Forward, To the Past

Plans For the Historic West University Area Look A Lot Like Half A Century Ago.

By Dave Devine

FIFTY YEARS AGO, a thriving neighborhood existed just west of the University of Arizona's Park Avenue main gate.

Dozens of single-family homes, including Coach "Pop" McKale's on Second Street, were part of the well-kept area. Fraternities and small apartment complexes were scattered around. Groceries were available from the Select Market on Third Street, and several restaurants, including the Varsity Inn and the Copper Kettle, were nearby.

But time took its toll. Historic structures were demolished to make way for parking lots; high-rise UA dormitories replaced the homes along Fifth Street; and many old buildings that did manage to avoid the wrecking ball went unmaintained.

Currents A strip of shops along Third Street, eventually renamed University Boulevard, still remained from the earlier era. But some of the merchants experienced hard times, especially with the disappearance of students in the summer.

A decade ago, however, the character of the area began to improve. The Geronimo Hotel went from a rundown flophouse to a redone retail center. Some of the historic homes still standing were rehabilitated as offices. Eventually, UA officials constructed an administration building next to a new multi-story hotel. Now there's a parking garage nearby, and some busy new retail shops.

And change continues apace. According to Tom Warne, development consultant to the philanthropic Marshall Foundation, which controls much of the property in the area, three additional phases of improvements are slated.

  • The first will be concentrated south of University Boulevard and will involve creating another parking garage, building housing for married students, turning Tyndall Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly street and installing additional landscaping.

    The garage, housing and streetscape improvements will be official UA projects. University brass, along with Warne and others, will soon be overseeing the preparation of a master plan for the area, which should be completed by the end of November.

    The master plan will detail ideas which have been discussed for several years with local residents and merchants and which were approved in concept a few months ago by the Arizona Board of Regents. A 1,200-space parking garage will be built near the Geronimo Hotel, approximately 150 units of married-student housing would rise on an existing parking lot between Fourth and Fifth streets, and Tyndall Avenue will be heavily landscaped and narrowed.

    Some questions have been raised about the married-student housing project. People living at the University's Christopher City facility, who would be relocated if the housing project is built, have doubts about the proposal. But residents of the adjacent West University neighborhood seem generally supportive of the concept.

    Tom Bergin, chair of the local Historic District Advisory Board, praises Warne's past efforts in the area. "Our board is appreciative that we could review the plans," he said, "since they were outside of the historic district. Warne has been good to work with."

    One possible controversial point in the redevelopment program will be the fate of a few historic structures, dilapidated and badly in need of repair, located near Euclid and Fourth Street. The future of these privately owned buildings will be considered during the preparation of the master plan.

    In addition to living units for married couples, the University is also looking at supplying replacement housing for the families with children currently residing at Christopher City. The UA folks have held discussions with Tucson Unified School District officials about using the current TUSD parking lot on Tenth Street as the site for these 150 units, but nothing has been finalized.

    Assuming the timeline for the proposed master plan is followed, the Board of Regents could be asked to approve both the parking garage and the housing projects at their January meeting. If the TUSD site proposal hasn't been finalized by then, the University may ask for assistance from a developer to locate a site somewhere in the vicinity.

    Warne hopes the parking garage will be completed by the end of next year. Construction of the married-student housing complex would begin after that.

  • The second phase of the effort, which Warne is shooting to have finished by the summer of 2000, would be to demolish buildings along Park Avenue that once housed the University's Arid Land Studies program and some small retail establishments. A combination of offices and commercial uses would occupy newly developed space, along with a six-to-eight screen movie theater. Warne says he's negotiating with an out-of-town management company to operate the theater, which would show primarily art and foreign films.

    This phase of the process would also include running the historic trolley around the block and providing handicap accessibility to the trolley cars. In addition, the existing parking lot at Second Street and Tyndall would be replaced with an outdoor plaza.

  • The final phase of the project will be to restore the existing shops along the north side of University Boulevard to the way they looked when Louise Marshall had them constructed decades ago. Warne says this effort will begin immediately upon completion of the second phase.

    Area merchants are concerned about the impact on their business during the construction period. Other worries focus on the type of retail tenants which would occupy the newly remodeled stores. Warne insists he wants a mixture of local and national retailers. "It's got to happen that way." he says, adding that the ultimate goal is to "redevelop an urban village with services and various modes of transportation to serve both the University and the surrounding neighborhood."


 Page Back  Last Issue  Current Week  Next Week  Page Forward

Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Books | Cinema | Back Page | Archives

Weekly Wire    © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth