Sunday, April 05, 2009

Another Unsolicited Note to Tucson's City Planners

On Saturday, the Daily Star reported that Congress Street--the main artery through Downtown, and home to business anchors Hotel Congress, the Rialto Theater, Grill, Chicago Store, Hydra, and the Fox Theater--will close for six months for sidewalk improvements and the installation of tracks for the hoped-to-be-iconic streetcar. Fine, the business owners said, we get that it's gotta be done, but could it please be done over the summer when business is slow anyway? Sure, said the City of Tucson, and then, without explanation, announced that the project's been put on hold. Indefinitely.
City Manager Mike Hein and others were vague about why they put the brakes on and said there is no timetable for getting the project restarted.

Hein said funding, other street work in progress and the timeline for recruiting new businesses Downtown ... are why it's impossible to predict when the project will go forward.

Let me see if I got this. The city was poised to get cranking on the final piece of the Downtown/4th Avenue underpass renovations that were supposed to bring people Downtown and make the place more appealing to established winners like Janos Wilder, Tucson's certified rock star of a chef, and then suddenly decided it isn't quite ready after all and can't really say when it might be ready? Meanwhile, Janos is planning on opening by the end of the year, which may or may not put his ribbon-cutting ceremony smack dab in the middle of a closed street populated mainly by backhoes.


On Wednesday I took my visiting family members to Barrio Brewing Co. for drinks. Barrio is a local brewery/bar situated in an old warehouse next to the train tracks southwest of Downtown proper, and by all appearances it's hanging on pretty well even in this crappy economy. We sat on the shady porch, sucked down a few quality beers, hoped a train would go by, and decided it's too bad for Downtown that this awesome little place is stuck in the middle of an industrial zone next to 17th Street Market instead of in some funky space closer to Congress Street. It would be a perfect nugget to build a public space around. People like historic buildings connected to their city's past, as long as the plumbing works and the ceiling's not likely to fall in. They like comfortable, shaded outdoor places to sit with drinks and food. And they like it when those drinks and food are very very tasty, and are probably put in the mood to stick around a while and shop once their bellies are full and their livers start to fall asleep. Why haven't you brought us here before? they asked. We want to come back next time we're in town.

That should be music to any city planner's ears. Jim Counts (of Nimbus Brewery) tried to play that angle up, but probably went too far in trying to tie a condo development to his proposed downtown brewpub, both of which fizzled back in '06 when the city said go for it but you gotta show us the cash in 90 days.

Can everybody listen up now? The city and Counts are locked in another pissing contest, with the city holding up the liquor license Counts wants for the Sam Hughes neighborhoodcorner taproom he opened a couple months ago that is currently nearing its death throes due to being limited to subs and soft drinks, neither of which are putting a significant dent in the traffic heading to Bob Dobbs' across the street. Everybody just stop already and give Counts his license for a place downtown somewhere on Congress--lord knows there are plenty of empty storefronts with adjacent vacant lots left by the demolition of one historic structure after another that would be perfect for a brewpub and roomy outdoor beer garden--and let the beer start flowing and the food start marching out of the kitchen and people might start coming. My out-of-town relatives are willing to give it a shot. Just imagine what might have been if the spring training stadium had been built down there too rather than next to juvie on Ajo Way.

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