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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Redevelopment puts city in limbo

    It’s 2 a.m. when a fire alarm goes off downtown, turning a six-story building into a giant flashing rave machine. People pile out from the bars on Congress, anticipating chaos and confusion, only to find a mere half-dozen people ambling out from the top floors of the old Martin Luther King Jr. building.

    The newly renovated, shining hope for Tucson’s downtown renaissance – One North Fifth Apartments – is currently much like the rest of the area we know so well: in limbo. Although the primped-up apartment building should have been finished before the beginning of the school year, it has suffered from the same construction holdups plaguing the rest of downtown development. According to leasing manager Vanessa Calles, currently there are only about 15 people living in the almost 100-bedroom complex, although others have reserved spots.

    The delay threatening the future of One North Fifth is just another symptom of downtown Tucson’s resistance to urbanization, despite what a number of city councilors and developers may hope for. So far, the grand schemes of Phoenician arenas, light-rails and food Meccas remain just a glimmer in the eyes of some, and a burden to many. Remembering the days of the Fourth Avenue underpass is as hard as remembering the menu at Chicken Kitchen.

    Before the building housed identical rows of middle class hipster swank, it was the Martin Luther King Jr. building, a low-rent, affordable complex for seniors and the disabled. Not quite a tourist draw, but important to many of the ideas for which Tucson stands. When the building got older, the city threatened to tear it down, and Peach Properties teamed up with Williams & Dame of Portland to turn the building into a more attractive centerpiece, and to make money.

    Although the new apartment complex houses 11 affordable units, the majority are being sold at the market price of between $625 and $850 per month. This does not include parking, which the city will charge for when the new garage is finished.

    According to the Tucson Citizen, the city plans to build another Martin Luther King Jr. Apartments behind One North Fifth. But at the rate the latter is going, global warming could eliminate human life before it is finished.

    No matter, the Tucson Citizen concluded in a separate article that it was not like the people who lived there actually meant anything. Columnist Mark Kimble called the former building “”a dreary concrete monolith where low-income elderly people lived.””

    “”The bones of the building remain,”” he wrote. “”But it has gone from a place where people lived when they had nowhere else to go, to a place where people want to live.””

    The change highlights a startling philosophy many “”optimists”” are beginning to impose on downtown: if it looks like Phoenix, make it. Under the guise of “”downtown re-development”” and “”downtown renaissance,”” the city is allowing construction workers to painstakingly tear up the charm and lives of the downtown area and leave nothing but the hope of more Ikea furniture in its place.

    For many developing cities across the country, the mantra is the same: for the sake of progress, we must hide all of the scars and dirt underneath the city, and give tourists the illusion that this is a fun place to live, with no rough spots, like the homeless and elderly. Eliminate the weak and outlaw the poor, but at the same time put in some industrial walls and minimalist décor to make people feel New York chic.

    “”It’s for people looking for that urban industrial lifestyle,”” Calles replied when asked about the absence of pictures along the dorm-style hallways. Someday, she may be right. But Tucson remains as stubborn as its residents. In the future we may be San Francisco, but for now we’re just a bunch of lights flickering on and off in the dark.

    – Andi Berlin is a journalism senior. She can be reached at

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