By Christy Krueger
Despite the pandemic, downtown construction is robust and optimism abounds for its future. New buildings are popping up, parking garages are going in and major renovations are becoming the new norm with plenty more to come.
“We don’t see any slowing down for now,” said Brandi Haga-Blackman, administrative director of Rio Nuevo, the tax increment finance district that helps finance much of downtown’s development.
Rio Nuevo Chairman Fletcher McCusker weighed in on the significant efforts put toward keeping downtown alive this year and going forward. “Rio Nuevo authorized $2.5 million to go directly to merchants impacted by COVID-19. We have distributed about half of that. Expect another round as the virus lingers around. Of note, during the pandemic we have advanced about $350 million of new construction, much of it financed by out-of-town lenders who express real optimism about Tucson’s future.
“Lenders from Utah, Boston, developers from Dallas, Scottsdale and elsewhere are investing in downtown,” McCusker said. “If others believe Tucson will thrive post-pandemic, so should we. We just have to get past the current crisis.”
Here are highlights of new projects opening in the downtown area.
HSL Properties is converting La Placita Village into a six-story, 243-unit, energy-efficient luxury apartment community. Amenities include a rooftop deck, fitness center, movie theater, meditation garden, pet play area and on-site parking. HSL expects construction, led by general contractor Tofel Dent, to be completed in January 2021.
Dabdoub Schwabe Properties will soon begin its latest project – a 19-story mixed-used development that combines new construction and the renovation of existing historic buildings. Ground and second floors are designed for retail and commercial/flex space, while luxury residential apartments will be available on floors 15-18. The remainder will include office space and parking. Residents and workers will find the convenience of modern streetcar stops on both sides of the building. Estimated completion of the project is fall of 2022.
DoubleTree By Hilton Tucson – Downtown
Arizona-based Caliber Companies has developed the 170-room hotel designed by Swaim Associates Architects, with Ryan Companies as the general contractor. Located in the east parking lot of Tucson Convention Center, the hotel features five suites, including a presidential suite, and a second-level swimming pool and bar. It is expected to open in December 2020 and will help fulfill downtown’s need for accommodations near the convention center.
The section of Broadway Boulevard between Euclid Avenue and Country Club Road is known as the Sunshine Mile, the result of a citywide naming contest in 1953. The name faded away for decades, but was brought back in 2012 by a group of area merchants. In May, the Sunshine Mile, once an important high-end shopping district, was added to the National Register of Historic Places, a move that will boost the preservation and rejuvenation of many historic properties while also qualifying them for tax credits.
“Rio Nuevo took the lead to redevelop along Sunshine Mile and acquired several properties,” Haga-Blackman said. In addition, Rio Nuevo is creating development guidelines to ensure the Sunshine Mile is a walkable, enticing entertainment center as it is envisioned.
Tucson Convention Center Renovations
TCC contractors have been busy with numerous projects. Last fall, Lloyd Construction finished work to update the TCC Arena ice rink. This $3.1 million project included a complete replacement of the rink, concrete slab and mechanical and refrigeration systems.
One of two planned new parking garages, TCC East Garage, will be completed by the end of this year as a four-level, pre-cast garage on TCC’s eastside parking lot.
Other improvements underway include upgrades and additions to the main convention complex, Leo Rich Theater and Tucson Music Hall. Eckbo Plaza is undergoing historic landscape restoration with guidance from the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation.