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Saturday, December 20, 2014 | Last updated: 11:52pm

Downtown Tucson: dangerous money pit for all involved



The downtown district of any city is often its heart. From preserving artifacts in museums to offering visitor information, describing how life once was, a “downtown” in any city evokes nostalgia, allowing tourists to reconnect with an area’s past.

Sometime between becoming a Spanish outpost and the launch of the Rio Nuevo project, downtown Tucson became the epitome of sketchy. It’s not just because some of the buildings look as if they were transported from a minefield. Downtown Tucson also has its share of vacant buildings, graffiti galore and vagrants homesteading on the Joel D. Valdez Main Library lawn. This isn’t exactly the vision you want to present to wayfarers, government officials or venture capitalists. Downtown Tucson is a haunting image.

Last week’s town hall meeting with J.C. Mutchler, chair of the Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee, and Andrew Comrie, UA interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, discussed the future of the UA’s strategic plan.

Currently, the plan strives to “expand student experience, advance knowledge through creative inquiry and collaboration, and to forge novel connections that will impact our community.” With regards to increasing the number of UA students who stay in Tucson, topics ranged from offering more internship opportunities for university students to providing more “hands-on” projects in classes.

In particular, the Downtown Tucson Partnership may successfully contribute to the execution of this strategic plan, which could potentially lead to a resurrection of downtown Tucson. At the meeting, it was mentioned that one way to launch the plan in this direction would be to offer a UA degree plan downtown.

A degree plan in downtown Tucson? Really? Native Tucsonans know better than anyone that no matter what restoration projects have been launched, the downtown sector remains, for the most part, unsuitable in a variety of ways.

Here’s the problem: In theory, a degree plan focused on downtown Tucson sounds like a great way to integrate the floundering, historic district of Tucson with the thriving, university community. In reality, the project, like all others before it, will be unsustainable. Soon after its introduction, a downtown degree plan will transform into another unending cycle, a bottomless money pit. This time, however, the project would be dependent upon the UA for resources.

Just a few years ago, the Downtown Tucson Partnership spearheaded a Tucson First Night celebration. First Night was designed to be the inexpensive, family-friendly, community alternative to hardcore partying for ringing in the New Year. The program turned out to be a flop and died by 2010. Likewise, the Rio Nuevo project has been racked with scandal and accomplished very little for Southern Arizona.

I’m all for finding a way to make downtown Tucson something residents are not ashamed of, a place they actually want to show off, but pumping money into downtown via college students and the UA is not realistic. The idea of a restored downtown Tucson has no trouble attracting advocates, but the neighborhood has been unable to successfully retain businesses and customers. The majority of people normally go downtown for specific reasons, such as to watch performances or take care of legal matters. The UA needs to think very carefully and have a definitive plan of action before it decides to participate in any projects involving the bottomless money pit that is downtown Tucson.

—Stephanie Zawada is a chemistry and pre-business sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @StephanieZawada


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