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10 Reasons Millennials Love Tucson

21 Sep 2019 by BizDESIGN in FALL 2019, FEATURES

By Eric Swedlund

Isaac and Simone Figueroa represent both sides of the retention and attraction coin. 

A native Tucsonan, Isaac is a University of Arizona graduate and 2018 40 Under 40 Man of the Year, working in real estate and active in a host of community organizations, including the Centurions and Greater Tucson Leadership.  

East Coast-born and -educated, Simone took a job in Tucson knowing nothing about the city, and quickly fell in love with the quality of life here. The couple met online, went hiking on their first date “and the rest is history,” Simone said. 

“There’s something about the energy here that’s really special. I feel happy, at ease and at home – and you can’t beat the mountain views. Isaac and I have found a really great balance and we love living here. It has a lot of charm and a lot to offer, especially if you take the initiative,” Simone said. 

“All my closest friends from childhood and college live in bigger cities, but none of them are involved in their city. It’s something I really love about living here, the sense of community and how open and warm everyone is and how young people take a leading role in shaping our community and our future.”

Millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – make up the largest generation in U.S. history. Some 92 million strong, millennials “have grown up in a time of rapid change, giving them a set of priorities and expectations sharply different from previous generations,” according to Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research. 

Millennials desire work that fuels their sense of purpose and makes them feel important, seek engagement in their community and want to make a positive contribution to the world, according to Gallup. Cities that are more attractive to millennials tend to be more diverse, with multicultural populations and a local character that reflects variety in terms of restaurants, events, activities and organizations. 

In 2015, a report from Money magazine ranked Tucson as one of the nation’s best cities for millennials – praising the city’s revitalized downtown, range of ethnic restaurants, nightlife at spots like Club Congress, employers like Raytheon Missile Systems and high potential for job growth. Calling Tucson a “hidden gem,” the magazine ranked the city fourth – ahead of high-tech hub Seattle – and right behind Austin, Atlanta and Columbus.

In the four years since Tucson earned Money’s praise, increased momentum on many of those same attributes has created an even stronger position for the city. 

Yet challenges undoubtedly remain for Tucson. Earlier this year, Tucson Young Professionals brought together the Emerging Leaders Council, Hispanic Leadership Institute, Greater Tucson Leadership and Tucson Urban League Young Professionals for a summit to discuss areas critical to attracting young professionals. 

The Igniting Advocacy roundtable discussed Tucson’s challenges and settled on four broad themes that form the crux of what work needs to be done to improve Tucson’s standing: 

• Education

• Jobs, innovation and workforce

• Tucson branding, narrative and promotion

• Quality of life and infrastructure

“What Tucson is inherently good at will get you here – with the great culture, food and community. But the stuff we have a harder time executing on could move people away,” said Zach Yentzer, executive director of Tucson Young Professionals. “We need that focus on jobs, income, affordability and infrastructure. Let’s keep what we’re good at – but keep making sure to plug the holes a bit.” 

BizTucson compiled this list of 10 factors that make Tucson an attractive place for millennials and young professionals – based on research, interviews and feedback from businesses, area leaders and readers. 

“We get such a great quality of life for the cost of living here. Tucson has great food, great culture. The natural resources we have from the standpoint of things like hiking and outdoor life is pretty robust here,” said Isaac Figueroa. 

“Tucson is reaching a tipping point, with companies like Caterpillar and Raytheon bringing more jobs, and people realizing this is a great place to live and work. We’re turning a corner and could be getting to a point where Tucson can grow and become even better. We have a lot of potential and we can become the best version of ourselves.”

1. ENTREPRENEURIAL CLIMATE & STARTUP ECONOMY

Jeff Sales, executive director for the Arizona Technology Council’s Southern Arizona office, said the years that Tucson businesses and entrepreneurs have spent working to attract investors have paid off, with investors now coming to Tucson in droves. 

“One of the things we’re seeing is there is a lot of capital coming our way that never was here before,” Sales said. “Organizations that want to invest in new technology are realizing Tucson is a place they can do that – and Tucson is a place they can do that more economically than even places like Denver or Salt Lake. Once those investors realize the market is here, then their pals are going to join too.”  

That rise in locally available investment capital corresponds to younger workers realizing that though other markets remain stronger, those cities are getting increasingly difficult to live in. 

“Many students have come to the conclusion that the grass is taller in places like San Francisco and Austin, but it isn’t necessarily greener,” Sales said. “Those are great places to have a job – but not a great place to have a life. In Tucson you can have both.”

Investors and entrepreneurs alike are on the lookout for the type of things that are Tucson’s natural advantages, said Carol Stewart, associate VP for Tech Parks Arizona. 

“We play the university card every day when we’re talking to companies, whether they’re startups or international companies we’re looking to attract, and everybody in between. The University of Arizona is top tier. When you have that kind of horsepower in your town, it’s a great selling point,” she said. 

The next phase for the UA Tech Parks will be starting construction on the first building at The Bridges, along with expanding the UA Center for Innovation and stretching tech commercialization efforts across the region to Oro Valley, Sahuarita and beyond. 

“Having a world-renowned tech park is an asset that people salivate over in our industry. This is one of the top parks and people really undervalue it in our community,” Stewart said. “When you look from outside, this is the place for companies to land and get plugged into the talent at the university in a very short order.”  

The Tech Parks and Tech Launch Arizona flow well together, and the numbers – like a UA record 284 inventions disclosed last year – point to that collaboration. A key element to Tech Launch Arizona’s efforts is helping to build companies that can stay and grow here – creating more opportunities for graduates to remain here as well. 

“For everybody that’s dipping their toe in the water right now, there are five to 10 people waiting in the wings to see how successful they are,” Stewart said. “As soon as those first adopters become successful in building their own companies, there are lots of other people who will be getting into the startup game. It’s contagious.” 

Dre Voelkel, programs and events director for Startup Tucson, moved here for the potential to be involved in the entrepreneurial community. 

“I was super ambitious and wanted to take on the world and spent a decade in New York and Chicago. I was doing well and could have continued that life – but as a typical millennial, I wanted more. In those big cities, there’s only so much one young person can do to make an impact. It struck me that Tucson is the perfect place to make an impact. Young, hardworking people have a seat at the table,” she said. 

The amount of small businesses – from the family taquerias to the bioscience companies that are coming out of the university – have great value for Tucson, Voelkel said.

“We have a ton of makers and artisans and creatives who are able to build here, and that’s really special. There are a lot of innovators in a lot of different fields who play a critical role in our economic ecosystem,” she said. “When you study innovation ecosystems around the country, people want to do what worked in Seattle or San Francisco. The entire innovation community here thinks about how to tailor that to our unique ecosystem – so we won’t replicate some of the mistakes that have happened as growth has overtaken other cities.”

At Startup Coffee, Startup Tucson’s free weekly morning mixer, Voelkel regularly meets newcomers who say the word is definitely out about Tucson’s potential.

“On a weekly basis, I talk to young people who’ve just moved here. They say ‘I had to leave Portland’ or ‘I had to leave Seattle’ because those cities are not the cities they grew up in. They’ve been overtaken,” Voelkel said. “What we want to do is create a place where we can plug them right in and give them a taste of everything that’s happening so they can find their place and find their role.” 

2. MUSIC, ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT & CULTURE

“It’s become somewhat of my life’s goal to put this city on the map,” said Matt Baquet, a music booker at Club Congress and director of the annual HOCO Fest. “Years ago I had this idea that I would move to Northern California and start a music festival with some friends. That dream slowly fizzled out, but I realized it didn’t really go away, it just molded into something that makes more sense. It’s the same goal, but in my hometown of Tucson.”

Having lived in Seattle and New York, Baquet has seen cities where music defines the culture, which is emerging in Tucson as well. 

“I thought it would be really cool to make a city a music city,” he said. “I didn’t realize my hometown would be the perfect place to do that. It made me who I am and I love it for many reasons, but it’s a city on the rise. There’s this energy that comes with the business development and the city’s desire to grow and achieve. But most important to me is that it catches on with the creative community here because that’s ultimately what will attract more people.”

HOCO’s 15th year coincides with the 100th birthday of Hotel Congress and is drawing more outside attention than ever. The festival has press in attendance from major cities like New York, Los Angeles, London and Toronto, with music insiders growing more and more appreciative of a carefully curated smaller festival, as well as the quality of the local bands in the mix. 

“HOCO is meant to share our flavor with the world. That’s what we’re trying to showcase with the festival. It’s not just about bringing in this crazy talent, it’s about showing North America what Tucson is all about,” Baquet said. “It’s this synchronicity. The community is getting on board at the same rate the national press is getting on board, and hopefully it will continue to snowball and continue to attract people from outside of Tucson to see more of our magic.”

Jocelyn Valencia, co-founder and co-director of the Tucson Hip Hop Festival, said opportunities abound in Tucson, especially for musicians looking to find their voice and fans interested in experiencing live music without the huge crowds and high prices of larger cities. 

“Tucson is known for being a culturally rich city and the music scene is very present. I often get asked, ‘What’s the Tucson sound?’ I feel that Tucson is still developing its sound and identity. It keeps growing and I keep seeing more and more artists trying new things,” said Valencia, who also works with Dusk Music Festival and the Tucson Jazz Festival. “Tucson is a really good city to explore any ideas you have, whether that’s a business idea, an event idea or artists wanting to put out a project or collaborate with another artist.” 

One of Tucson’s challenges now, in the cultural area as well as other professions, is creating a city vibrant enough to retain the young, talented and promising artists.  

“Tucson breeds individuals well, but it’s also our main export,” Baquet said. “Hopefully if we keep doing big things here and reaching out to the community, to the younger people, that will continue to grow here and stay here instead of moving to New York or L.A. I see the whole crop of young kids getting excited, and it’s a contagious thing.” 

Both Valencia and Baquet echo the mantra of many other entrepreneurs: They can make a difference in Tucson and bring their ideas to fruition in a way that isn’t possible in larger cities.   

“One of the most special things about Tucson right now is there are opportunities to put your imprint on the development here. HOCO Fest and working here at Hotel Congress is a beautiful fit,” Baquet said. “They want to preserve the 100-year cultural epicenter of the city and there can be no better partners to help us push our vibe. This block, with Rialto and Congress, is extremely important.”

Tucson also boasts a big-city arts scene, anchored by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, the oldest continuing professional performing arts organization in the state of Arizona, as well as opera, ballet, professional and amateur theater, Broadway road shows, chamber music and jazz. In total, the city is home to 215 arts organizations and more than 35 art galleries. 

3. A WORLD FESTIVAL & EVENT CITY 

Looking for something to do? The city’s calendar is full – year-round – with events, happenings, festivals and occasions. In fact, Tucson was recognized in 2017 as a World Festival & Event City, one of nine cities worldwide so honored by the International Festivals & Events Association, the major trade association of event professionals.

“This recognition is a seal of approval and another tool in the toolbox to let the world know what a great place Tucson is,” said Donovan Durband, president of Festivals & Events Association of Tucson & Southern Arizona, when he accepted the award on behalf of the city. “It should be a point of pride for local residents that our culture is so robust and such an integral part of who we are – and how the world views us. There are people in the far reaches of the globe who may know about Tucson only because of our major productions. Festivals and events are undoubtedly part of Tucson’s ‘cool factor,’ ” 

Sports and recreation? El Tour de Tucson, Major League Soccer preseason and the Mobile Mini Sun Cup, the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, Cologuard Classic, Tucson Association of Realtors Soccer Shootout, Cyclovia and Rillito Park Racetrack, plus full seasons of hockey and indoor football at the Tucson Convention Center, with the Tucson Roadrunners and Tucson Sugar Skulls.

Music, arts and entertainment? HOCO Fest, Night of the Living Festival, Dusk Music Festival, Tucson Jazz Festival, Tucson Folk Festival, Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival, Tucson Desert Song Festival, Tucson Hip Hop Festival, Tucson Festival of Books, Tucson Comic-con, Tucson Comedy Arts Festival, Southern Arizona Blues and Heritage Festival and Tucson International Mariachi Conference. Movie buffs can enjoy Film Fest Tucson, Arizona International Film Festival, Loft Film Fest and Tucson Film & Music Festival. 

Uniquely Tucson? TENWEST Impact Festival, El Rio Vecinos Block Party, The Centurions’ annual event, Tucson Meet Yourself, All Souls Procession, Baja Beer Festival, Fourth Avenue Street Fair, Tucson Tamal and Heritage Festival, Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, Tucson Humanities Festival, Arizona Insect Festival, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros and Agave Heritage Festival.

And there is much, much more. 

4. YOUNG PROFESSIONAL GROUPS & LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

“We have this thing to sell of a city on the rise. By being a part of Tucson’s story, you can write your own story,” said Yentzer of Tucson Young Professionals

The collaboration and openness of young professional groups and other civic leadership organizations have not been this good for a long time, Yentzer said. There’s cross-sector collaboration at a high level and great momentum in industries like mining tech and aerospace. 

Opportunities abound in the city’s various young professional groups.  

The Emerging Leaders Council is a diverse team of under-40, upwardly mobile young professionals rooted in the Tucson community whose mission is to accelerate the growth of Tucson’s business climate along with their own careers. Founded in 2014 and supported by the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commere executive team and its board of directors, the ELC is committed to mentorship, pairing each member with an accomplished senior executive. 

The Hispanic Leadership Institute is a 12-week program co-hosted by Valle del Sol and the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that offers participants the opportunity to engage Arizona’s foremost business and policy authorities in a continuing dialogue about leadership and Latino issues.

Founded in 1980, Greater Tucson Leadership is a non-profit, non-partisan leadership organization dedicated to providing leadership education, community development and civic engagement. A partner program of the Tucson Metro Chamber, GTL has graduated more than 1,000 participants and maintains a strong alumni network. In January 2020, Greater Tucson Leadership, in partnership with Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, will launch the inaugural Civic and Political Leadership Program.

Tucson Urban League Young Professionals are engaged in leadership development, educational advancement, economic welfare and social interaction. 

“We’re coming together as young professional organizations and that speaks to the openness of this community. If you want to get involved, you can get involved to a deep level,” he said. “If you’re in another city, like Atlanta or Austin, it’s ‘Who are you? Why should somebody care?’ Here, it’s an amazing community to get plugged in. If you commit to the city, there’s less of a barrier to entry.” 

Young professionals are telling Yentzer they can get into entry-level jobs, but Tucson doesn’t have as much in mid-career jobs. A main area of focus for Tucson Young Professionals is professional development, which can help retain that homegrown talent, which will make companies more eager to create those mid-level positions here. 

“Our advocacy efforts connect other young professionals with leaders to create change over the long haul and impact the community,” he said. “Tucson is primed to be, and in some cases already is, a Southwest hotspot where people who are broken by bigger cities can come for both the opportunities and the affordability. We have the food, the culture, the community and you can come and be a part of the startup scene. That’s magic.” 

5. OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

Tucson ranks No. 2 on Outside magazine’s list of the 12 Best Places to Live in 2019. The magazine said America’s cities are the “new adventure capitals” 

– blending urban environments with day-to-day opportunities for an active lifestyle. According to Outside, Tucson is the “Desert Rose,” whose stereotypical resident is “the burrito-fueled cyclist who’s unafraid of hill climbs, cactus needles or riding single-track at night to escape the summer heat.” 

One of those stereotypical climbs is up Tumamoc Hill, a living desert laboratory and ecological preserve, but also one of the city’s most popular recreation areas. 

“I know for many people, where they bought their house or decided to rent is based on proximity to Tumamoc,” said ecologist Ben Wilder, director of the Desert Laboratory at Tumamoc Hill. “The mountain is such a central part of their day-to-day routine and that’s really important. It’s just such an incredible anchor to where we are.” 

The laboratory at Tumamoc was established in 1903, but human history at and near the mountain dates back 4,000 years, making it the longest continuously habited site in the United States. So even as people come to walk or jog that 1.5-mile trip to the top, they’re convening with Tucson’s past in a way no gym could ever match. 

“They come for the exercise, but once it becomes part of your routine, it’s so much more than that. You come with friends, or you might take a first date there. You stay healthy, but a real connection to the place you live is what forms,” Wilder said. “There’s such a defined sense of place here. It’s that combination of the spirit of the desert, from the rains to the distinctive food to the feeling of community. All those things are exemplified by Tumamoc.” 

The bike and pedestrian paths that connect the city’s neighborhoods to areas like Tumamoc are crucial to enabling the outdoors to become a part of daily life. 

“One of the rare things that Tucson offers that big cities can’t compete with is the ability to live in an affordable urban environment and literally hop on your bike and be at the base of a mountain in five minutes,” said Emily Yetman, executive director of the Living Streets Alliance. “It’s amazing how you can be that close to the pristine natural environment and opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and then be back in the bustling urban environment.”

Yetman has seen in other cities no choice other than to drive for a while to get outside the city and find a place that gives you that sense of space. 

“The fact that we have managed to preserve so many of these great outdoor recreation places and natural ecosystems that are really accessible is phenomenal,” Yetman said. “Here, you can get to those places without having to commit a weekend to it.” 

6. REAL ESTATE & COST OF LIVING

“Nationally, we’re seeing a tremendous upsurge in purchasing homes because the economy is good and interest rates are low. Millennials are right in line with that,” said Randy Rogers, CEO of the Tucson Association of Realtors. “If you look at it locally, Tucson is booming everywhere you turn. People are wanting to move here. Tucson in particular is really at a wonderful spot because the homes are affordable still, which they aren’t in many other places.”

For people who are trying to figure out what city is right for them, cost of living and quality of life are the two biggest factors, Rogers said. High prices in major markets drive more attention to secondary cities, and, in general, millennials are near the average age of first-time homebuyers.

“Tucson is thriving in that market,” Rogers said. “The trend across the country is they’re not looking to spend hours cutting their grass in the yard over the weekend. They want to get out and do things, like hiking. So Tucson is perfectly aligned with exactly what the millennials want.”

Today’s first-time buyers tend to be more interested in living in the urban core, as opposed to the suburban trend of their parents. Tucson has significant potential for urban infill and more dense development around downtown, said Isaac Figueroa, director of Real Estate Development at BFL Ventures. 

“One of the things I’m focused on is doing more affordable housing and close that gap, as well as maintaining our priority and commitment to sustainability at the same time so that we have smart and responsible growth,” Figueroa said. 

7. FOOD

In 2015, Tucson was named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States, recognized for “our region’s rich agricultural heritage, thriving food traditions, and culinary distinctiveness,” according to city statements in announcing the honor. Since then, the designation has become a huge part of Tucson’s identity – for locals and visitors alike. 

James Beard winners Janos Wilder and El Guero Canelo and nominees Don Guerra of Barrio Bread and El Charro Café speak to the variety, quality and uniqueness of the city’s food culture. 

Ben Schneider, owner of TallBoys, grew up in Tucson with family-owned restaurants Bentley’s and La Cocina, so when he branched out to open his own spot, he wanted to make sure it had a friendly, community vibe. 

“I always have connected strongly with food and community being pretty much the same. If you have a place you can feel comfortable and eat slowly and have a friendly conversation, you feel more open. There are so many people who sit at the bar and laugh with us,” he said. “For us, that’s been our saving grace. We take food really seriously, but we don’t have to do it with an attitude. It helps our clientele feel more connected.” 

Creating a new venture in a renowned food city can be daunting, but Schneider set out to follow his passion. 

“My concept was to keep it simple as far as ingredients, have everything be super fresh, and I really enjoy the classic breakfast and a place you can get it all day long. I wanted that greasy spoon vibe, sassy waitress vibe, with a bit more of a modern flair,” Schneider said. “It resonates with a lot of people. As much as I appreciate higher-end cuisine, Tucson is a lower price-point town and I really wanted a place where people could feel at home.” 

Tucson is a perfect city for millennials and younger people to explore, find their identity and pursue their passions, Schneider said, something he sees firsthand on a daily basis in the musicians and artists who make up his clientele and staff. 

“You can’t do the things you can do in Tucson in other cities. There’s freedom to pursue personal endeavors and hobbies and passions,” he said. “What’s so inspiring about being in Tucson now is it’s in a flux phase. It’s in a bit of an identity crisis now with an opportunity to work with the town and figure out what it needs. 

“You see a lot of concepts that might have worked in San Francisco or New York and don’t quite hit here. There’s something endearing and exciting about that,” he said. “There are so many ideas of what a restaurant is and it’s really evolving right now. We’ve created an environment that’s as relaxed as possible and respects your time to come out and enjoy food. That’s why people come back.”

8. ON THE RADAR

Lee McLaughlin, VP of marketing at Visit Tucson, returned to his hometown 10 years ago after college in Colorado, and found a town more accommodating to the career and lifestyle goals of millennials and young professionals. 

“At one time, people who came to school here may have thought it was a college town, but now they see it as a place to stay because of the development and infrastructure,” he said. “It’s a relatively inexpensive place to live, especially compared to other cities our size, but still has the place to eat and the things to do. The value is there. That’s an important factor to people. The coastal big cities are becoming less attractive because they’re untenable for people.” 

More than ever, the city is drawing attention from national media, travelers and rankings from entities like People For Bikes, which calls Tucson the second best large city for bicycling (behind Portland), and Outside magazine, which also ranks Tucson second on its latest list of best places to live. 

“Those are the rankings that stand out to us and show there is recognition for Tucson being a great place to live, work and play,” he said. “There’s been great emergence in demand for cycling activities, and bike tourism has been huge, especially for millennials. Those things go hand in hand – the combination of the great outdoor experiences, the connection to nature, the things we’ve always had – but also the great development we’ve seen in downtown specifically.” 

Sun Corridor Inc., the region’s economic development group, tracks the ever-growing mentions of Tucson on various best-of lists: Top 10 Mid-Sized American Cities of the Future (fDi Intelligence), one of the U.S.’ Fastest Growing Technology Metropolises in 2019 (Oliver Wyman Forum), among the Top 100 Cities in the World (bestcities.org), hippest (msn.com) and most fun (Wallethub) city in Arizona, best college town to invest in (Redfin), second best small city in the U.S. (Resonance Consultancy), top 10 US Cities Where Everyone Wants to Live Right Now (Business Insider), and many more. 

Last September, in its 36 Hours travel column, The New York Times said, “Foodies, cyclists and the aesthetically inclined will find much to like in this desert city, home to a new bike-share system, adobe architecture and restaurants that reflect a mix of cultural influences.” With a host of downtown recommendations within walking distance of one another, the report was a major change from the typical travel coverage of Tucson that centered on golf and resorts. 

“People are looking for those undiscovered places or places they can have an authentic cultural experience. The development we’ve had in downtown has really helped us with that. New restaurants, craft breweries, the arts and music scene have put us on the map with people,” McLaughlin said. “What I always tell people if I’m giving them the elevator pitch why I love Tucson is it’s a place that’s an incredible outdoor community, national parks on either side of the city, mountains surrounding it, but also has those amenities of a big city – nightlife, great restaurants, breweries. It’s that big city-small town nexus that we all enjoy. That balance is pretty rare.” 

9. AUTHENTICITY

For millennials, the main draw of Tucson isn’t limited to the cost of living or size of the city, said Startup Tucson’s Voelkel. 

“There are lots of places like that. Tucson has a pull. Tucson is really unique in that it has been so resolutely different. A lot of cities grew in one particular way. Tucson has been careful in the way it’s grown,” she said. “There’s history, there’s culture, there are so many small businesses and it hasn’t been taken over by the sameness. That feels really special.” 

In terms of the nature and the desert, as well as the arts and culture, Tucson feels “undiscovered,” Voelkel said. 

“There are a lot of layers and depth to the city that you don’t get in a lot of other cities. You can come and be a part of it instead of passively receiving it,” she said. “Tucson isn’t, in a lot of ways, playing catch-up with other cities, but forging its own path. Everyone is very vocally involved and that’s exciting. A lot of other mid-sized cities are just trying to replicate something they’ve seen elsewhere. Tucson is creating something that’s uniquely itself.”

Nicole Dahl, creative director and GM at Hotel McCoy, went to the UA and worked at Hotel Congress in her 20s before moving away in 2012. Revitalization was the talk of downtown in those years, but she didn’t comprehend how long it takes to get plans approved and bring them to fruition. When she returned to Tucson to launch the hotel in 2018, all those changes had arrived.  

“It was neat to move away and come back. I was blown away because downtown had changed so much and to me it felt like overnight. They did such a beautiful job,” she said. “Even though there were all these new buildings and new energy and new businesses, I still walked from Fourth Avenue to downtown and saw familiar friends and the same friendly vibe. Even though Tucson continues to grow and change, we’ve kept that same culture.” 

Tucson was the perfect place to launch her hotel vision. Hotel McCoy, with its vintage style and classic hospitality, is running against the industry trends, seeking to capture visitors who value a more unique landing spot. 

“We’re using the community’s culture to create our hotel. Every piece of art on our walls, from the lobby to the murals, is all Tucson art,” Dahl said. “We have a lot of outsiders who come and are really excited to stay at a place where the Tucson experience doesn’t pause or end when they get to the hotel. They really feel like they’re experiencing their destination.” 

10. DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION &  NEW INFRASTRUCTURE

The streetcar is running. And since the opening of Sun Link’s 3.9-mile route in 2014, there has been more than $1 billion of private and public investment along the corridor, with significant housing, retail and corporate business expansions concentrated near the university and downtown. 

The Loop is complete. And now residents and visitors alike can enjoy the system of paved, shared-use paths and short segments of buffered bike lanes connecting the Rillito, Santa Cruz, and Pantano River Parks with the Julian Wash and Harrison Road Greenways. Completed in January 2018, there is a complete circuit of 53.9 miles surrounding the city, part of a system of more than 120 miles of paved pathways and bike lanes. 

The long-term impact of downtown and neighborhood revitalization will continue to enhance the quality of life. Long anticipated transformation of the urban core has arrived. More than 2,000 employers accounting for 30,000 people working in downtown and more than 2,200 new housing units are being built downtown, according to Sun Corridor. The Downtown Tucson Partnership reports nearly 200 new businesses and private investment projects have arrived in the last few years, including 38 new dining options, 12 new bars and nightclubs and 23 new shops, along with 19 new offices including three new corporate headquarters.

In 2018, city of Tucson voters approved Proposition 407, a $225 million bond package for capital improvements to city parks and connections like pedestrian and bicycle pathways. 

 “It’s pretty exciting to see what the city of Tucson and Tucson voters have voiced support for and made happen. Millennials want transportation options, and those are starting to become a significant reality here and that bodes well for the future,” said Yetman of the Living Streets Alliance. “Prop. 407 is huge because it was all about creating great outdoor spaces in the city and safe, solid connections for people to move in between those destinations on foot and on bike. We’re starting to see Tucson at least put its money where its mouth is and things that are starting to come on line.” 

Last year, Living Streets Alliance created its demonstration “parklet” at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Seventh Street, showing that even small public outdoor spaces can have a big impact on the quality of life. 

“Those are important little flags to plant. We have all these little things that really add up and signal to people that Tucson is a place that’s for you. We’re seeing the seeds that were planted over the last 10 years growing now,” Yetman said. 

“I’m seeing a lot of my peers come back, meet people who grew up here and moved to other places and now are coming back to raise families – and they’re excited to see what Tucson has to offer and see that Tucson has changed in a positive way.” 

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