Cadillac Corner

City stores spare buses for Sun Tran at the former Mackey property on Broadway.

Where DeVilles, Sevilles and Eldorados once glistened on the Cadillac corner at Broadway and Plumer, the city now stashes 40-foot Sun Tran buses pulled from the regular fleet.

Don't bother calling deficit-ridden Sun Tran for the details of five buses tucked behind the former Don Mackey Cadillac showroom and service wall.

Larry Roberts, who has lived on 10th Street behind the Cadillac store for nearly 20 years, tried when he saw a disturbing stream of Sun Tran buses pass by his Sam Hughes neighborhood house one day.

"I thought there was a detour, that they had closed Broadway. I called Sun Tran. They told me they couldn't divulge that information," said Roberts, now able to laugh at the absurdity of Sun Tran's secrecy. Roberts got answers about storage of the buses when he called Michael Guymon, an aide to Republican City Councilman Fred Ronstadt.

Roberts and his neighbors were weary of Mackey. There were the non-stop loudspeaker pages for salesmen and service writers. There were the test drives. There were the deliveries. There were the clanks of dropped tools.

The City Council voted in June 2001 to pay $937,000--the appraised value--to purchase the site from the Cadillac dealer. The city used its share of state gasoline taxes for the 1.76-acre site, showroom and other offices under an early acquisition program that is designed to grab the north side of Broadway between Euclid and Country Club for street widening long planned in the Broadway Corridor Study. The city also paid $470,900 for a short row of commercial property that Broadway Volvo held across the street from its operations.

Mackey, who moved his business to the Tucson Auto Mall, sought $1.27 million even though he had repeatedly petitioned the Pima County Assessor's Office to lower the value to less than half that.

After the deal, Roberts and residents of southern Sam Hughes became wary of the city. "The worst possible scenario from our perspective would be for the city to tear down the existing structure and leave us with a vacant lot," Robert said in a letter to city officials. With no buffer, residents would have faced noise from the 42,000 vehicles that pass on Broadway each day, Roberts said. Limited city use also was preferable to an abandoned building that would soon be full of graffiti and a likely den for street people.

After some general cleanup--the city will spend more than $41,000 for soil work and eventual asbestos removal from the showroom and office building--some limited street maintenance and landscape functions were moved to the former Mackey site.

The showroom became the showplace for the city's delusional "Let's Go Tucson" campaign that, despite its $1.6-million budget, crashed in May when voters killed a 25 percent increase in sales taxes to pay for a 10-year, $400-million transportation plan. Regular transportation briefings are still hosted at the Cadillac showroom.

Demolition, which will require the more costly environmental work to remove, package and dispose of asbestos, is not near. Broadway is to be widened to eight lanes, but the city has no money for the work. Room for light rail is included in the long-range plan.

Pressure by the City Council in 1997, then under Democratic Mayor George Miller, forced the Pima County Board of Supervisors to include $15 million in bonds from the $350 million county voters approved for transportation improvements. That work is on hold, pending city funding of nearly $44 million.

Defeat of the city sales tax measure made that more elusive and, thus, gave extended life to the city's Cadillac corner.

Jim Glock, the city's deputy transportation director and point man in the failed sales tax campaign, said the last thing his department wants to do is rile the neighbors. City use will be low key, he said. One early proposal under consideration is to allow Old Pueblo Trolley to store and restore its units on the site.

The five Sun Tran buses, visible from Plumer, have been moved on paper to a "contingency fleet" and physically to the former Cadillac dealership. They are considered replacement buses, Glock said.

The city received 45 new buses for its 200-bus fleet four years ago. The new buses, which run exclusively on compressed natural gas and are equipped with wheelchair lifts, cost $350,000 each, Glock said. Eighty percent of that is paid with federal transit grants.

Buses are moved out of the fleet after 12 years or 500,000 miles, Glock said. Those that remain are generally stored at the Thomas O. Price Service Center, where space has become limited, causing the move of these five to the Cadillac corner.

Extra buses eventually are auctioned. "They tend to go like hot cakes," Glock said.

A familiar, and worrisome, phrase at Broadway and Plumer.