The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
This week seven bungalows listed on the National Register of Historic Places located on Broadway and within the Rio Nuevo Tax Increment Finance District began the short but impressive journey across their lots, being moved out of the way for the future alignment of the Broadway expansion.
This remarkable endeavor is being undertaken by Rio Nuevo. The district’s leadership: Chairman Fletcher McCusker and board members including Jannie Cox and Edmund Marquez saw the economic value of saving and repositioning these distinctive character buildings.
They saw that multiple community goals could be achieved while benefiting and enhancing the district’s tax base.
Protecting these architectural assets through relocation and conversion into commercial spaces demonstrates a powerful model of historic preservation and community development that will hopefully be emulated elsewhere in our city. The formula is simple: leverage our distinctive architectural assets to drive new development and shift buildings into commercial uses (think coffee shops, small cafes and jewelry stores — Campbell Avenue north of Grant Road has a number of similar sized historic houses that have been commercialized for years).
The repositioned buildings will become a destination for the surrounding neighborhoods and generate sales tax revenue for the Rio Nuevo District for years to come. Without this project, the seven buildings would have been razed and fragments of unusable land would sit with no economic benefit to our region.
But this is just the first step of the impressive visionary leadership we see from the current Rio Nuevo Board. They are fully engaged in a process of developing a land use overlay for both sides of Broadway from Euclid Avenue to Country Club Road. This opt-in overlay zone, if crafted correctly, can incentivize and protect our unique urban landscape and modernist buildings and reactivate the streetscape, creating a distinctive commercial corridor and destination punctuated and defined by our community’s outstanding mid-century modern storefronts.
To lead this effort, the district engaged the Project for Public Spaces, an internationally recognized New York City-based planning, design and educational nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities. This work, in partnership with local land use experts, is crafting a zone that will create a significant tool to empower community-minded development and forge a sense of place.
This proactive leadership is spilling into all parts of the district. This past week Rio Nuevo brought Project for Public Spaces back to Tucson to engage in a community workshop to explore the future of El Presidio Neighborhood and develop ways of activating this edge of downtown.
Rio Nuevo and its leadership are not only working to increase the tax base for our region to support and fund high-impact projects; they are leading the way towards true community collaboration, partnership and long range placemaking that will benefit our city for generations to come. The Rio Nuevo board is demonstrating that development can be context-sensitive, supported by neighborhoods, and achieve financial goals while being a catalyst for culture change in Tucson.