David B. Pittman –
New business development downtown “has hit a frenetic pace,” according to Downtown Tucson Partnership CEO Michael Keith.
The completion of new restaurants and clubs, opening of new retail shops and building of a new boutique hotel and luxury apartments are just part of the picture. The greater impact comes from construction of the modern streetcar and an estimated $280 million in infrastructure investments made by Cox Communications, local utilities and other businesses.
Keith said when planning for streetcar construction was underway, city officials and others backing downtown development realized that many infrastructure improvements could be performed in tandem with trenching work needed for the streetcar. Some infrastructure work did piggy-back streetcar construction. Other recent improvements were performed independently.
Infrastructure improvements were made by Tucson Electric Power, Southwest Gas, Century Link, Tucson Water, Pima County Wastewater, Cox Communications and other smaller fiber-optic firms.
“These companies not only took advantage of the opportunity to improve existing services – but more importantly – to expand capacity for future development,” Keith said.
Keith expects about $100 million in new downtown business construction to be completed in 2014 and estimates that number to grow to as much as $1 billion over the next decade. He said those projections were based on expectations that under-utilized downtown properties would be redeveloped to higher zoning levels.
Pamela A. Crim, director of Cox Business Sales in Southern Arizona, said the company installed 3.25 miles of upgraded fiber optics – roughly the length of 57 football fields – to provide “a new state-of-the-art, high-speed communications highway” to downtown occupants.
“Businesses locating downtown and their customers are very high-tech,” Crim said. “They don’t want any buffering or slow speeds. They want the best technology available – and that is exactly what they are getting.”
Cox began the planning and permitting process for the downtown infrastructure improvements at the beginning of 2013. The company broke ground downtown last summer and completed its infrastructure project in February of this year. Crim said the process – which required a great deal of excavation and trenching work – went incredibly smoothly, largely because of the cooperation provided by the City of Tucson.
“Very early in the process, City Manager Richard Miranda assigned a representative from his office, Andy Squire, as a liaison to work with our construction team to ensure that if we needed guidance we had access to the proper people,” Crim said.
For his part, Squire, an economic development specialist, credited the work of Ernie Duarte, director of the city planning and development services department, and Jonathan Mabry, the city’s historic preservation officer, for the cooperative effort from city government that helped guarantee the success of Cox’s infrastructure efforts downtown.
Miranda expressed appreciation to Cox for its commitment to Tucson. “Pam (Crim) and the Cox business team have been terrific partners,” he said. “Tucson is better positioned to attract technology-driven businesses if we have reliable, scalable telecommunications infrastructure in place – and Cox is helping us expand our business-ready footprint.”
Southwest Gas and Tucson Electric Power also completed substantial downtown infrastructure upgrades recently.
“Southwest Gas’s work in the downtown area was not done for purely economic development reasons,” said Libby Howell, administrator of corporate communications for the gas utility.
“We needed to relocate our facilities out of the way of the streetcar route. Whenever we are required to do relocation work in any part of town because of a street project, we take the opportunity to upgrade our facilities to current standards and to analyze our system to ensure that our new system design will deliver appropriate capacity to current customers, as well as accommodate some future growth. For example, when we relocated our main along Granada, our system analysis showed us that slightly larger pipe was warranted, due to growing demand on that line,” Howell said.
TEP completed about $20 million in downtown improvements, including connections to the modern streetcar line, relocation of a dozen power poles to create needed space for the streetcar and new lines and transformers for a new high-voltage line from a west-side substation to a downtown substation, said Joseph Barrios, a TEP spokesman.
Lisa Lovallo is Southern Arizona market VP for Cox and a board member and past chair of Downtown Tucson Partnership. She estimated that private business investment over the past five or six years in downtown Tucson is in the neighborhood of $300 million.
“Along with Cox, dozens of businesses have invested more than $280 million in downtown Tucson,” she said. “The immediate and long-term impacts of these investments will position Tucson for stronger job growth and a more prosperous future.”