic signs worthy of preservation.

Beginning today Tucson will be hosting the ninth annual Arizona Historic Preservation Conference at the University Marriott. Part of the conference will focus on historic preservation as an economic driver for our city and state, and it features a community conversation at the Hotel Congress on how to "Build a Thriving Downtown."

I encourage the community to attend this free public discussion about how heritage-based economic development supports local businesses and offers a successful model for community revitalization efforts.

The Santa Cruz River Valley, including Tucson, is eligible to receive U.S. congressional designation as a National Heritage Area to promote cultural and nature tourism of the region.

The Heritage Area functions much like a business enterprise zone. Federal funds, in the form of matching grants, support projects including small-business development for historic buildings, cultural attractions, forts and spectacular natural treasures.

In November I released my five-year economic recovery plan, which was unanimously supported by the mayor and council. It includes expanding existing partnerships with the UA and Pima Community College, and growing new business startups that can employ a vibrant and educated workforce.

Our incentive policy supports emerging technology sectors that include, but are not limited to, clean energy, biotechnology and technology commercialization.

The process ensures quality city investment into projects that create long-term, high-wage jobs.

The city is taking action on several strategies to attract financial investment from a wide variety of partners and is committed to using federal funds to their maximum capacity. We are moving forward on HUD 108 loans for the first time in 15 years to provide needed capital for business expansion and relocation, and we are considering all economic development opportunities for our federal funds.

In the area of historic preservation and job creation, we are exploring the opportunity to partner with a private investor, the Downtown Tucson Partnership, the Catholic Diocese and the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation to eliminate blight at the historic Marist College, next to the cathedral and across the street from the Tucson Convention Center.

The Historic Preservation Foundation prepared the application to list the Marist building as part of the St. Augustine Cathedral Historic District, soon to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marist College was built in 1915, just three years after Arizona statehood, and is the only three-story adobe structure to remain standing in Arizona.

The idea is to attract an investor that believes in the strong economic incentives of heritage development, which is backed by statistics of heritage travelers spending more money and staying at heritage destinations for longer periods of time. The recently restored McMenamins' Crystal Hotel and restaurant in Portland, Ore., is one example of a successful model for the 10,000 square feet of space at the Marist building.

This is just one of the economic development strategies we will be discussing today at the Hotel Congress. We'll see you there!

If you go:

Heritage discussion today:

3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hotel Congress. RSVP to info@santacruzheritage.org or sign up for the entire conference today-Friday at the University Marriott at www.azpreservation.com

Public hearing:

The City Council's public hearing for the historic landmark sign ordinance is June 28 at City Hall, 255 W. Alameda at 5:30 p.m.

Regina Romero represents Ward 1 on the Tucson City Council

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