Downtown Update – Construction & Development

By Dan Sorenson –

The completion of the Modern Street Car and the opening of The Cadence student housing were major landmarks in the rebirth of downtown Tucson, but they were only a beginning. Development continues – and there’s much more to come.

Michael Keith, executive director of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, said the last six months saw a lot of hopeful signs including “a bunch more retail.”

Rio Nuevo’s Chair of the Board Fletcher McCusker said the next six months should see the beginning of development of the west end of downtown – every bit as large and maybe even more significant than what has happened on the east end. He said the renovated Tucson Convention Center Arena, together with more exhibition space and a hotel on an adjacent parcel just purchased from Rio Nuevo by developer Allan J. Norville, could bring in new convention business and tie the east end of downtown to the Mercado San Augustín and related development on the west side of Interstate 10.

Here’s a wrap-up of what’s happened over the past six months or so – and what to expect over the coming six months.


  • The $7.8 million first stage of the Tucson Convention Center Arena remodel was completed late last year and a second phase to upgrade the TCC ballroom and related facilities is in the works, according to Rio Nuevo operations manager Michele Bettini. The TCC renovation won the 2015 Project of the Year Award for structures $5M-$25M from the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Public Works Association. It has been submitted to the Arizona APWA, which has not announced award winners.
  • Pizzeria Bianco, 272 E. Congress, opened last summer.
  • Barrio Cuisine, 188 E. Broadway.
  • Pueblo Vida Brewing Company, 115 E. Broadway.
  • Planet Smoothie, 345 E. Congress.
  • Fired Pie, 350 E. Congress.
  • Street Taco & Beer Company, 58 W. Congress (in Enoteca’s former space on the northeast corner of Congress and Church).
  • Three new salons – About ME Hair Studio at 1 E. Broadway, Salon Salon at 410 N. Toole Ave. in the train station and Cut Color Polish at 345 E. Congress.
  • Krikawa Jewelry, 21 E. Congress.
  • The Dusty Monk Pub, 201 N. Court Ave. in Old Town Artisans.
  • Flash in the Past, 43 S. Sixth Ave., a boutique photography studio featuring pinup-style photos. Last Chance, 101 E. Pennington St., a new bar in the basement of Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink.
  • The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress, reopened as a first-run movie theater.
  • The Nook, a breakfast and lunch restaurant, opened at 9 E. Congress in the space formerly occupied by V Modern Thai.


  • Developer Allan Norville’s Nor-Generations, awarded a contract to buy and develop a large Rio Nuevo parcel where the Greyhound Bus terminal is now, is expected to break ground on a portion of the proposed $10 million in new facilities it is required to build in the next three years. Nor-Generations already owns other property there and Norville has announced plans for a 100-plus-room hotel, museums and exhibition space. (See article on p. 35)
  • The Johnny Gibson Downtown Market, 11 S. Sixth Ave., plans to open this spring. “It’s the first new grocery store to open downtown in more than 50 years” and it’s locally owned, said Michael Keith, executive director of the Downtown Tucson Partnership. Keith said 97 percent of all businesses that opened downtown in the last 60 months have been owned either by someone local or from within Arizona.
  • High Wire, a “molecular mixology” cocktail lounge on Arizona Alley behind where Buffalo Exchange was, also could open by April.
  • A 6,500-square-foot retail courtyard and eight-story parking garage are the final phases of the new Pima County Public Service Building, a 290,000-square-foot criminal justice facility featuring 14 courtrooms, judges’ chambers and offices for other county officials.
  • El Rio Community Health Center is working with CDG Architects and BFL Construction Company to restore the Historic Manning House and construct a new three-story building on the property. The $9 million project site will become El Rio’s new Administrative Headquarters, housing more than 200 employees. El Rio will become one of the largest non-government employers in the downtown area with 530 employees at their two sites – The Manning House and Congress Health Center site.
  • A partnership headed by Scott Stiteler, developer of the 200 block of East Congress, expects to break ground on the 136-room, eight-story AC Hotel by Marriott behind Hub and Playground. (See article on p. 36)
  • Stiteler said he also expects to keep the space formerly known as District Tavern, 260 E. Congress, as “a dive bar. District Bar will remain a dive bar. You cannot develop a dive bar. We’ll be really careful not to mess it up, not overpolish it.”
  • The Rio Nuevo District accepted an offer from the Rialto Foundation to purchase the Rialto Theatre for $1.3 million. The Foundation has pledged to spend another $300,000 for renovations to the theater.
  • Expect an announcement of a new tenant for the space formerly occupied by Saint House, 256 E. Congress, Stiteler said.
  • The Factory, an ice cream parlor on the north side of Congress across from Hub, also is coming soon.
  • There could be a groundbreaking on new apartments or other residential development across from Saint Augustine Cathedral. Anne Lawrence, asset manager for Tucson-based Holualoa Companies, would only confirm that the property – two parking lots totaling 55,000 square feet – is in escrow and that “we are looking at what can be done. We are planning to build market-rate housing downtown.” She said that might mean apartments and row houses, but emphasized the “might.”

Rio Nuevo’s McCusker said such a project would be a significant first. “It’s a huge benchmark for downtown, for the ultimate success of downtown, when somebody like that is willing to invest in purely residential property. The focus isn’t just on the hotels, but on residential because that’s what really makes a downtown work. You get people who want to live there and buy property there and pay market rate for condos. So that’s the first time we’ve seen a major developer commit to a major downtown residential complex.”

  • Independent Distillery should open soon on Arizona Avenue, the alley between Congress and Broadway east of South Sixth Avenue, DTP’s Keith said.
  • Also expect to see proposals come forth on the reworking of the Ronstadt Transit Center, Keith said. It could be moved to the end of that 4.6-acre site, nearer to the Union Pacific tracks, or not move at all depending on the plans of the developers bidding on the city deal. But Keith said the center will stay on that site.
  • Keith also expects groundbreaking for some townhouses on the west side of the Mercado San Augustín.
  • Renovations have begun to create luxury apartments in the Chase Bank Building annex, Keith said.
  • Local artist Jeff Ferst’s gallery – Artful Living at One East Broadway – also should be open in the next 90 days, according to Keith.
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