Century Theatres – Star Opinion: Neighborhood support is key in development

The Arizona Daily Star – July 26, 2017
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

Call it reverse NIMBY-ism.

When residents of the South Park, Western Hills and Pueblo Gardens neighborhoods were first approached in 2005 to talk about a planned retail and entertainment development in their backyards, their response was overwhelmingly positive.

Even as time went on and what eventually became the Tucson Marketplace at The Bridges faced project-killing hurdles, neighbors stood strong in their support, thanks to consistent communication from the developers, who from the earliest stages asked for neighbor input and have kept them involved in the process.

That level of neighborhood engagement should be a benchmark for all proposed developments in Tucson.

As reported by the Star’s Gabriela Rico, change could not come soon enough to the vacant patch of land that spread from Park Avenue to Kino Boulevard and 36th Street to Interstate 10. Used as the downtown airport into the early 1960s, the site was a barren stretch that bordered low-income neighborhoods in an area plagued by gang activity and drug sales.

Jobs were scarce, activities for children were limited and buying groceries or clothing meant having to drive or ride the bus, neighbors said. While they were ready for anything positive to come along, they welcomed developer Eastbourne’s approach, which sought to work with them and their concerns instead of telling them how their neighborhood was going to change.

Still, while neighbors were convinced, the City Council was another matter.

In 1999, the city passed a “big-box” ordinance designed to discourage retailers from opening large stores in the city. The ordinance stemmed from a dispute between El Con mall and neighbors who objected to a planned Walmart superstore.

Seven years later, the specter of the big-box retailer was at the heart of objections by activists and some City Council members as Eastbourne sought a waiver to the ordinance so it could attract larger stores to anchor the development.

Star archives provide a blow-by-blow account of the contentious two-year process that ended with the creation of Tucson Marketplace at The Bridges.

The drawn-out clash had Eastbourne cast as everything from savior to bully, and opponents as either defenders of the Old Pueblo or privileged obstructionists.

But throughout, the backing of the south side was strong, and Eastbourne’s strategy to work with neighbors gave the development a powerful local voice that allayed opposition.

Never taking neighbors’ support for granted is smart business that pays off for all.