A growing national trend is coming to Tucson: using boxcars as bars and restaurants.

Local developers are set to start craning shipping containers onto an empty, 12,000-square-foot lot along Fourth Avenue. The Boxyard will house four restaurants with communal dining space and two bars, said Brenndon Scott, one of the developers.

Ten containers will be arranged on the site at 238 N. Fourth Ave. The restaurant’s kitchens will be housed in 20-foot containers and the bars in double-stacked 40-foot containers. Other containers will serve as indoor seating around a courtyard. The outdoor area will be temperature-controlled and have shade structures.

“There will be a lot of interesting colors and concepts,” Scott said, “surrounded by great trees and shade.”

A small old building on the site will be preserved and repurposed at the request of the neighborhood, Scott said.

The inspiration for the project came from visiting other boxcar venues around the country.

“The rise in popularity of shipping-container concepts underscores our competitive and quick-changing society,” says Trend Hunter, a website that tracks real estate trends. “The temporary nature of these shops is a valuable aspect of the business model.

“An element of exclusivity and time-sensitivity is the novelty aspect that attracts people.”

Scott plans to capitalize on that and sign only one-year leases with restaurants so the cuisine is always changing.

The developers are in negotiations with several restaurants, Scott said.

The liquor license is for the property as a whole and the two bars will operate independently from the restaurants. But they will be stocked to complement the food.

All restaurants will be local.

“It’s a very interesting and exciting concept, and it’ll be a nice addition to a significantly underutilized lot,” said Fred Ronstadt, executive director of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association.

“It’s nice to see infill projects and the public embracing the city’s center as a destination.”

He said projects such as the Boxyard, which he hopes will draw a lot of foot traffic, feel like a reward for the merchants who toughed it out during the downturn and construction of the streetcar route.

“The merchants along the streetcar alignment — specifically Fourth Avenue merchants — are heroes,” Ronstadt said. “They believed in the revitalization of the city’s center, and a lot of them sacrificed a lot during construction.”

Scott said he knew Fourth Avenue was where he wanted to open. Scott, a native of Tucson and graduate of Tucson High and the University of Arizona, spent many years in commercial real estate before going into the bar business.

He recently sold one of his bars but still owns the Bashful Bandit on Speedway.

“This is the best entertainment walking district, linking up with downtown and the university,” he said. “It’s a unique and exciting spot for us.”

The site will only have a handful of parking spots, but a large area for bicycle parking.

The Boxyard got a variance from the city because it is in the redevelopment district. An open space will house events, such as yoga classes or concerts, and a bocce ball court.

There will be enough seating for about 150. For concerts, it will accommodate up to 200 .

Barring any hiccups, the Boxyard is expected to open by the end of the year.

“The shipping container wins in terms of practicality,” says Trend Hunter.

“Idle shipping containers can be repurposed for tangible use and the industrial look is both mod and rad in contemporary design circles.”

This article was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@tucson.com


Gabriela's newspaper career began at the Tucson Citizen in '86 as the "movie-times girl" where she'd call local theaters for showtimes. Since then, she's written about crime, education, immigration, trade and business. She's been with the Star since 2007.