Business owners, streetcar revitalize downtown Tucson
Public and private investment in downtown Tucson has significantly increased since 2008 and is expected to continue to do so through 2014, according to a five-year economic development report for downtown Tucson.
While the majority of public investment took place in 2011 with streetcar construction, an estimated $209 million in private investment between 2008 and 2013 also contributes to the attempt to revitalize downtown Tucson. The estimated public investment is $589 million for the five year period.
“It’s exceeding even my expectations at this point,” said Michael Keith, chief executive officer of Downtown Tucson Partnership.
Downtown Tucson Partnership was created in 1998 to enhance “security, maintenance, marketing, festivals and events and economic development,” according to its website.
Tucson business owners are either opening new concepts downtown or adding downtown locations to their businesses. From bars, restaurants and coffee shops to publishing companies and student housing complexes, downtown Tucson will have 141 new businesses in the five year period, 48 of them restaurants and bars, Keith said.
“I think that a lot of people see that there’s a great potential here,” said Kate Preble, co-owner of Brewd, a coffee house on Sixth Avenue near Congress Street. “Not just for the students but for everyone.”
Preble opened the coffee house in January 2012 and said her decision had nothing to do with the streetcar. Rather, she wanted Tucsonans and students to have an alternative to bars and nightclubs, especially those who are not yet 21 years old. She remains optimistic about the streetcar and hopes that it will motivate more students to explore the downtown area, she added.
John Jacobs, a member of Congress Street Club, said that downtown is expected to be the most expensive commercial real estate in Tucson once the streetcar is running. Congress Street Club owns seven concepts along congress including Sapphire Lounge, Zen Rock and Empire Pizza.
“Once roads open up the future of downtown is very bright,” Jacobs said. “For businesses to invest and help develop downtown right now, it’s a good investment. We want to be a part of that.”
Keith said he believes the streetcar was a deciding factor for many business owners to start a business in downtown Tucson rather than another state’s urban area.
“The streetcar corridor is the calling card we’ve been waiting for that says to young professionals, don’t pick Austin, don’t move to Portland, stay in Tucson,” Keith said.
The report estimated that more than 10,000 construction jobs have been created in the five-year period. Permanent jobs in the new and relocated businesses total 1,626, according to the report.
Other public investment projects include parking garages, a new court house that’s currently under construction and the Fourth Avenue underpass.
Preble believes once Tucson’s downtown is more developed, the city will have an urban core while still having rural areas with great views, she said.
“Now we’ve got the best of both worlds and we don’t have all of the trappings of the big city,” Preble said.