New Life for the ‘Marketplace’

Town West Investing in the Business Center

By Dave Perry

Reimagination of Oro Valley Marketplace is moving from concept to construction, with the first building activity in nearly 15 years about to begin.

“This center is hopefully coming of age,” said Jim Horvath, chairman and founder of Marketplace owner Town West Companies. “We’re bringing it to life.”

After years of negotiation and public review, Town West has secured permission to build as many as 560 apartments, two hotels, and up to 200,000 square feet of additional retail space at the Marketplace at North Oracle Road and Tangerine Road.

The first to rise will be a hotel, the four-story Hampton Inn and Suites on land near Oracle Road close to the former Red Lobster restaurant. It is being built and managed by HSL Properties and its subsidiaries. Permits are in final review. Construction may begin in August; work should take about a year.

Soon after, Town West and its partners expect to start on two apartment communities with 472 total units. Both are slated for already-scraped ground, one property south of Tangerine Road across from Oro Valley Hospital, another west of Oracle and north of the former Red Lobster and Chase Bank buildings.

Horvath believes construction of the two- and three-story garden-style apartments can begin in December. It’ll take two years to be “fully done.”

Later, Town West is going to create a central park and events space. “We’re excited about getting that all done,” Horvath said. And, along with the investment, Town West plans “a whole new rebranding of the center,” from Oro Valley Marketplace to Oro Valley Village Center.

The 114-acre Marketplace, with 800,000 square feet of retail space, has languished for years. While Walmart Supercenter remains its busy anchor, big-box retailers Best Buy and Dick’s Sporting Goods have closed. Horvath is pleased to see smaller retail and professional businesses come in. But the Marketplace, approved in 2006 and built from 2007 through 2010 at the height of recession has needed new concepts and energy.

“It has been on the town council’s radar for quite a while,” Horvath said. “They’ve been trying to reposition that property and work with the owner to bring it back to life. They’ve worked with us. It’s been hard. We’ve had to go through COVID, and that slowed things down.”

While Horvath recognizes there is an anti-growth segment to the town, he said he appreciates decision-makers who have “overcome that for this particular property and feel this is an area where development should occur.”

“Development, as well as housing, commercial and hotels, should thrive (at the center). That’s good for the town, good for the revenue of the town, good for us, and good for everybody.”

There are few retail centers in greater Tucson that rival the Marketplace for size, access to major roads, scenery, and proximity to employment. It “should be a central entertainment and lifestyle center for all of Oro Valley,” Horvath said. “It could be a really booming area, and it really needs the housing.”

“When you have 1,200 to 1,500 people living on site,” their daily lives bring “activity and excitement,” Horvath said. “They’re dining, shopping for groceries, going to the movie theater, buying furniture, exercising. It’s all within walking distance. It’s really a great amenity for the apartment dwellers, and vice versa, it’s great to have that activity for the retail.”

Prospective tenants are expressing “a lot of interest,” Horvath said. “We’re really thrilled about the demand for retail space.”

Dollar Tree has newly opened within an idle big-box space on the Marketplace’s east side. Surf-Thru Express Car Wash is going to build on 1½ acres close to In-N-Out near the Marketplace’s southern edge.

“Generally speaking, everyone’s doing well in Oro Valley,” Horvath said. “Our retailers are doing well.” But, he emphasizes, “there has to be enough demand. The population base and the density have to catch up.”

Town West is “thrilled we’ve gotten it to this point, and we’re very excited about the future of this property, of Oro Valley in general, and the community out there, in every way,” Horvath said. “We really want to make a difference in the community, and have a positive influence, as we have always tried to do.”

Current tenants are excited

Hotels and apartments at the Marketplace are “going to really grow the whole community,” said Hector Martinez, who owns The Hoppy Vine with his wife Marnel. When they considered where to open their beer and wine business, they looked at the Marketplace, and thought “let’s get into the ground floor, literally.”

On first look, the Marketplace “hadn’t seemed like a very exciting place to be,” said Crispin Jeffrey-Franco, who owns and operates Stacks Book Club with his wife Lizzy. But, when the couple learned of the impending reinvention of the Marketplace, “we liked the idea of being able to get in and grow our business along with the Marketplace’s growth.”

Jeffrey-Franco can draw “a direct line between traffic and revenue.” The more vehicles, the “more opportunity to convert those cars into paying customers.”

Hotel guests “are coming and looking and buying somewhere,” said longtime tenant Wendy Wise of Wendy Wise State Farm. “They are our future customers.”

When Josh Bishop left the relative security of managing The Keg to open Fork + Fire Smokehouse and Taproom, “I didn’t take that risk merely to survive,” he said. “I think this can come to fruition. It’s a leap of faith. I think the town of Oro Valley can do it.”


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