Ronstadt Center Re-Development: When Is a Public Process Not Public?

Ronstadt-dance22-sig-sm72by Pamela Powers Hannley

More than 90 days have passed since the Tucson City Council voted to begin a 60-90 day public comment period to gather information and ideas related to the proposed re-development of the Ronstadt Transit Center. During that time,  the Tucson Bus Riders Union held a public forum at the Rialto, compiled and organized hundreds written comments collected at the forum, met with City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, and participated in collecting 2800 surveys from bus riders.

What has Corky Poster done? Poster is the architect and planner who was City Council hired to gather the public input. Rumor has it that Poster has held eight “stakeholder” meetings in recent weeks. With the information gathered at those meetings, he has compiled a report outlining consensus goals and objectives and said report was to be delivered to the City Manager’s office last week before Poster left town on vacation. More photos and details on the secret public process and who the real stakeholders are after the jump.

According to activist Suzanne Schafer, Poster has met with the Bus Riders Union (at the big April 2 meeting at the Rialto); the Downtown Neighborhoods and Residents Council; the Tucson-Pima Historical Commission; “real estate advisers” (not much detail who that was); the Mayor and Council’s transit task force; “the immediate neighbors,” meaning adjacent property owners (like developers Madden and Stiteler); Parkwise; and the Downtown Tucson Partnership board of directors.

What you didn’t get an invitation to a stakeholder meeting, and you didn’t see any meeting announcements in the mainstream news? Neither did I. Except for the April 2 public forum and what you have read on this blog, there has been a news blackout on this “public” process. Neither the Sun Tran bus riders survey results nor the public forum comments were ever released to the public– except for on this blog– and Poster’s stakeholder meetings were not publicized.

Unwelcoming sign greets people entering the Ronstadt Transit Center.

At the forum that was public, there was a clear consensus from the speeches and the comment cards that the public wants the Ronstadt Transit Center to remain intact, to remain on Congress Street downtown, and to be improved as a community gathering space. What was the big issue for bus riders? Better bathrooms, lighting, electrical outlets, shade, and people in the kiosks who can answer questions and sell passes– pretty simple stuff. No one said they wanted to have a maxi-dorm built on top of the Ronstadt, no one said the Ronstadt’s Congress Street frontage should be developed as another bar/restaurant, and no one said the buses should move out of downtown.

Decorative brick at the Ronstadt-- where dancers once performed-- has been replaced by rocks.

The people said they wanted a community space with picnic tables and maybe a little play ground for their kids– a place where they could relax and chat while they wait for the bus. As you can see in the picture here, there is plenty of room for this.

Recent “improvements”  to the Ronstadt runs counter to the community gathering space that the people said they want.

According to the city, nearly $3 million in federal funds have been spent on directional signage, lighting, “decorative fencing”, surveillance equipment, and paver replacement.

What we got was a giant no trespassing sign at the entrance, barricade style fencing to control the populace and prohibit seating, and replacement of the decorative brick with dirt-colored rocks. They spent taxpayer money to make the Ronstadt less inviting. When and how were these improvements decided upon? 

The lack of transparency in the public process and in the recent improvements is concerning. The citizens of Tucson are being kept in the dark. We need sunshine on this “public” process.

Ironically, this struggle between the community and developers over the Ronstadt Transit Center is playing out at the same time as West Side residents battle with the city and developers over the fate of El Rio golf course. Will the City Council side with citizens who want open space and community gathering places — downtown and on the West Side– or will they side with business interests? Only time will tell.

There are plenty of dirt lots and run-down buildings aroudn town that could be developed. Why do they need to take our public spaces?

Photo Captions:

Dancers perform at the Ronstadt Transit Center in 2009.

Unwelcoming sign greets people entering the Ronstadt Transit Center. After $3 million in improvements to the transit center, the clock still doesn’t work. (When you’re a bus rider, it’s really important to know the time.)

Decorative brick at the Ronstadt– where dancers once performed– has been replaced with rocks. New barricade fencing prohibits people from sitting on the short walls in the shade.

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