Downtown Tucson, AZ: Advisory Services Panel

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Date: November 17-22, 2013

Location: Tucson, Arizona

Sponsor: City of Tucson; Rio Nuevo; Visit Tucson; Pima Association of Governments; Tucson Electric Power; Pima County; Holualoaloa Companies

Subject Area:  Economic Development and Corridor Revitalization

Panel Chair: John Walsh

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Background and Panel Assignment

With economic conditions improving in Tucson (and throughout the country) and a new streetcar line being put in place for summer 2014, downtown Tucson is primed to catalyze citywide growth. The city of Tucson asked the Urban Land Institute to identify what type of development is recommended for the vacant land within the study area, a 500-acre section of central and western downtown, spanning past Interstate 10. The city asked the ULI panel to put an emphasis on using publicly owned land and public resources to maximize and leverage private investment toward achievement of the following goals:

  • Recognizing Tucson’s birthplace by furthering the intent set forth in existing plans for the west side area, such as historic and cultural facilities and outdoor spaces;
  • Creating an interesting, walkable, transit-oriented downtown with high-quality development and public spaces;
  • Identifying development opportunities that encourage and promote modern streetcar ridership while considering streetcar infrastructure (i.e., stop locations);
  • Enhancing and connecting the cultural and natural resource assets within and surrounding the area;
  • Activating the Tucson Convention Center (TCC), including its performance venues, convention facilities, outdoor spaces, and frontage along the streetcar route;
  • Pursuing new economic opportunities capitalizing on the proximity to the University of Arizona to create jobs and diversify the economy within the area;
  • Recognizing, protecting, and strengthening the unique historic neighborhoods and sites within and surrounding the area;
  • Encouraging an appropriate balance of new housing and related services and amenities to attract additional residents to the area; and
  • Identifying the appropriate types, mix, and locations for retail, hotels, attractions, and other development to attract residents and visitors to the area.

Summary of Recommendations

The panel made two overarching observations: (a) public leadership and community outreach are essential for downtown revitalization, especially given the people of Tucson’s complicated history with urban development, and (b) because of market realities, a small-scale development strategy should be implemented instead of a big-bang approach. Among the many recommendations the panel made, were:

  • Create an advisory committee that will work with governments and report back to their constituents
  • Work with a revamped Rio Nuevo at the city, county, and metro levels to extend its life and focus on its role
  • Appoint a citizen ombudsman to safeguard transparency
  • Focus on market-rate multifamily rentals near the Congress Street entertainment district
  • Encourage a new business-quality downtown hotel
  • Retain private management of the Tucson Convention Center, reconfiguring its event calendar and making modest improvements to the facility

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