Vendors say streetcar could hurt street fair - Tucson News Now

Vendors say streetcar could hurt street fair

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It's a clash between the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association and the city of Tucson. The center of the issue is the modern streetcar versus the street fair.

The merchant's association approved and created a realigned street fair route to accommodate the streetcar last year.

The route would leave one block of Fourth Ave. open for the streetcar to turn onto 8th Street, to head toward the storage facility.

The plan seemed fine at first, but John Sedwick with the merchants association says when they learned of a major construction project that was taking place around 8th street and 3rd avenue, that changed everything.

"That would have blocked access from several points into the street fair, and it just doesn't work for us," said Sedwick.

The merchants association then approached the city and asked them if they could go back to the old plan, and delay or re-route testing of the modern streetcar for four days, to accommodate the street fair at the end of March.   When they did not get a response, Sedwick said he had to cancel about 70 vendors from the street fair this year, which would lead to lead to a loss of about $50,000 in revenue for the merchant's association.

"You've got 70 people who depend on the street fair for their livelihood.  Some of them make $20,000 a year at the street fair.  You take that out of their income, it's a big impact.  I'm listening to their tears on the phone, literally," said Sedwick.

City officials said the merchant's association had been the one to come up with the re-aligned route in the first place.  Assistant city manager Albert Elias said they had been working with the county and the Army Corp. of Engineers to see if they could stop the project during the street fair, to allow for access.

"Once they brought it to our attention we worked with reps from Pima County and the Army Corp. of Engineers, and we've identified that they will not be working at that point in time, so it would not create delays or block access to the street fair."

Tucson News Now relayed that news to the merchant's association, who said it was too late, their deadline had passed.

"I cannot re-organize the street fair at this late date.  So if I can't re-configure the route, I can't invite the artists back."

We asked Sedwick with two months to go, why he could not re-accommodate the artists who were dropped from the roster.

"The infrastructure is such that I cannot do that in the timeframe left for me.  If they had given me this assurance two months ago, I would have done it."

Sedwick said a loss of $50,000 in revenue would hit them hard.  The merchants association  helped Fourth Avenue businesses with marketing, graffiti abatement, pressure washing buildings, cleaning sidewalks, planting trees, and flowers.  All the money came from the street fair revenue.

Sedwick said the only way to invite the 70 artists back to the street fair would be to cancel testing of the streetcar for four days, and reclaim the 200 block of Fourth Avenue in March.

City officials said they could not cancel the testing, as they were up against strict deadlines.

"Well, the challenge with our testing is that we've experienced delays in getting the streetcars.  There are also very strict protocols given to us by the federal transit administration and other issues.  We're very committed to see the street car go into revenue service by July."

Ward 6 councilman Steve Kozachik has been a voice for the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association.  Kozachik said he sided with the businesses because the city had already inconvenienced them enough by blocking streets and tearing open roads during construction of the streetcar tracks and infrastructure.

"We might have half the cars by the time the street fair hits and all of a sudden we claim we're on the fast track on this project?  The University will be on spring break, do the testing on campus," said Kozacik.

He added, "the easy answer is for the city you know, to say we've put you guys through hell for the last few years, we'll back off on the testing.  Instead we're taking the past of most resistance and saying we're going to fight you on this.  To me it's absolutely inappropriate.  The city is making a huge mistake."

Elias said the goal was to have the street car running before students returned to campus in August.

The city will continue to talk to the merchants association.  Sedwick said he had been told the city would see what they could do in terms of moving the testing dates.

The merchants association planned to hold a special meeting to discuss cuts, in case of lost revenue.  A date for that meeting had not been scheduled yet.

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