When he left a citizens' advisory committee meeting regarding the Downtown Links roadway a few weeks ago, Mark Berman thought his Benjamin Plumbing Supply business was doomed to a forced relocation.
The $76 million Links project (www.downtownlinks.info) will slice across the northern edge of downtown, connecting the Barraza-Aviation Parkway with Interstate 10. Based on what was decided at the Aug. 10 meeting, Berman believed his business would lose vehicular access, and he'd be forced to move.
But now, thanks to some political intervention, Berman says things are looking much more hopeful.
After the citizens' committee meeting, Berman assumed he would have to abandon the historic Tucson Warehouse and Transfer Building at Sixth Street and Seventh Avenue. He owns that massive structure and rents out some other space on the same block to various businesses, including a number of arts-related organizations.
With its designer fixtures and other specialty items, Benjamin Supply has been a downtown institution for almost 60 years, in several locations. Despite those deep roots in the area, Berman has thought for some time that his chances for staying in the Transfer building were slim. (See "Funky Places," Sept. 4, 2008.) Then, based on a recent modification in the alignment of the proposed roadway, Berman concluded he would definitely be forced out.
"The real problem," Berman says about the alterations to the proposed roadway design, "was there's no access to my property. ... It came down to: I'm out of business, because there's no other place to put the road."
The projected alignment was going to eliminate the possibility of 18-wheeler trucks delivering to his business. Even though he and his architect had tried over the past several months to work something out with the project-design consultants, Berman firmly believed those efforts had failed.
He didn't even say anything at the August meeting, since he thought the issue was decided.
"I didn't speak," Berman remembers, "because it didn't matter what I'd say. ... The city controls the committee."
Instead, Berman began making plans to vacate. He says he received an estimate that it would cost more than $1 million to move his business, including its extensive inventory of plumbing supplies and fixtures.
At the same time, he shakes his head over the fact that the city of Tucson was forcing him out. "I've spent my life in business downtown," Berman says, "and I want to stay here." He calculates that more than $300,000 of his total revenue went into city coffers last year, including the downtown Rio Nuevo redevelopment effort.
In a last-ditch effort to stay on Sixth Street, Berman last week met with Councilwoman Nina Trasoff to discuss his plight. In addition to his architect and attorney, he says, there were six city representatives in attendance.
"We had a shockingly good meeting," Berman exclaims of the get-together. "It literally could not have gone better."
While a few buildings on the southern end of his property will have to be removed as part of the roadway work, Berman has hopes that the other businesses can remain.
"The city is willing to move the road far enough," Berman says of the results of the meeting, "and keep me in business. I heard things I never heard before."
Tucson's transportation director, Jim Glock, participated in the gathering and explains: "We got a better understanding of what his (Berman's) needs are. Our goal is to maintain his business viability."
To do that, Glock says, a couple of options will be analyzed. The first involves changing the connection of the Downtown Links roadway with Sixth Street, from a 90-degree intersection to one at a "skew."
"That gives more room to move the road a little way more from the structure," Glock explains of the Transfer building.
The second change is more substantial: Instead of dead-ending Seventh Street on the south side of the block, the possibility of connecting the street into the new LINKS roadway will be explored. Doing that would allow trucks to access Berman's business from the south when Sixth Avenue, as planned, becomes a two-way street.
Sounding optimistic, Trasoff hopes things work out.
"I think we'll do everything possible within the guidelines set by the committee," she says of keeping Benjamin Supply where it is. "We don't want to lose them as part of the greater downtown area."
Architect Corky Poster also hopes the business stays put. His firm just completed a Land Use and Urban Design Plan for the entire length of the Links roadway.
The City Council was scheduled to consider the plan earlier this week. "Our thought all along was that Benjamin Supply is a real asset, and we assumed they would stay," Poster says.
Mark Berman thinks that is looking much more likely now.
"My architect had more interaction (at the recent meeting with roadway engineers) than he has in the last six months. I bet in a month, we'll have some concepts (for the roadway)," Berman says.
Berman can only speculate about what caused the sudden change.
"The city knew what it needed to do," he says, "but didn't want to do it until pushed."