By Jim Nintzel
The developers of downtown's AC Marriott have unveiled plans for a new $88 million hotel project on Broadway and Fifth Avenue that will incorporate two new Marriott brands as well as the historic Rialto Theatre.
The 16-story hotel, which could be under construction in a year, will incorporate Marriott's Moxy and Element brands and include a multi-million-dollar remodel of the Rialto. The Moxy will have 109 rooms, while the Element will feature 140 rooms.
"We end up with three hotels who cater to three different types of guests that are all under 150 rooms, so they qualify as charming and boutique," said developer Scott Stiteler, who is doing the project with his partner on the AC Marriott, Rudy Dabdoub. "And then they all work together. There's something for everyone."
Stiteler said the success of the AC Marriott encouraged him to pursue this new project across the street. Marriott executives are also pleased with the AC, according to Stiteler. "They see that Tucson is cool," he said.
Marriott's Moxy brand focuses on what hotelier calls "fun hunters" who are seeking a minimalist style, while the Element brand offers a space for travelers who are looking at longer stays, with fully equipped kitchens and similar amenities.
Stiteler said he'd be requesting tax abatements from the Rio Nuevo Board and the city of Tucson as part of the financing for the project.
The hotel will essentially meld with the Rialto Theatre, allowing guests to attend shows without leaving the property. Stiteler envisions a lot of synergy between the two properties, including the possibility that guests who check into the Moxy will be able to look through a glass wall at the band playing on the stage of the Rialto.
Curtis McCrary, the executive director of the nonprofit Rialto Theatre Foundation, said he was thrilled at the possibility of a remodeled Rialto, especially since the plan includes new offices and green rooms for artists. The current office and green room, with the Rialto Theatre Foundation now rents from Stiteler, will be demolished to make room for the hotel.
"It's a huge deal for us," McCrary said. "I can't really imagine, without this coming along and playing out the way it has, we would have been able to achieve everything we wanted to do. It's great for us."
The Rialto Theatre Foundation, which will continue to own the nearly century-old theater, is on the verge of completing its own capital fundraising campaign, with a goal of a million dollars. But even that was not going to make the kind of difference that the partnership with Stiteler will.
"The theatre has really never been set up to be a modern facility when it comes to a lot of things," McCrary said. "When the theatre was built in and opened in 1920, there were no concessions of any kind. Everything that we've done to accommodate modern audiences was a kludge in various ways."
Once completed, the theatre will boast new mezzanine seating, a multi-level ground floor, new bars and many other improvements. Visiting artists will find much better accommodations in the new green rooms, including showers and other R&R facilities.
But during the estimated two years of construction, the Rialto will have to close its doors. Fortunately for music fans, McCrary has already found an alternative location: The Corbett Warehouse at Sixth Avenue and Seventh Street, just east of the Sixth Avenue underpass. The warehouse, which is also owned by Stiteler, will serve as the Rialto's temporary home.
McCrary said he was thrilled by the possibility of what the Rialto will become when it reopens.
"As H.I. McDunnough said in Raising Arizona, this seems like the solution to all our problems and the answer to all our prayers."
Fletcher McCusker, the chairman of the Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment board, said that the hotel and Rialto project "might just be the most exciting thing to ever happen in downtown Tucson. Scott Stiteler has been and remains a game changer."
Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who represents the downtown area, said the hotel strikes him as a great project for downtown. Kozachik led the fight to stop a major hotel project after he was first elected to the Tucson City Council in 2009 that would have been backed by city taxpayers, but he likes the way private developers such as Stiteler have been moving forward with new hotel projects in downtown.
"We did the right thing in being patient and letting the market catch a wave," Kozachik said.
Kozachik called the notion of having the Rialto temporarily located at the Corbett Warehouse "ultra cool."
"It'll give us time to make needed upgrades to the Rialto, keep the Rialto programming going and show that an entertainment use of the Corbett Building makes sense on that side of downtown,"
Kozachik said the project shows how far downtown Tucson has come in the last decade.
"Back in 2008, 2009, 2010, the city and Rio Nuevo and the Legislature were all litigating and trying to one-up the other," Kozachik said. "Developers were caught in that mess and everyone was a loser. Now the city, developers and Rio Nuevo are all pulling in the same direction and the impacts on downtown resurgence is clear to anyone who cares to take a look. We've turned a significant corner relationally, and everyone is seeing the results."
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who has been seen in the audience of a few Rialto shows over the years, said he believed the proposal a big win for Tucson.
"The Hard Rock will have nothing on this hotel in the shadow of the Rialto," Rothschild said. "Perfect for downtown and perfect for Tucson."