MPA’s 25 Years as Facilitator and Connector for Southern Arizona
By Romi Carrell Wittman
“Rising tides raise all ships. Many hands make light work. A problem shared is a problem halved.”
Those three passages – the first one used frequently by President John F. Kennedy − have come to express that people and organizations can accomplish more and do things better when they work together. It’s been the focus of the non-profit Metropolitan Pima Alliance for the past 25 years.
MPA has served as a driving force for responsible growth and development throughout Southern Arizona by connecting key stakeholders and fostering collaborative discussions. Doing that leads to comprehensive solutions that consider the impact on the environment, the local economy and the quality of life of people in the region.
Since its inception, MPA has grown to become a respected, influential organization and now has more than 150 members, including real estate developers, architects, planners, utilities and community leaders. Together, the stakeholders work to positively and sustainably promote the region through education, advocacy and collaboration.
MPA’s impact can be seen in a number of significant projects. The organization played a crucial role in the creation of the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District, which has been instrumental in the revitalization of Downtown Tucson. Additionally, MPA has been involved in the creation of the Chuck Huckleberry Loop, a 131-mile trail system that connects the region’s parks and communities. Most recently, it played a role in the redevelopment proposal for the Oro Valley Marketplace by connecting town officials, community members and developers.
“Organizations like MPA bring forward an education piece for the community that demonstrates best practices and what sustainable living looks like in other communities and what it could look like here. That helps move projects forward,” said Keri Silvyn, partner at Lazarus & Silvyn, a land-use law firm involved with the Oro Valley Marketplace revitalization project.
Under the direction of new owner TownWest, Oro Valley Marketplace will be redeveloped to include residential, hotel, retail and recreational spaces. Silvyn said MPA has been a key part of the project’s success by connecting and educating.
Founded by a small group of businessmen in 1997, MPA was created in response to a growing need for a collaborative, community-driven approach to real estate development and land-use planning. At the time, there was growing public concern that development in the region was happening without adequate input from the community or consideration for the impact on the environment.
Taking inspiration from the Phoenix-based Valley Partnership, MPA’s founders saw an opportunity to create a platform where businesses, government officials and community members could work together.
Michael Grassinger, principal consultant with The Planning Center and past MPA Board Chair, was at the proverbial – and in this case literal – table when MPA was formed. While having dinner at The Iron Mask − today Kingfisher occupies the space − Grassinger, Allen Lurie and Frank Thompson sketched out their concept for what would become MPA.
“Our goal was to create an organization that was educational and a place for all parties to communicate what their concerns were and try to work things out,” Grassinger said.
Terry Klipp of Terramar Properties also was a key player in MPA’s early days. “Land use was a very divisive topic,” he said. “Tucson has been a growth/no-growth town for 50 years or more.”
As a result, there was growth with-out robust planning and there were many unhappy community members and businesspeople.
The MPA founders knew that involving both public and private sectors was critical to the organization’s long-term success, so they sought out a diverse group of members to represent virtually all aspects of the community. Early advocates of MPA included the Tucson Association of Realtors and the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association – two groups that are still strong supporters. Today, Pima Association of Governments, Tucson Electric Power and the University of Arizona are also represented on MPA’s board and its membership reflects the region’s diversity and uniqueness.
Ryan Stucki, SVP at Engineering & Environment Consultants and current MPA board chair, said, “Conversations began happening that didn’t used to happen. We can show that there has been success in providing that connectivity. Most of the government agencies proactively come to MPA now to get input.”
But there is still work to be done.
MPA board member Linda Morales of the Planning Center said communication and collaboration will always be a work in progress and MPA has positioned itself to address it head-on.
“MPA frames issues around the goal of making Tucson a better place,” she said. “MPA brings the community together to have intelligent conversations around promoting sustainable development and healthy communities. We’ve made strides, but we still have a ways to go.”
MPA hosts monthly policy meetings, quarterly educational events and workshops to provide the latest information on market trends and policy issues. In 2020, MPA created a new educational program known as “Immersion” with the goal of providing attendees in-depth knowledge regarding each component of the construction, real estate and development sectors in Southern Arizona. These programs and events also serve to help stakeholders who share the common goal of uplifting the region to network.
Robin Shambach said these events along with her time on the MPA board and serving as board chair were invaluable. “MPA is fact- and content-driven and they host high-quality events that provide really good data,” she said. “The connections and trust these events – and MPA – foster make healthy collaboration possible.”
MPA also believes in celebrating the community’s wins. With that in mind, it created the annual Common Ground Awards. The event honors and celebrates collaborative efforts in real estate development and land-use planning in the region. Awards are given to outstanding projects that demonstrate how diverse stakeholders have worked together to achieve common goals and create a positive impact on the community.
Priscilla Storm was the Diamond Ventures representative on the MPA board when she came up with the idea to “recognize land development projects that worked with stakeholders” and shared the idea with the board and staff.
“Working together, MPA’s Common Ground Award and event concept was developed,” Storm said. “The first Common Ground event established a series of major project categories and solicited applications that included extensive public, private and non-profit collaboration and showed how compromise and innovation could produce shared success.”
Hector Jimenez, owner of Central Barrio Development, won a Common Ground award for The Flash project. Built in 1965, Flash TV served Tucsonans for decades before falling into disuse. Jimenez re-envisioned the historic property as an affordable housing option combining residential with workspaces. Working with a very tight budget, Jimenez successfully saw the project through. The City of Tucson has cited the project as a model for others, one that has set the stage for future projects.
“Winning a Common Ground award was a validation of the hard work that we spent years putting in,” Jimenez said.
This year’s awards take place May 18 at the Fox Theater Tucson. CHASSE Building Team is the presenting sponsor.
“As a company, when we began establishing roots and a home office in Tucson over 10 years ago, it was clear to us this community was not like others in Arizona,” said Leigh-Anne Harrison, executive director at CHASSE. “We attribute this difference, this desire to solve, rather than create problems, to the notion of Working together for the common good. This is what MPA’s Common Ground Awards celebrate and why we were so excited to celebrate 25 years of collaboration and growth.”
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