Downtown Tucson churches, bars and schools look to co-exist

Right now in downtown Tucson, schools, churches, bars and night clubs can co-exist as long as they don't get too close.

There must be a 300 foot buffer.

But in downtown Tucson that's becoming more and more difficult.

Tucson's East end is adding more and more bars and nightclubs as it becomes a full fledged entertainment district. Business is booming.

However, there's a limited amount of space downtown and it's being shared by a larger number of businesses.

There's talk of another private school near 4th and Broadway.

And another church along Congress.

If things stand as they are now, it gets more and more cramped.

The Arizona state legislature passed a bill four years ago, HB 2596, giving Tucson a way out.

But so far, Tucson has not taken advantage of it.

The law says if the city creates what's known as an "entertainment district" with distinct boundaries, the law will not apply.

Tucson can still be selective about issuing liquor licenses, but it can do so inside the 300 foot limit.

Right now, Tucson is looking at a district which runs generally along the streetcar line from the West side of Interstate 10 to the Main gate at the University of Arizona.

There are already 95 liquor licenses within that boundary.

And there will likely be more.

"We just don't want to put up a roadblock to the continued development we're seeing in the downtown area," says Ward VI city council member Steve Kozachik, who is brining the item before the council next week.

The city started this process four years ago then dropped the ball.

Now, with more churches and schools looking at downtown, the city needs to get it done "to keep things going, just to keep the momentum going," Kozachik says.

And it appears downtown is ready to move ahead.

"If a bar comes in that is unsafe for the downtown environment, we're all going to rally," says Carrie Brennan, the principal of the City High School on Pennington near Stone.

She says protecting her students is her utmost concern but "I don't think lifting a decades old blue law is a big deal."

The school has been downtown for ten years and has developed a neighborly attitude about the neighbors.

"I have no idea what goes on in the nightclub right next to my school at 2 a.m., it might be kind of zany Friday nights," she says. "My students aren't here. I'm not worried about it."

John Wesley Miller, who owns a building at Congress and Scott, has two nightclubs as tenants right now and a third one considering taking up the other space.

"Today I got a call from a guy who asked me if it was okay if he put a church in there," he says. "We'll talk."