Stunted Growth

A Space-Hungry UA May Try To Expand Without Eating Neighborhoods.

HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE jammed into a huge room at the Plaza Hotel 13 years ago for a presentation on the proposed University of Arizona Comprehensive Campus Plan. But the large crowd hadn't come to listen. Instead, those attending angrily lectured university officials on what was wrong with their land-use practices and business policies.

Small retailers complained about unfair competition from state-sponsored organizations. Nearby homeowners expressed fears of being forced to sell to accommodate a growing campus. Adjacent neighborhood association representatives wanted the behemoth next door to stop pushing its weight around by expanding its boundaries.

University officials were stung by the criticism and retrenched, making substantial changes to the in-house prepared draft campus plan. They greatly increased the amount of public input gathered before the Arizona Board of Regents finally adopted a revised plan in 1988.

For the first time since then, the university's master plan is about to be completely updated. While many things about the campus and its relationship with its neighbors have changed over the past 13 years, one thing hasn't. According to a university consultant hired recently to look at the results of the earlier process, "Serious anxiety now exists within the neighborhood groups."

Paul Mackey, chair of the Campus Community Relations Committee, a citizens group that discusses issues with UA and city representatives, echoes those sentiments. He says anxiety levels are high in neighborhoods both north and south of the campus and points especially to the residential area around the Arizona Health Sciences Center.

"There is a lot of money coming down the road for medical issues," he says, "and money talks" when it comes to new campus construction. "The residents of the Jefferson Park neighborhood near the hospital feel like they are staring down the barrel of a canon."

That may not be the only neighborhood facing the possibility of incursion by an expanding campus. According to university consultants, enrollment could increase from 34,300 in 1999 to almost 41,000 within the next 10 years. In addition, UA officials are looking at housing more of them on campus as a means of improving student retention.

While the possibility of a substantially increased enrollment and the subsequent need for additional space has always been a threat to the historic neighborhoods located around the campus, for many years the university has pledged to cap its enrollment at no more than 35,000 students. That policy, however, may soon change.

The first pressure on the enrollment cap was the dismal record of the Arizona International Campus, originally located on Tucson's far southeast side. Intended to offer a local alternative educational opportunity to thousands of university-bound students, AIC failed to attract much attendance and was eventually relocated to the main campus. A second influence on enrollment is the Arizona State Legislature, which has decided that more students need to be educated by the University of Arizona.

These factors might not result in a larger enrollment on the main campus, however, since alternatives are available. These include moving the Arizona International Campus out by 2003 and making greater use of technology for off-campus courses. But increasing the enrollment on the main campus by almost 20 percent remains an option under consideration.

Mackey of the Campus Community Relations Committee says the group doesn't want to see the existing campus boundaries enlarged. Members of the committee were encouraged recently by UA president Peter Likins when he said that growth of the university didn't necessarily mean outward expansion of its boundaries.

Changing the boundaries will be one of the issues addressed by the updated campus master plan. The consultant-led project is expected to begin early next year, take up to 24 months to complete, and cost between $600,000 and $1 million. Mackey believes his group needs to be involved very early in the process, starting with the development of a scope-of-work for the plan.

While preparation for updating the campus plan is underway, substantial changes on the west side of the university continue to proceed.

A portion of a new 1,680-space parking garage near Tyndall Avenue and Fourth Street is now open, with the entire project to be completed by November 1. Nearby, the reconstruction of the north side of University Boulevard continues, with Chipotle's, an upscale but popularly priced Mexican food restaurant, and a new women's sportswear and shoe store expected to open by January.

The next redevelopment phase, according to Tom Warne, a consultant to the philanthropic Marshall Foundation, which owns the property, will probably be the construction next year of a 5-story, 105,000-square-foot building on Park Avenue. This new structure will house UA offices along with ground-floor shops.

Warne says that eventually the University Drug building, a longtime retail fixture in the area, will be reconstructed. The Marshall Foundation would also like to see a 6- or 8-screen theater built nearby, and Warne is now discussing that possibility with a management company.

A final change in the offing is implementing streetscape improvements to Tyndall Avenue between Sixth Street and University Boulevard. This long-talked-about project now has $500,000 in government funding and will include widening the sidewalks along Tyndall, constructing meandering traffic lanes, and installing substantial landscaping and pedestrian amenities. Warne says he hopes the first phase of the project can be under construction by May.

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