Investors tour downtown Tucson

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A group of investors which helped Portland rebuild its downtown has come to Tucson to see what it has to offer.

The group met with more than two dozen local developers and business leaders to hear about their plans for downtown.

They also spent the past two days touring downtown, the university area and the four miles along the streetcar line.

It was the streetcar in Portland which led to a resurgence of development and that same investment may be replicated here.

Tucson has more than 80 acres and 35 developable parcels along the line.

The group left Tucson without speaking to the press but Michael Keith, the CEO for the Downtown Tucson Partnership says members of the group were impressed by what was available.

"Quite frankly, we're the last municipality of this size to get going, so we're sort of the beneficiary of that," says Keith. "We're like the next hot spot.

Most cities in the West like Albuquerque, Salt Lake, Phoenix and Portland have had a resurgence in the past two decades.

"We're the new kid on the block," says Keith.

What direction downtown will take is still a matter of debate.

Keith is concerned the big, national retail chains could gobble up the property.

"To bring in a national retailer and then you just become like every other place which are characterized by national retailers," he says. "They all look the same."

Keith and the developers who met with the investors say they want to keep downtown "Tucson."

That would go against the grain of people who have worked for years to maintain Tucson's integrity but still preparing for the upcoming resurgence.

"We saved our most important things for downtown," says developer John Wesley Miller. "The cultural activities whether it be music, art, theater. They are still there, thank God."

There are 150 projects and businesses open downtown right now but that's likely to expand soon.

"We're starting to get on the radar," he says.

And while much of the culture has been preserved, it's new people who are fueling downtown's growth.

"This is a remarkable bottom up driven economic recovery fueled by young entrepreneurs that have taken a shot at downtown," he says.

The recent opening of more than two dozen restaurants, the Cadence student housing project and the senior project on the Westside indicate this is a multi generational boom.

"People want to move downtown," he says. "The timing is right."

Keith says a large supermarket chain will be in downtown June 7 to talk about a possible urban grocery store. There are also plans for another chain near the university.

There are no guarantees the group of investors will find projects to its liking or that a grocery will come downtown but "it's coming and will be fueled by private money," says Miller.

He says "we don't need government money anymore."

Keith believes the first projects to get financial backing are likely to be housing. The big buildings could come next. Still that could be further down the road.

Right now, Tucson has a 34% office vacancy rate in downtown.

"But that could be an advantage to people who want to move downtown." he says. "They have a place to move to."

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