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Tucson Botanical Gardens, retail plaza reach deal in battle over parking

Tucson Botanical Gardens, retail plaza reach deal in battle over parking

Kroger rejected a $2.1 million bid from the Tucson Botanical Gardens for the then-vacant property now called the Vasa Fitness Plaza.

A dispute over the use of a parking lot next door to the Tucson Botanical Gardens was settled last week, just in time for one of the gardens’ busiest events of the year.

Following initial threats to tow vehicles of people visiting the gardens, the owners of a large retail plaza on the southeast corner of East Grant Road and North Alvernon Way have agreed to allow the gardens to use a small parking lot on the southern edge of their property.

The agreement comes after weeks of discussions between the property management group controlling the Vasa Fitness Plaza — named after the gym that replaced the closed Fry’s grocery store — and the gardens.

At one point, the Tucson-based commercial real estate firm, Cushman & Wakefield/PICOR, reportedly threatened to put up signs on the privately owned property to tow vehicles that were parked on the property illegally.

Sierra Howard, a property manager with PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services, said while there were several proposals discussed, the agreement reached last week is good for the entire neighborhood, including the gardens.

“They are satisfied with this arrangement, and we are happy to come to a solution that can benefit everyone,” Howard said.

The much larger lot on the north portion of the retail property had been discussed, but the two parties could not reach terms on who would be responsible for managing the parking lot during events held at the popular midtown gardens.

Michelle Conklin, executive director of the Tucson Botanical Gardens, is happy with the agreement but says the lack of public parking for the gardens is a bigger issue for the surrounding neighborhood than just when it holds special events.

While many visitors used the former Fry’s lot for overflow parking in years past, visitors also parked in the surrounding neighborhoods — causing a number of traffic and pedestrian issues.

“We are a victim of our own success,” Conklin said.

Recently, she said 5,300 people crowded into the gardens in four hours to celebrate “Museum Day.”

She said the annual TBG Luminaria Nights program next month is one of the most significant events of the year, and if history is any indicator, there will be parking issues.

The gardens attempted to buy the retail complex when it was put up for sale by the parent company of Fry’s, but Cincinnati-based Kroger rejected the gardens’ $2.1 million bid for the then-vacant property.

Conklin said the gardens will operate a shuttle service from the nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church and is working with ride-share services like Lyft and Uber to offer drop-off service for the luminaria event.

Councilman Steve Kozachik, whose ward includes the gardens and the retail plaza, said the threat to tow cars — even when the businesses in the plaza are closed — was unnecessary.

“The opening gambit from Picor/VASA was ‘we’re towing people.’ Now, after some significant pushback from surrounding residents and me, and following what was a wholly unrealistic proposal to the gardens that they monitor all the entries, screen people parking and pay for maintenance, now we’re pretty much where this began,” he said.

“It shouldn’t have needed to be such a contentious process, but realize, it wasn’t the gardens who sent out the notice to everyone that they’d be towed if they parked on the site,” he said.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson


Joe has been with the Star for six years. He covers politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. He graduated from the UA and previously worked for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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