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Historic Fourth Avenue Coalition holds annual meeting

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It's been two years of big changes on Fourth Avenue. The Flycatcher, a longtime music club, was demolished to make way for an apartment building. Two eateries that tried to fill Flycatcher's shoes, Can's Deli and Irene's Donuts, both tried to make a go of it as music venues but folded. A new 13-story apartment building is set to rise behind O'Malley's, on the former site of Maloney's.

While many view these developments as a cause for concern, members of the Historic Fourth Avenue Coalition— a group of business owners, artists and neighborhood residents with a common goal of preserving the "unique identity of Historic Fourth Avenue and the surrounding areas"—remain optimistic about preserving, and even growing, the culture of the area.

Roughly 100 community members gathered at the Surley Wench Pub for the HFAC annual meeting to discuss the future of the longtime shopping and entertainment district last Tuesday, Jan. 14.

"Get the word out that Fourth Avenue is not dead," said Surly Wench co-owner Jasmine Pierce. "We're far from dead. We're thriving. Yes, there are two or three developments, but there are more than 160 local businesses here."

At the annual meeting, coalition members discussed objectives and goals for 2020, elected board members, planned environmental sustainability on the avenue and received reports from HFAC's multiple committees.

The annual meeting also included a time for members of the public to express concerns. The most common topics brought up during this time were preserving the architectural style of new buildings, forming a stronger partnership between Fourth Avenue and the University of Arizona (particularly with the Eller School of Business), cultural asset mapping and denying tax breaks to developers unless they make specific commitments to the community.

Established in 2018, HFAC has completed multiple objectives around the Fourth Avenue area, including organizing a petition to stop the City of Tucson from extending parking meter times and passing a "community benefits agreement" to give local businesses preference on the ground floor of the commercial development at the former Flycatcher location, now known as the Union on 6th.

"We don't want to come across as anti-development, because we're not. We do want to develop and we want to invest in the community. We just want it done in a smart way," said Henry Werchan, HFAC secretary.

HFAC members also include the Iron Horse, West University, Dunbar Springs and Pie Allen neighborhood associations. HFAC comprises seven committees: Events & Fundraising, Community Outreach, Communications, Parking, Streetscapes, Arts and Development.

HFAC's Event & Fundraising committee hosted multiple events throughout 2019, including the "Made in Tucson" art fairs, the Cyclovia Community Mural; and PaintSTOCK, a community arts program that adorned the construction around the former Flycatcher with local paintings. These events raised funds to reinvest into Fourth Avenue.

At the meeting, the Arts Committee announced that a new mural is coming to the side of Antigone Books, by local painter Jessica Gonzales, which is expected to be finished in early March.

HFAC also plans to continue to work with the city, the Tucson Department of Transportation, and the Tucson Unified School District to find solutions for parking in the area.

The Streetscapes Committee is working with groups such as Tucson Clean and Beautiful and the Living Streets Alliance to better the looks and safety of Fourth Avenue.

"We've gotten a lot done, but I think we can do a whole lot more... Fourth Avenue can be a hub for progressive approaches for development in the community," said Michael Peel, head of the Development Committee, as well as the Southern Arizona director for Local First Arizona.

Board nominees for the HFAC election are Joe Audino, John Carillo, DeeDee Koenen, Stephanie Johnston, Constance Negley, Michael Peel, Frank Powers, Libby Tobey and Henry Werchan. All nominees were unanimously approved.

Among their mission statement, HFAC believes that "the purpose of development is to bring measurable improvement to its community, and the way to ensure that is by demanding accountability and transparency. Furthermore, it is the role of the public sector, with citizen input, to guide urban growth so it is done in the wisest and most equitable manner."

More by Jeff Gardner

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