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Pima County is set to approve funding for two long-awaited neighborhood projects

To say the residents of Five Points have waited a while to get this wish granted would be an understatement.

"A lot of people who started this process were in their 60s, and some of them have (since) died," said John Burr, president of the Armory Park Neighborhood Association. "I've been working on this since 2003, but Armory Park has been working on this since the mid-'70s."

Burr is referring to sidewalk and lighting improvements long wanted and needed for the neighborhoods around Five Points, the area just south of downtown Tucson where 18th Street intersects Stone and Sixth avenues.

The final piece of funding, just under $497,000, was slated to be authorized on Tuesday, Feb. 21, by the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

Also expected to be approved on Feb. 21 was $500,000 for a lighted walking path around Freedom Park, per the request of the 29th Street Weed and Seed Coalition.

Both projects are being funded by the final chunks of a $20 million allocation in the county's 2004 bond election for its Neighborhood Reinvestment Program. These small capital-improvement projects, capped at a half-million dollars each, are meant to fill in the gaps in areas that larger city and county projects didn't reach, NRP program coordinator Tony Reis said.

"These are grassroots projects," said Reis, who since 2007 has been working with members of the Five Points Neighborhood Coalition—made up business owners and representatives from the Armory Park, Barrio Santa Rita, Barrio Santa Rosa and Barrio Viejo neighborhoods. "The neighborhoods select the projects. We don't go in there. We let them tell us what they want."

Among the projects approved with 2004 bond funding and already completed: skate parks in Ajo and Picture Rocks; a steel-covered basketball court cover at the Oury Recreation Center near Interstate 10 and St. Mary's Road; and a pediatric health clinic in the Continental area, near Green Valley.

For Five Points, the decision was made long ago that what each of the neighborhoods needed was proper lighting and completed sidewalks.

"We thought that if we put in lighting, and made sure all of the sidewalks actually functioned ... that people could access that as a gateway into downtown," Burr said. "These are all public rights of way, and the funds have been promised for years, but the funding hasn't always been there."

The bond money will go toward the installation of 53 lights within Five Points, with each fixture meant to add a source of sidewalk lighting that the area's current road-centric street lights don't provide. The bond is one of four funding sources, totaling more than $1.8 million, that the community has secured to help with lighting, sidewalks, pedestrian-activated stoplights at crosswalks, and artistic improvements.

Such improvements will help reduce neighborhood blight, which is in line with a long-term goal of the reinvestment program, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said.

"If we get them back (in shape), that increases their value and improves the tax base," he said.

The project at Freedom Park is expected to help get area residents back in shape, said Vickie Mesimer, a member and past president of the 29th Street Weed and Seed Coalition, which has representatives from the Alvernon Heights, Julia Keen, Myers, Naylor and Roberts neighborhoods.

The 3,600-foot-long asphalt walking path lining Freedom Park (on 29th Street just east of Swan Road) will give seniors and children a place to walk, run and do other forms of exercise, Mesimer said. Such an opportunity doesn't currently exist at the well-used park.

"A walking path was a natural step," said Mesimer, adding that step-outs along the path will have educational elements, such as information about the history of the Myers neighborhood. A hummingbird garden is also planned, as are markers that identify native plants along the path. "There's an idea going around to connect the city with walking parks, and this could connect to Swan Park and to the (Eckstrom-Columbus) library. It just flows naturally."

Tuesday's expected vote would only authorize the funding for the Five Points and Freedom Park projects; when the city will put the projects out to bid is uncertain. The county's plan for neighborhood reinvestment has the projects slated to be finished by September and December 2012, respectively, but those dates may be overly ambitious.

What is more certain: Whenever Pima County holds its next bond election—Huckelberry said last week it wouldn't be until 2013 or 2014—it will probably include another neighborhood-reinvestment program.

Said program coordinator Reis: "We do a survey with the neighborhoods after (a project is complete), and they've all been thrilled with everything that's aspired from our program."

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