Tour part of effort to beautify South 12th Avenue corridor

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It's an attempt to beautify the south side--or at least part of South 12th Avenue.

Councilwoman and Tucson Vice Mayor Regina Romero hosted a bus tour to explore the cuisine in a part of the area she represents, 12th Avenue between Ajo Way and Drexel.

It was more than a bus tour though.

Romero's hope is that the trip could help increase tourism to Tucson, and benefit the entire city.

The "Visit Tucson" tourism bureau is promoting South 12th Avenue, nationally and internationally, as one leg of the "Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food" north of the border.

A lot of Tucsonans know South 12th as a place to go for great bakeries and Mexican food.

But look around.

Some say the avenue could use some help, a little beautification.

That's what Wednesday's tour was all about.

There is an actual Gray Line Tours of Tucson tour, called "The Best of the Barrio Tour," that takes food lovers to several eateries on 12th Avenue.

On Wednesday, instead of tourists, the passengers were from local businesses and governments.

Romero's goal in hosting the informational tour was to bring government investment and redevelopment to 12th Avenue.

"It is a cultural and culinary resource and it really is a Mecca of women-owned, minority-owned businesses in our community that produce a lot of jobs. And it really can become, with additional infrastructure, beautification, landscaping, sidewalks--it could really become internationally known," Romero says.

Many 12th Avenue businesses are owned by the second and third generations of the families that founded them.

They provide jobs and stability and they're a built-in draw for other Tucsonans and especially for tourists.

"You see so many people. Everything's alive. You have different cultures coming in to buy our products," says Isabel Montano, whose family owns La Estrella Bakery.

Romero is working to build a coalition of private and public partners to benefit 12th Avenue, and by extension, the entire city.

Her idea is that local and federal governments would fund the improvements.

The Pima Association of Governments (PAG) was represented on the tour.

"If we can put all the pieces together, I think we can really add value to the whole corridor and reinforce some pretty exciting things that area already happening here," says PAG Director of Transportation Services James DeGrood.

Gloria Rodriguez and her husband are the second generation to own and operate Rodriguez Seafood. Their La Costa Brava Seafood Restaurant is in the same building.

"Any improvement that is made locally, I think is good for everyone. It's good for the community. It's good for our business. It's good for the business down the road. It's good for the school next to us, the churches. It's good for everyone." Rodriguez says.

Romero says, if Pima County has a bond election in 2014, she would like South 12th Avenue to be included.

Gray Line Tours of Tucson and Visit Tucson paid for Wednesday's tour.

The "tourists" visited and sampled the wares at La Estrella Bakery, El Merendero Mexican and Seafood Restaurant, Rodriguez Seafood/La Costa Brava Seafood Restaurant and BK Tacos.

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