Downtown development report highlights growing number of projects

Published: Aug. 17, 2017 at 1:30 AM MST|Updated: Aug. 17, 2017 at 9:56 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A spotlight is being shined on downtown Tucson projects, with economic leaders saying development is trending in the right direction.

The Downtown Tucson Partnership released its Summer 2017 Downtown Tucson Development Report on Wednesday, Aug. 16. The report highlights the 26 projects completed in 2017, along with current projects and other proposals.

That number of projects completed in one year is on a trajectory to hit a record high for development, according to Downtown Tucson Partnership Economic Development Director David Mitchell.

Mitchell said that in record years for development in downtown Tucson, about 40 projects were finished.

He expects those projects to rise, both literally and figuratively.

"We do have a very small downtown. In square miles, we're only about one square mile. We don't compete with any downtown districts around the nation in terms of land size. It's not going to get bigger because of the historic neighborhoods that surround it. We're kind of locked in," Mitchell said. "So the only types of developments that we'll see is to go up - to build up."

Driving west of Interstate 10, you'll notice a new development, slated to be the future site of Caterpillar Headquarters on West Cushing Street. The sign on the chain-link fence says "Rio Nuevo Welcomes Caterpillar to Tucson," and they did so with a $52 million incentive program.

These programs and packages seem to be a solid, driving force for bringing new business downtown.

Mitchell said a majority of the projects they have in the works are receiving city-provided funds.

"A majority of our projects downtown, especially our larger projects downtown, have some sort of gap funding. Usually, it's GPLET, which is city-provided funds in exchange for some public good," he said. "A good example would be the two-story garage within the new Marriott that's opening up. The Marriott's a GPLET property, meaning that the developer is building the garage and giving it back to the city. That's the trade-off for the tax benefit."

Mitchell could not say how much public money was being provided on each individual project. You can see a list of Government Property Lease Excise Tax (GPLET) projects in Tucson by clicking here.

He did say that it's harder for small business owners to have that trade-off of public benefit that the larger companies can match.

"With smaller developments, it's hard to have that trade-off of public benefit. The Arizona Gift Clause prevents us, and any government entity, from using public funds to just give to business, without a fair exchange for greater public good. It's really hard for a small business owner to be able to meet those demands."

If all goes well, the 150,000-square foot Caterpillar facility will be done by March 2019.

Mitchell knows that more growth is on the way, and it starts with bringing people permanently downtown.

"There's lots of potential. If we think that it's great now, when there's lots of reasons to open business, it's only going to get better," he said. "Next year, we've got another 600 homes that are going to be built in the downtown area. In the next three years, the number of apartments within the downtown area are going to double the numbers that exist now. There's a lot of residential potential."

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