TUCSON (KVOA) — Downtown Tucson has always been unique, but not always for the right reasons. While revitalization efforts have been going on for decades, it’s only in the past ten years that the city has finally caught the world’s attention.
The Rio Nuevo District was created in 1999 to spearhead the revitalization of downtown Tucson. Ten years later, little had been accomplished. Its board had spent more money on studies than on actual projects – about $200 million was missing and the city was mired in lawsuits. It was clearly time for a change. The state then took over and appointed new members to the board of directors.
Tucson commercial real estate broker Mark Irvin was one of the first new appointees, part of a core of new blood determined to breathe new life into downtown.
“We had to say goodbye to some people and we had to say hello to some people,” Irvin said. “We were very lucky then to have Fletcher McCusker and Chris Sheafe to join our board. to have great leadership, to move us forward and to make things happen.”
The first goal of the new council was to renovate the Tucson Convention Center Arena. Irvin said doing so changed everything.
“It was the very first project we did. Another catalyst. In my opinion, it was what allowed us to pick up the Road Runners and bring them to Tucson and ultimately allowed the Sugar Skulls to come to Tucson and play in the arena,” Irvin said, “We really wanted to have an anchor tenant at TCC, which gave us that bandwidth to do that.”
Irvin says another stepping stone convinced Caterpillar to build its $50 million mining center in the Mercado district in 2017. From there came a flood of other projects that have continued even during the pandemic with more than $550 million under construction. These projects included $65 million in additional improvements to the TCC and the long-promised completion of a hotel at the convention center.
Several residential complexes, such as Le Flin and Le Monier, with hundreds of apartments, thousands of square feet of commercial space and parking garages were also completed.
Tucson businessman Edmund Marquez, Rio Nuevo secretary and board member for seven years, says the growth spurt was due to a board skilled in the art of negotiation .
“Today’s Rio Nuevo board is night and day compared to the original board, because we are truly a CEO-led board,” Marquez said.
Marquez said the business-first mentality is what has made Tucson an attractive location for investors who have now brought a huge range of restaurants and entertainment venues to downtown and other projects are underway. .
“The future of Rio Nuevo is to keep activating spaces,” Marquez said. “And I think as you watch us go, I think you’ll see us being a little more diligent. I don’t want to use the word aggressive, but we’re going to be diligent in activating those spaces, so you just have to ‘don’t I don’t see any closed or barricaded spaces in the city center anymore.
Clearly, there’s still work to be done – plans that include a 19-story skyscraper, slated for completion in 2023. But if you’ve been downtown recently, you know there’s has something for everyone.
Local musician Erick Grillo said he was just one of many beneficiaries of the Old Pueblo’s resurgence.
“It’s definitely been on the rise for the two and a half years I’ve been here,” Grillo said. “And I basically love the opportunities it’s given me and a lot of other people.”
When the new council was appointed, there was talk of renaming it.
Rio Nuevo chairman Fletcher McCusker reportedly said that instead of changing the board’s name, they decided to change its reputation.
To read BizTucson Magazine’s article on 11 Reasons The World Is Watching Tucson, visit biztucson.com.