A damn good idea for downtown that probably won’t happen

by David Safier

This is the kind of idea that could help turn Tucson's downtown into a destination for tourists and natives, greatly increasing foot traffic and bringing people to businesses throughout the area. But it's expensive and culture-centric, so it'll probably never happen.

Here's the idea. Create a walking corridor starting at the Tucson Museum of Art and ending at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It's a little over a half mile between the two points, from just north of central downtown to just south of the Convention Center. What happens between those points is what makes the whole idea pop. The beautiful old Pima County Courthouse a few blocks south of the Museum of Art would be renovated into a museum for Western and Native American art. UA has a world class Native American collection which is too rarely viewed because it's housed on campus, and if I'm right, there's not enough room to display it, so much of the collection is unavailable to the public. I assume that would form the center of the museum's collection. A new building would house a photography and art museum. Also hidden on the UA campus is a world class photography collection (Ansel Adams gave his entire collection of negatives to the museum), which has photos of great artistic and historical merit, and that collection, which should be a great source of pride for Tucson if it were more accessible, would be on the route. Between those destinations along the half mile route, walkers would be directed to some of the fountains and landscapes created by important artists and designers.

If this project came to life, it would be at the center of every guide to urban Tucson. Frommers and other guidebooks would describe the walking tour, telling strollers what to see, what to do and where to stop along the way for shopping, coffee and meals. The quality of the museum collections would be an added draw for people deciding between Tucson and other vacation spots, and for those coming here anyway, it would give them a reason to visit downtown. And some of our downtown-averse residents would have a reason to make the area into a destination for a morning, an afternoon or a day.

The problem is, the cost ofthe project is estimated at $176 million, and the idea is to have it funded by county taxpayers. One part of the whole package I haven't mentioned is a downtown Small Business Entrepreneur and Academic Center which would have classrooms as well as office space leased at attractive rates, as an incubator for new businesses. Gathering creative business minds together in one downtown location could create the kind of synergy that would help new businesses evolve and flourish all over greater Tucson. That kind of energy could keep more of our best and brightest young people here in town rather than fleeing the minute they get their degrees.

I pulled up a google map of the area encompassed in the walking corridor, which you can see below the fold.

Here's a satellite map of the area.

Downtown walking corridor

The blue line marks the .6 mile car route from the Museum of Art — A — to the Museum of Contemporary Art — D. In between are the Courthouse that would house the Western and Native American Art collections — B — and the Convention Center — C. The site for the proposed photography/art museum has not been chosen.

The actual walking corridor wouldn't follow the street, of course. I imagine it would head south through the courthouse square, over the foot bridge and past La Placita Village, which leads to the north end of the Convention Center, and from there to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

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