Honoring History, Forging Ahead

Tucson Convention Center Unveils $100 Million Renovation

By Tom Leyde

After an impressive 11-year, $100-million renovation, the Tucson Convention Center is a state-of-the-art facility primed for the future.

City officials and invited guests celebrated the grand changes on Feb. 15 with tours of the updated facility. The city worked with Rio Nuevo, Tucson’s tax increment finance district, to complete the innovative project.

“In my role at Rio Nuevo, we’ve been proud of what we’ve accomplished at this particular site,” said Rio Nuevo Chairman Fletcher McCusker. “It now hosts over half a million people a year at various exhibits, concerts and trade shows.”

The Rio Nuevo District was formed in 1999, and the Tucson Convention Center, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was designated as a priority for funding to bring it to a nationally competitive level.

Among the improvements to renovate the entire complex include:

  • 233,000 square feet of new and refurbished meeting and event space.
  • Increased venue capacity.
  • New public walkways and gathering places.
  • Water features, sculptures and hardscape, and new eco-friendly landscaping.
  • Two parking garages.
  • Digital touch points with more than 70 additional display screens and way finders.
  • The addition of the Doubletree Hotel.
  • Arena renovations.
  • Renovation of the Linda Ronstadt Music Hall.
  • A new ceiling and chandeliers in the main ballroom along with new wall partitions and tile floors.

High-tech capabilities also were added to the mix of improvements. Wi-Fi and digital signage for branding opportunities, as well as the ability to integrate with apps for participants visiting Tucson in person or virtually.

Coming this year will be the acquisition and restoration of the historic Sosa-Carrillo-Fremont House, which is located within the TCC complex. The historic adobe house was built in the 1870s and is one of the oldest buildings in Tucson. It was built following the incorporation of Tucson in 1871 by the Government Land Office and the development of city blocks.

The house, a prime example of Sonoran and Territorial architecture, was nearly destroyed due to urban renewal. But the Tucson Heritage Foundation and Arizona Historical Society successfully fought to have it historically preserved. Today, it serves as a museum.

The site of the TCC was the former Tucson Barrio, and building it displaced roughly 800 people who were living in historic adobe homes and running businesses in the area. In a meaningful nod to history, city officials wanted to honor and acknowledge that in launching TCC’s next chapter.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said, “It’s important that we ground ourselves in acknowledging the stories of these lands. I find comfort in knowing that the (history) of the families of those who lived here will continue.”

Augmented reality is helping to relay the history. AR is the integration of information with the user’s environment in real time. That means users can experience a real-world environment with generated perceptual information overlayed on top of it.

Through an app that can be downloaded to a smart phone, laptop or tablet, TCC visitors can take a narrated walking tour of the 27-acre TCC campus and see photos of historic adobes where they once stood.

Three tech companies made the center updates happen. KLA Laboratories of Dearborn, Mich. installed the hardware. Tru-Xperience of Las Vegas created the graphics and Rypplzz of Los Angeles produced the augmented reality.

Marc David Pinate, producing artistic director at Borderlands Theater in Tucson, curated the app project.

“The dream was that Tucsonans and visitors and nanas and their grandkids can walk through … with their phone and be transported in time … to find themselves surrounded by life-size adobe homes and markets right where they actually stood,” Pinate said.

“I’m really happy that we got to this place that we only imagined …,” Romero said. “This action makes such a difference to this community. It will start an incredible and necessary healing process.”

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