The future of Tucson’s historic motel sites

Published: May. 22, 2023 at 6:57 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Community members are coming together to save three historic motels on Drachman Street in Tucson.

The Pima Community College Governing Board is seeking input from the community on how to reshape the former Tucson Inn Hotel, the Copper Cactus Inn, and the Frontier Motel.

However, not everyone is on board with the possible changes.

Carlos Lozano is the founder of Vanishing Tucson and he says the former motels are an important part of Tucson’s history.

“These buildings do not have a voice of their own so someone has to advocate for these buildings,” Lozano said.

PCC purchased the three properties next to its downtown campus in 2018 with plans to expand.

“Restoration is a challenge but it can be done,” Lozano said.

The PCC Governing Board is considering four options for the future of the properties. Each has a different purpose for how the college could use these sites in the future

However, some in the community aren’t on board with the possible changes.

“It represents a time in Tucson in the mid-century when everyone in the country was driving through Tucson,” Lozano said. “These motels really embody that spirit.”

"The future of Tucson’s historic motel sites"
"The future of Tucson’s historic motel sites"(Pima Community College)

Each of PCC’s proposals carries a different price tag.

The first option would cost approximately $35.7 million. The plans would repurpose the front of the Tucson Inn and demolish the remaining of the motel into a parking lot. The plans also include renovating the Copper Cactus and Frontier Inn.

The second option would cost around $8.9 million. With this plan, the college will repurpose the diner at the front of the Tucson Inn Hotel. They also plan to demolish the back half of the motel, along with the Copper Cactus and Frontier Inn, and turn the spaces into a parking lot.

Option four would cost around $3.6 million and it would demolish all motels and turn the properties into a 220,000-square-foot parking lot.

"The future of Tucson’s historic motel sites"
"The future of Tucson’s historic motel sites"(Pima Community College)

Lozano hopes the college does not choose the last option.

“It’s a major contributor to the Miracle Mile Historic District,” Lozano said. “Where its positions, it draws together and links the northern section to the southern section and holds it together as a district.”

The college plans to keep the historic signage along Drachman Street. Which will preserve the entryway to the hotels while renewing a part of town many consider an eye-sore.

“We are not asking for them to restore them as motels,” Lozano said. “These can be repurposed into just about any vision the college has.”

Lozanao believes the college could do more to save what he believes is a vital part of Tucson’s history.

“In addition to the beautiful neon signs, we need the actual buildings to add context to the signs,” Lozano said. “In a few decades, people won’t really know what a vintage motel court really was.”

Officials with PCC said it’s important to note, these are just plans and no final decision has been made on the future of these properties. At this time there is no word on when the final decision will be made, but when its announced it will be at a public governing board meeting.

This is why Lozano is encouraging community members to reach out to the PCC Governing Board and share their thoughts on the future of these properties.

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