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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA could expand downtown

    A state representative unveiled a bold vision for the expansion of multiuse UA facilities into downtown Tucson during a meeting with President Robert Shelton and state lawmakers on Thursday.

    “”The university’s presence downtown should not simply be a museum or tourist facility,”” said Rep. Ted Downing, who is also a UA research professor of social development. “”The UA should bring part of themselves downtown.””

    The idea – still in infancy – would begin with UA administration, city officials and economic leaders uniting to brainstorm a proposal for new construction that integrates university classrooms, conference space and offices in the city’s center.

    “”The area needs this 24/7 presence in order to move forward,”” Downing said. “”Lord knows downtown could use some new construction.””

    Downing’s concept, which he said he would like to pursue “”as soon as possible,”” follows last week’s collapse of the $350 million Rainbow Bridge project, which was shelved by Shelton and Tucson city officials due to its costs.

    “”Great ideas often grow out of frustration,”” Downing said. “”Some people had dreams of a Rainbow Bridge – but sometimes when your dreams have been shattered, your vision becomes exceedingly clear.””

    However, any UA presence downtown would not be on the scale of Arizona State University’s new campus in downtown Phoenix, but more of a controlled growth that retains the university’s character, Shelton said.

    “”We need to grow, not like ASU, but to maintain quality as we do it,”” Shelton said. “”We’re not going to remain static, but growth without quality is hollow.””

    As residents voice “”a lot of concern”” over university ambitions, new downtown facilities oriented “”vertically and not horizontally”” could also ease the strain on nearby Sam Hughes and Jefferson Park neighborhoods, said Downing, who is also a candidate for state Senate District 28.

    “”These residents are concerned about having their lifestyle and life savings influenced by the institution that they love,”” Downing said.

    Tucson’s city leadership has always envisioned a downtown UA presence, and it should move beyond chalkboards and into living space for staff, faculty and graduates, said Tucson City Manager Mike Hein.

    “”With more amenities for well-rounded lifestyles, the downtown area becomes more attractive,”” said Hein. “”Whatever we can do to facilitate that role is good for the UA and downtown – however, all great ideas are sometimes stunted by money.””

    A regional transportation plan, approved by city voters earlier this year, includes light rail service from University Medical Center to I-10 that could move students from the UA’s Main Gate to downtown facilities within minutes and provide a link to Pima Community College’s downtown campus, Downing said.

    We need to grow, not like ASU, but to maintain quality as we do it. We’re not going to remain static, but growth without quality is hollow.
    – Robert Shelton,
    UA president

    Such rail service would fit perfect into a UA expansion plan – along with a graduate degree program, said Richard Oseran, owner of Hotel Congress.

    “”I think it’s a great idea to have UA facilities downtown,”” said Oseran. “”Downtown campuses are viable and do great in all the great cities of this country.””

    Students eager to experience more of Tucson’s culture than just the UA campus believe the idea has merit.

    “”If there were classes available downtown, I’d take them,”” said Rick Jordan, a psychology sophomore. “”Especially if there was transportation I could take back and forth, the experience here would be more rounded-out.””

    Elle Oviedo, a pre-business sophomore who lives downtown, said there could be benefits in having campus space closer to her home.

    “”There’d be more resources, not just for me, though,”” said Oviedo. “”I know a lot of people who live in the dorms that would attend downtown, but many of them don’t have cars … so light rail would be important.””

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