Rio Nuevo's first west-side project finally gets underway

Published: Apr. 7, 2017 at 5:55 PM MST|Updated: Apr. 7, 2017 at 6:29 PM MST
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Mercado district (Source: Mercado San Agustin)
Mercado district (Source: Mercado San Agustin)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Gadsden Company held a groundbreaking on Tucson's west side on Friday, April 7, to announce the that construction of the MSA Annex is underway.

The MSA Annex west of I-10 at West Congress Street is the expansion of the Mercado San Agustin Public Market which was built in 2008.

The Annex will be home to 38 modified shipping containers that will house restaurants, bars and shops, an upscale, trendy retail mall much in the mold of the successful Container Mall in Las Vegas.

It will be the first of three projects for the site.

The West End Station, a 70-unit apartment complex breaks ground June 1.

The Monier Apartments, a 122-unit project breaks ground later in the summer.

This all means the long-awaited and anticipated re-development of the west side in Menlo Park is finally underway.

MSA Annex Presentation[1] by Tucson News Now on Scribd

"We've been over here 12 years from the time we were first awarded a parcel to build on," said Jerry Dixon, Chairman of the Gadsden Company. "12 years."

The Mercado was the first west-side project planned by Rio Nuevo in 2004. There has been much criticism and skepticism about the progress, or lack thereof, of the projects on the now barren 17-acre parcel.

Dixon takes it in stride.

"I don't blame you for being skeptical. The recession happened in between when we got the property," he said. "We're through that now."

He says evidence of that is the three new projects coming out of the ground this year.

"The wind is at our backs," Dixon said.

Another problem the company faced is the fact the east side of downtown was booming and loans on those properties were easier to get. The west side has been a hard sell for years.

"We could have built student housing but that was not our vision," Dixon said.

For Menlo Park activists who have been watching with envy while he east end boomed, Friday was about redemption.

"All of our dreams have come true," said Lillian Lopez-Grant, a longtime outspoken critic of the uneven downtown redevelopment. "All the promises these folks made have come to fruition."

Rio Nuevo offered financial aid in part because of the difficulty in generating funding for west-side projects.

"Yeah, it's time," said Mark Irwin, secretary of the Rio Nuevo Board. "We finally got to the point where we thought this project makes sense."

In part because Rio Nuevo has invested heavily in the area though Caterpillar. The board is constructing a $52 million Surface Mining Corporate Headquarters for Caterpillar just a few hundred yards from the site.

"Coupled with what's going on with Caterpillar along the way, a lot of great amenities will be on this site," Irwin said.

The container mall complex is sold out and has a waiting list of potential tenants. The fact that it's at the end of the streetcar line gives it a ready made customer base, including the University.

It will be home to many start-ups and already successful local businesses, many of which will use the concept to establish roots.

"The idea was that we did the shops in shipping containers, that in 10 years those companies can relocate in the area," Kira Dixon-Weinstein said.

It's still the goal, said Dixon-Weinstein, to build a four-story, permanent Mercado in place of the container mall.

"It's a 10 to 15-year time frame," she said.

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