Return of an Old Friend

Imagine that Tucson is a puzzle. Well, we just found a key missing piece behind the sofa.

It's been more than two years now since the project to reconstruct the Fourth Avenue underpass began, and on the date that's now recognized as Tucson's birthday—Aug. 20—we'll be able to enjoy the much-anticipated results. Once again, we'll be able to easily move between three of the city's major entertainment hotspots. In celebration, Fourth Avenue, downtown and Main Gate Square will each be throwing parties, complete with constant live music, food/drink specials—and free birthday cake.

Cara Rene, vice president for community development at the Downtown Tucson Partnership, says she was somewhat surprised by the magnitude of the response she received while putting together the event. She says that, initially, "people were slow to get on board." But then the enthusiasm began to build, and in the end, she'd "never seen so many people come on board for an event like this with so much excitement."

Kurt Tallis, marketing and events director at the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association, echoes the idea of collaboration—but also emphasizes the parts of each area that make it unique.

"A big part of the celebration is that the three different areas are all doing very different things," he says. Yes, there will be live music, food and drink all over the place, but the events at each area are created and driven by the businesses there, resulting in three separate, distinct parties brought together by a common reason to celebrate.

"Everyone is so different," he says. "We need to be connected."

He says that the underpass is central to the idea of collaboration, especially with the addition of the Tucson Portrait Project. The project consists of more than 6,000 photos of people, newly installed in the underpass, that were taken all over Tucson. Tallis says it will remind us: "It's not my underpass; it's not your underpass; it's our underpass."

Rene says that the event was not given a huge budget.

"People have stepped up and said, 'I want to be a part of this, because it's an important event for Tucson'," she says.

The underpass also marks the return of what Rene calls "the pedestrian experience." (She admits that the Old Pueblo Trolley will be running, and the underpass also gives drivers an easy way to get around.) She says that in a city that seems so averse to walking, the underpass "enables us to enjoy entertainment in a true pedestrian way."

The event itself will take place at all three locations simultaneously, with entertainment starting at 3 p.m. and going until about 10 p.m. The opening ceremony at the underpass will feature Mayor Bob Walkup, City Council members and other dignitaries. The ceremony will start at 4 p.m.

After the ribbon is cut, other events will start all over the place (including a birthday-cake competition judged by Mayor Walkup, Tucson Symphony Orchestra conductor George Hanson and KOLD Channel 13's Chuck George; you can find more info on that elsewhere in City Week). With so much going on, it might be difficult to decide what to actually do, but Rene emphasizes the family-friendly events. She especially recommends the free ice cream social at Chris' Café in La Placita Village, and the Elemental Artistry performance and face-painting at the Tucson Children's Museum.

What's got Tallis most excited isn't really an event so much as a message. Each location will be handing out free glow-light pendants to those who visit there first. He says that those who go downtown will get blue lights; those who go to Main Gate Square will get red, and those who go to Fourth Avenue will get green. "By the end of it, reds, blues and greens will be mixing," he says. "It will help us visually make the connection." In other words, everyone will see how intertwined the three areas are.

Tallis sees this event as a welcome back to an old friend who has gotten a facelift and has come back new and improved. "It's true," he continues, "you don't miss something until it's gone."

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