Artsy Centro Garage is Open for Parking

September 8, 2011

By Teya Vitu

A new era started Sept. 8 on the east edge of Downtown with the dedication of the four-level, 378-space, art-infused Centro Garage, 345 E. Congress St, right at the Fourth Avenue underpass and across from Hotel Congress and the Rialto Theater.

Daniel Martin Diaz (center) at the Centro Garage dedication with his artwork in the background.

Centro Garage could will be the only garage in America with prominent art as its primary beacon, courtesy of local artist Daniel Martin Diaz’s Desert Splendor.

“There is a sense of beauty and wonder here in the desert that is unique from other parts of the world. I wanted to capture that essence,” stated Diaz.

More than 100 people showed up for the dedication of the $6.5 million on the morning of  Sept. 8

“What a great moment for the city of Tucson. Just short of a miracle,” Mayor Bob Walkup said. “No, it is a miracle. We’ve come so far. You haven’t seen anything yet. Right around the corner in the next two to three years time there will be miracles happening all the time.”

Centro Garage may look like just a garage with spectacular art, but by the end of 2013, the garage will largely disappear as 20,000 square feet of retail space and 8,000 square feet of office space will wrap around the garage on street level.

Three stories of student housing with 170 beds will be built atop the garage by Oasis Tucson and Capstone Development. That partnership also plans to build a seven-story v-shaped student housing structure with 450 to 650 beds on the parking lot next to the Rialto Theatre. That site could also include a grocery market.

Construction on both sides of the street is expected to start in spring with housing ready for University of Arizona students for the fall semester in 2012, said local developer Jim Campbell of Oasis Tucson.

A closer look at the Diaz artwork during the Centro Garage dedication

The entire Centro project – once called Plaza Centro – will bring an urban mixed-use development with residential, retail and office to the east end of Downtown to complement the entertainment already there.

“This building is the foundations of all the goals the city set 10 years ago. It is completely mixed-use all on one site,” said Chris Leighton, parking coordinator at ParkWise, which oversaw the construction and now manages the garage.

Michael Keith, executive director of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, echoed Leighton’s and Walkup’s thoughts.

“This is truly our time,” Keith said. “We are not going back. We’re hearing about boutique hotels, we’re hearing about microbreweries. People are walking into our office every day with new ideas.”

D.L Withers Construction, which is based Downtown, built the garage under the supervision of company Vice President David Bradley.

“I grew up in Tucson,” said Bradley, who opened a leather shop in 4th Avenue while in high school in 1970. “Never did I imagine this. We didn’t think it would fit on this site. We figured out a way to do it.”

Indeed, the fact that a developable site exists at all wedged between the railroad, underpass, Toole and Congress stems from Campbell’s suggesting to realign the initial designs for the 4thAvenue underpass.

Garage ambience at the Centro Garage dedication.

The garage was designed by Aleks Istanbullu Architects of Los Angeles. He is also the architect for the commercial-residential at the garage and he is the master planner for the Oasis Tucson/Capstone project across the street.

Once completed, this public/private partnership will benefit downtown Tucson and the City as a whole. Annual tax revenues generated for the City of Tucson’s General Fund are projected to exceed $300,000. One-time revenues, including construction sales tax and housing and retail impact fees, are projected at $800,000. The 10-month construction period supported approximately 300 jobs, and the entire development is expected to add 24-28 new full-time positions. The ParkWise investment in this project is spurring a private sector investment of more than $12 million.