TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A $45 million renovation and construction project that will transform a historic part of downtown Tucson is taking big step forward.
It involves three of the buildings that surround St. Augustine Cathedral and another building that now houses administrative offices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.
The plan includes the crumbling, 100-year-old Marist College building and a small chapel that many people have no idea exists next to the cathedral. Both are being restored.
There also will be a building that will add affordable senior housing to the downtown area.
The area surrounding the cathedral is called Cathedral Square.
The Tucson Mayor and Council have given the diocese approval, on a 7-0 vote, to begin the process to tear down the historic Parish Hall that is just north of the cathedral and replace it with a four-story structure where offices of St. Augustine Parish and the diocese will be, along with meeting and training space and areas available for special public and private events.
The new building will give the diocese what it doesn't have now, a central spot where it can serve the 450,000 people of the diocese. The old hall is almost not usable any more.
The diocese will need the new office building because it has sold the current diocese office building at Church Avenue and Broadway Boulevard to an organization that is going to build a seven-story, 75-unit, affordable senior housing building on the site.
That same group is restoring the Marist College building, just northwest of the cathedral.
It will have low-rent apartments for seniors and a senior center.
"Which is so compatible with the mission of the church. That's what we ought to be about. And that's really the purpose of building this new building so that we can carry on our mission and be a place where our diocese can gather, can make plans on how we can better serve our community," said Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.
Kicanas said the entire Cathedral Square will be transformed and the hope is that it will help transform downtown as well.
There also are plans are to beautify Ochoa Street to the north of Cathedral Square.
"One of the things that we hope to do in the redesign, if you've seen some of the pictures, is to open the space a little bit. At the time the wall was put in the church was protecting itself from the world," Kicanas said. "Today with Pope Francis - his arms are open, embracing the world and inviting the world in and so that's kind of the hope we have for that."
The bishop said there will be many meetings with city officials to finalize design plans for the new diocesan offices.
He said major private donors and a possible loan will pay for construction of the new diocese offices which could cost between $12 million and $17 million, depending on the final design.
There is no timeline set yet for demolition and construction to begin.