New Streetscape Will Transform Toole Avenue

September 1, 2011

Michael Keith explains the streetscape plan to WAMO members

Quick, head on over to Toole Avenue where the warehouses are, park your car, and walk the two blocks from Stone to Sixth Avenue.

Do it in the next month or so, do it with a camera or video camera to capture for eternal memory the bleak, even forbidding, streetscape that runs alongside the century-old warehouses.

This is the “before” visage, one that will be quickly forgotten after an ambitious one-day streetscape transformation slated for Oct. 22 in a hands-on public tree planting event starting at 8 a.m.

Community members will help plant the trees and then the partying starts and continues throughout the day and evening. It’s not just partying, but also a prime chance for the Warehouse Arts Management Organization to strongly promote the 25-year-old Warehouse Arts District, which still remains a mystery to many people.

“We have to tell our stories really well,” said Michael Keith, executive director of the Downtown Tucson Partnership.

Some of the warehouses – now all privately owned after 25 years of state ownership – have been dressed up colorfully. But walking the sidewalk is quite the gauntlet with changes in surface and levels, barely a trace of shade unless you’re under The Arches, and eerily dark at night.

That will all change on Oct. 22.

Like the Berlin Wall went up in a single day in August 1961, this two-block stretch of Toole Ave. is destined to be transformed into a pedestrian Art Walk on one day in October 2011.

The Downtown Tucson Partnership is leading the Art Walk project in partnership with the Warehouse Arts Management Organization.

Some 50 trees will be planted that day along those two blocks of Toole. In the days or weeks before Oct. 22, the city is expected to build a new, uniform, pedestrian-friendly sidewalk and add lighting. The city already repaved that stretch of Toole one year ago, in September 2010,

Each warehouse on that stretch is planning to install a temporary outdoor art display that day, and permanent art is also being considered for the Art Walk.

“We want to create a street so compelling you want to park your car and walk those two blocks,” Keith said. “There is going to come the day when everybody who has an event will want to route it here.”

That’s why the “before” image is so important, to truly appreciate the revitalization of what could become the premiere event street once the Modern Streetcar puts a crimp on street events on 4th Avenue, Congress Street or Broadway.

“We’re excited that it’s helping to move forward the vision of the Toole Avenue Art Walk,” WAMO President Liz Burden said.

Keith has championed this Art Walk for Toole Avenue for some five years, ever since he lead the charge to compile a Downtown Infrastructure Study, which identified the myriad utilities above and below the ground as well as future needs: such as an Art Walk for Toole.

“This was always nearest and dearest to my heart for its potential,” Keith said. “We pitched that to everybody in the world but we could never get any traction on the idea.”

Keith remained dogged on the Art Walk and, in the mean time, became executive director of the Downtown Tucson Partnership in May 2010.

Keith was able to assemble a $100,000 cash and in-kind budget to build the Art Walk, funded one-third by the city, one-third by the Partnership and one-third by the private sector. He said Providence Service Corp. will provide constructions teams, Cox Communications will provide PR and construction management, and Toole property owners Ron and Patricia Schwabe, Steve Fenton and Geoff Sheppard are contributing to the cause, too.

Some trees will go into the ground. Some trees will grow in raised planters. A few trees will be in the street median. Some will go into bump out planters between parking spaces. There will also be three brick crosswalks across Toole.

Keith envisions a gateway artwork for Toole and Sixth Avenue to boldly proclaim entry into the Warehouse Arts District.

Crews will drill holes for the trees bright and early on Oct. 22, and the community is invited to help plant trees, starting at 8 a.m.

All the work will be on the warehouse side of Toole. Across the street, Pima County in the coming year could start building the Joint Courts Complex.

“Discussions have begun with the county about landscaping on their side of the street,” Keith said. “They would landscape before construction begins.”