The Skinny

MALL DE-MALLED: The battle of El Con Mall was long and ferocious, pitting mall owners railing about their private property rights against neighbors arguing for their right to live peaceably in their homes. In the end, with the help of Mayor Bob Walkup and the City Council Gang of Three (Carol West, Shirley Scott and Fred Ronstadt), the mall owners got a renovation approval that succeeded in mauling the neighbors' private property rights. El Con won the OK to build a Home Despot and a second big box store right near the historic homes in the neighborhood, and also won a 20-year exemption from any future city laws regulating big boxes.

But last week, after all the furor, mall owners suddenly presented a kinder, gentler vision for the decrepit mall, which has been losing tenants. Even Dillards department store packed up and went this summer.

Design architect Don Chapman, of C & O Designs in Coral Gables, Fla., told neighbors at a meeting that the new ideas for El Con add up to a "de-malling." A series of plazas and landscaped walkways would connect outdoor plazas featuring al fresco restaurants. Instead of the infamous Big Box Two, there'd be an open-air market. A wide array of small businesses would offer such useful services as hair-cutting and dry-cleaning.

Gourmet food stores, artists' studios, specialty retail and possibly even a museum would be a part of the mix, if the mall owners can sell the idea to the small retailers they hope to attract.

Neighbors, the target of a nasty campaign by the owners over the last several years, were caught by surprise. "I'm cautiously enthusiastic," said Jean-Paul Bierny, an outspoken critic of previous mall plans. "We've never had a good reason to trust these people, but this is a considerable change. Big Box Two is no longer on the plan, and that's a massive change. -- It has to be done intelligently."

Bierny is not alone in noting that the proposal draws heavily on the ideas of New Urbanism, a design philosophy that promotes pedestrian-oriented housing and retail spaces. Last spring, Bierny had New Urbanism planner Victor Dover do a presentation on the virtues of converting failing urban malls into mixed-use centers. The lecture was a last-ditch effort to persuade the owners and the City Council to think out of the box. At the time, both the mayor and the mall owners pooh-poohed the idea.

The new architectural plans, which have yet to make their way into neighbors' hands, are full of red tile roofs and curving arches, a style that Home Despot also intends to use to decorate its Big Box. The current mall is a shabby piece of failed modernism, a cheap knockoff that years ago replaced architect Annie Rockfellow's elegant El Conquistador Hotel.

Whether the new architecture will rise above the Taco Deco style now spreading like a virus through Tucson, or actually aspire to the beauty of Rockfellow's Colonial Spanish Revival design, remains to be seen.

BATTLE ON: Browsing that Secretary of State website can be a lot of fun. Our campaign expenditure of the week comes from the June 30 report of Rep. Debra Brimhall, who is running for re-election in District 4. Brimhall, who bears a resemblance to actress Lucy Lawless and refers to herself as the Warrior Legislator, has four expenditures listed: $20 for the Payson Rodeo, two payments totaling $2,503.60 to S&L Printing, and a $146.05 reimbursement to herself to cover the costs of a Xena costume and "bubbles."

CHRISTOPHER METTLE: In early October, the University of Arizona will launch a major fundraising campaign at a fiesta on the west side of Old Main. (You know, the side that hasn't yet been turned into a giant pit for freshmen.) Perhaps before those attending make generous contributions to the university, they should consider how UA officials treated the recently evicted residents of Christopher City.

As the Weekly reported some time ago, once the UA decided to close the low-cost housing complex, it handed out checks to residents to cover their moving expenses and partial rent differential. The amount of those checks was completely arbitrary and in many cases was not sufficient to allow students to rent a comparable unit.

Most of the tenants, however, took the money and ran. They were dealing, after all, with the omnipotent University of Arizona. What most of the Christopher City residents weren't aware of, because greedy university housing officials hadn't bothered to tell them: They could be eligible for considerably more money through a legally mandated appeals process.

Some stubborn tenants, though, insisted that the university pay them what they had a legal right to. As one said, "If you were at the right meetings and fought the university, then you knew about the appeals process. The people who moved out early didn't know about it," because they had never been informed by campus officials.

While most of those who were forced to move from Christopher City got the short end of the financial stick, some persistent tenants did much better, receiving up to $5,000 more than those who left early.

But these stragglers weren't without their own horror stories. According to one, university employees unilaterally discontinued mail service and cut off cooling to the housing units. The university also had its workers enter still-occupied apartments without permission to snoop around.

Now that Christopher City is vacant, the university plans on demolishing the complex by early next year. At the same time, the controversial rezoning application for the property is still on hold, probably awaiting the time when the university's nasty handling of this sorry situation is forgotten.

PAGAN DAYS: So you want to go dancing at Lughnasa? Pagans, now you can, provided you're a University of Arizona employee or student. No need to worry about writing that overdue term paper or teaching that early-morning class. You can take the day--and night--off, with the blessings of the Arizona Board of Regents, and dance around ye olde bonfire to your heart's content, singing, of course, in Gaelic.

But Lughnasa, which alas already took place back on August 1, is not the only Pagan Holy Day officially sanctioned by the Regents, who govern all three Arizona universities. In a recent comprehensive memo on religious holidays, W. Gary Wagner, UA director of curriculum and registration, lists a veritable host of days that the Regents have directed "may be requested off by Pagans." (Note the capital P.) As far as we know, this is the first time ever that the university has awarded Pagans equal standing with Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Ba'hai.

The Pagan Holy Days include the feast of Brigid on February 2, which frankly we have always celebrated as the feast of St. Blaise, patron saint of sore throats. Brigid, apparently, got there first. Another new one on us is Beltane, April 30, which our dictionary tells us is an "ancient Celtic feast marked by the lighting of bonfires and the performance of various rites of purification." We're sure the Regents did their homework and all, but our dictionary also tells us that Beltane corresponds to May Day, May 1.

The other holidays, more familiar, are the Fall Equinox, September 20-23 (there's still time to mark the occasion!); good old Samhain, known to Americans as Halloween, October 31; the Winter Solstice, December 20-23; the Spring Equinox, March 20-23; and the Summer Solstice, June 20-23.

The Old Pueblo would certainly be more festive were all these feasts merrily celebrated here, but the memo carries a caveat. The Regents opine that on none of these days is work strictly forbidden. Dang.

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