It's hard to argue against mining and construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar and the 600 well-paying jobs it plans to bring to Tucson over the next five years, along with the estimated $600 million in economic impact the upcoming regional headquarters could generate in Southern Arizona.
Still, some residents of the historic west side neighborhood Menlo Park are worried about gentrification, hikes in property taxes and rental rates and environmental degradation, as well as questions of the benefit of supporting a project that won't generate sales-tax revenues. They also wonder if there will be jobs for Tucsonans or just the existing Caterpillar employees, who will start relocation to Tucson this summer.
The Menlo Park Neighborhood Association hosted a special meeting on Thursday, June 9, to address residents' concerns on Caterpillar's big move. After two hours of woes and praise, the neighborhood association ended up passing a statement that officially welcomed the manufacturer to Menlo Park.
In a previous neighborhood meeting, Fletcher McCusker, chairman of the Rio Nuevo Board—which, alongside Arizona Commerce Authority, Sun Corridor, Pima County and the City of Tucson, was a major force in solidifying the deal—reinforced that Menlo Park's support, as well as the support of the entire city, is "huge" for the project to go smoothly. In the meeting last Thursday, he called Caterpillar's interest in Tucson over other cities like Phoenix and Denver, a "gift from God." And, as the manufacturer narrowed down its options for relocation, McCusker actually hosted Caterpillar officials to tours of the West Side and the rest of Tucson. Many of them had never been here before, he said.
In the beginning of May, Gov. Doug Ducey unveiled the big development plan that took months to nail down: Caterpillar selected the Old Pueblo as the new location for its mining and technology offices.
"This is a huge win for Tucson and the entire region. In addition to bringing jobs and capital investment to Southern Arizona, a project of this level will have a ripple effect throughout the community and state," Ducey said in a statement. "This is an excellent example of Arizona's attractiveness to businesses as well as our strength in collaborative economic development."
Local stakeholders, such as Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Councilwoman Regina Romero—whose Ward 1 includes Menlo Park—also rejoiced over Caterpillar.
Last month, the Rio Nuevo Board approved an incentives package for Caterpillar, including giving the company $2 million to help with relocation costs. Rio Nuevo will also spend $50 million to construct a 150-square-foot, three-story-high building with an underground parking lot in city-owned land. Caterpillar will lease the location right in the heart of Menlo Park—the proposed area is west of I-10 and Cushing Street—for 25 years. As far as the design and development of the building, Diana Hadley and Bill O'Malley, who are both involved with the Mission Garden project, will represent Menlo Park's interests.
Last week, the Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a lease agreement for Caterpillar to rent the county-owned building at 97 E. Congress St. The county expects to spend about $2 million on facility improvements. Caterpillar agreed to repay 30 percent of the capital tenant improvement costs over a four-year period, according to a county press release. The company will also pay all of the building's operating and maintenance costs, as well as the standard government property excise fees. The building will temporarily house between 40 to 60 employees, until the other is built.
The city has yet to approve its sale of the land where the development will happen.
The deal moved quickly and without much input from Menlo or city residents before the meeting last Thursday that attracted at least 50 people. The meeting was mostly a celebration of the possibility of new labor opportunities, all the money that could pour into local shops and restaurants once the Caterpillar employees move in and putting empty dirt lots to good use, but some residents also raised questions.
One resident asked McCusker to provide an environmental impact statement on the development. Another wondered if Tucson should really foster the presence of a mining equipment manufacturing company that "destroys natural habitat." There were worries that property tax and home rental increases could force long-time residents out.
McCusker tried to allay those fears.
"I don't lose any sleep about Caterpillar as a partner," he said at the neighborhood meeting. "If this doesn't happen, this land will languish for the rest of our lives."
He highlighted the homes, cars, food and other amenities employees will purchase in the neighborhood and all of Tucson—all great financial gains for the community.
"We are not going to shy away from progress, we embrace it," Menlo Park Neighborhood Association President Gene Einfrank told the Weekly. "Change is not easy. There will be a lot of change in Menlo Park. How we handle it, how we use it to our benefit—that is the key."
West side Tucson cultural advocate Josefina Cárdenas, a resident from nearby Barrio Kroger Lane, is just worried that Rio Nuevo is shying away from its original purpose, embracing projects that promote both business development and cultural preservation.
"Rio Nuevo was intended to be of cultural significance to the west side. The Convento, the Mission Garden ... look where Rio Nuevo is going to, what historical, traditional, cultural component does a company like Caterpillar have to offer us?" Cárdenas