Plans For the Historic West University Area Look A Lot Like Half A Century Ago.
By Dave Devine
FIFTY YEARS AGO, a thriving neighborhood existed just west
of the University of Arizona's Park Avenue main gate.
Dozens of single-family homes, including Coach "Pop"
McKale's on Second Street, were part of the well-kept area. Fraternities
and small apartment complexes were scattered around. Groceries
were available from the Select Market on Third Street, and several
restaurants, including the Varsity Inn and the Copper Kettle,
But time took its toll. Historic structures were demolished to
make way for parking lots; high-rise UA dormitories replaced the
homes along Fifth Street; and many old buildings that did manage
to avoid the wrecking ball went unmaintained.
A strip of shops along Third Street, eventually renamed University
Boulevard, still remained from the earlier era. But some of the
merchants experienced hard times, especially with the disappearance
of students in the summer.
A decade ago, however, the character of the area began to improve.
The Geronimo Hotel went from a rundown flophouse to a redone retail
center. Some of the historic homes still standing were rehabilitated
as offices. Eventually, UA officials constructed an administration
building next to a new multi-story hotel. Now there's a parking
garage nearby, and some busy new retail shops.
And change continues apace. According to Tom Warne, development
consultant to the philanthropic Marshall Foundation, which controls
much of the property in the area, three additional phases of improvements
- The first will be concentrated south of University Boulevard
and will involve creating another parking garage, building housing
for married students, turning Tyndall Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly
street and installing additional landscaping.
The garage, housing and streetscape improvements will be official
UA projects. University brass, along with Warne and others, will
soon be overseeing the preparation of a master plan for the area,
which should be completed by the end of November.
The master plan will detail ideas which have been discussed for
several years with local residents and merchants and which were
approved in concept a few months ago by the Arizona Board of Regents.
A 1,200-space parking garage will be built near the Geronimo Hotel,
approximately 150 units of married-student housing would rise
on an existing parking lot between Fourth and Fifth streets, and
Tyndall Avenue will be heavily landscaped and narrowed.
Some questions have been raised about the married-student housing
project. People living at the University's Christopher City facility,
who would be relocated if the housing project is built, have doubts
about the proposal. But residents of the adjacent West University
neighborhood seem generally supportive of the concept.
Tom Bergin, chair of the local Historic District Advisory Board,
praises Warne's past efforts in the area. "Our board is appreciative
that we could review the plans," he said, "since they
were outside of the historic district. Warne has been good to
One possible controversial point in the redevelopment program
will be the fate of a few historic structures, dilapidated and
badly in need of repair, located near Euclid and Fourth Street.
The future of these privately owned buildings will be considered
during the preparation of the master plan.
In addition to living units for married couples, the University
is also looking at supplying replacement housing for the families
with children currently residing at Christopher City. The UA folks
have held discussions with Tucson Unified School District officials
about using the current TUSD parking lot on Tenth Street as the
site for these 150 units, but nothing has been finalized.
Assuming the timeline for the proposed master plan is followed,
the Board of Regents could be asked to approve both the parking
garage and the housing projects at their January meeting. If the
TUSD site proposal hasn't been finalized by then, the University
may ask for assistance from a developer to locate a site somewhere
in the vicinity.
Warne hopes the parking garage will be completed by the end of
next year. Construction of the married-student housing complex
would begin after that.
- The second phase of the effort, which Warne is shooting
to have finished by the summer of 2000, would be to demolish buildings
along Park Avenue that once housed the University's Arid Land
Studies program and some small retail establishments. A combination
of offices and commercial uses would occupy newly developed space,
along with a six-to-eight screen movie theater. Warne says he's
negotiating with an out-of-town management company to operate
the theater, which would show primarily art and foreign films.
This phase of the process would also include running the historic
trolley around the block and providing handicap accessibility
to the trolley cars. In addition, the existing parking lot at
Second Street and Tyndall would be replaced with an outdoor plaza.
- The final phase of the project will be to restore the
existing shops along the north side of University Boulevard to
the way they looked when Louise Marshall had them constructed
decades ago. Warne says this effort will begin immediately upon
completion of the second phase.
Area merchants are concerned about the impact on their business
during the construction period. Other worries focus on the type
of retail tenants which would occupy the newly remodeled stores.
Warne insists he wants a mixture of local and national retailers.
"It's got to happen that way." he says, adding that
the ultimate goal is to "redevelop an urban village with
services and various modes of transportation to serve both the
University and the surrounding neighborhood."