Extreme makeover with trees and art coming to Toole Avenue

October 14, 2011

By Teya Vitu



A one-day transformation will hit Toole Avenue like a hurricane on Oct. 22.

Trees, shrubs and art work will decorate Toole Avenue from 6th Avenue to Stone Avenue.

On Friday the 21st, those two blocks of Toole from 6th Avenue to Stone Avenue will look as they have for decades: bleak, forlorn, a blank streetscape dotted with century-old warehouses with next to no human bustle outside along the street.

That changes on Oct. 22, a pleasant Saturday morning, when the “Toole Avenue Streetscape” will be radically redefined with some 30 trees and 138 sundry other plants, along with an array of art installations, some permanent, some semi-permanent and others temporary for that day.

The day will be an all-out effort by the Downtown Tucson Partnership, Warehouse Arts Management Organization, the city and a host of warehouse owners, tenants and other artisans to give Downtown perhaps its most astonishing one-day makeover ever.

This is meant to be a festive day with the public welcome to watch the creation of art or volunteer to plant trees. Toole will be closed to vehicle traffic from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 22 and the tree and shrub installation will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

By the time the early afternoon comes around on the 22nd, that two-block stretch of Toole will have tree culverts in parking spaces trees planted within along the sidewalk; a mesh screen with art panels stretching from Skrappy’s to Dinnerware Artspace; and especially the Dinnerware corner at 7th Avenue and the former Zee’s Warehouse corner at Stone Avenue will get quite the collection of greenery and art.

“You try to create a pedestrian friendly urban environment where people will be compelled to spend time and engage in the arts and creative industries,” said Michael Keith, chief executive of the Downtown Tucson Partnership. “The idea is to create an art district thoroughfare that extends from Hotel Congress to Toole and Franklin and include the lots in front of El Charro and the loading docs across from the Steinfeld Warehouse.  You can actually conceive of the 4th Avenue Street Fair materializing once you activate Toole.”

Artists have occupied Toole Avenue warehouses all the years that the Arizona Department of Transportation owned them since the mid-1980s, but there’s hardly any exterior evidence of the bustling arts colony within.

“I think Oct. 22 is a culmination of the continuing work artists have made for decades,” WAMO President Liz Burden said. “This is National Make a Difference Day. This is make a difference with a difference. It’s an opportunity for artists to create something along the avenue and say ‘We are here. We are interested in engaging with you.’ This is improving the one street that is the southern gateway to the arts district.”

This one-day transformation is two years in the making, starting in late 2009 as ADOT started auctioning off Toole warehouses. Now, all the Toole property between Stone and 6th Avenue is in private hands.

The city used Obama stimulus funding to repave Toole from Stone to Pennington in September 2010. The city in the past few weeks has installed ADA sidewalk ramps at Toole and 7th Avenue; a new bus stop was built just south of Dinnerware, 119 N. Toole. New sidewalk replaced damage sidewalk near Dinnerware; and three benches and three trash receptacle were installed at the 6th Avenue gathering area.

The city is supplying $34,415 for this $115,000 streetscape improvement with $27,000 coming from the Downtown Tucson Partnership with others making up the difference with cash or in-kind donations.

The Toole Avenue Streetscape improvements are a collaboration among the Downtown Tucson Partnership, Warehouse Arts Management Organization, city, ParkWise, Pima County, Norris Design, Peach Properties, Fenton Investments, Providence Service Corp., Arizona Artworks, Skrappy’s, Cox Communications, Santa Teresa Tile Works, Poster Frost Mirto, Ben’s Bells, BICAS, Borealis Arts, Borderlands Brewery, Citizens Arts Collective, Dinnerware Artspace, Solar Culture, Mat Bevel Institute, Siobhan Clothing, Toole Shed Art Studios, Trees for Tucson, Tucson Arts Brigade.

The streetscape work may touch only two blocks of Toole Avenue, but Keith sees this upgrade touching upon the futures beyond either end of Toole.

“It’s going to call attention to the Steinfeld Warehouse and the need to preserve that building and make it a viable feature of the Arts District,” Keith said. “The idea is to continue the success on Toole and eventually tie it to Fourth Avenue. This creates a southern edge of a large warehouse arts district.”

WAMO put out a call to artists to produce works for Toole Avenue.

“Toole Shed Artists between now and the 22nd and on the 22nd will be painting murals on the 6th Avenue wall and the roll-up door on Toole,” Burden said. “Skrappy’s is painting new mural panels. We’re going to have truly temporary art with chalk murals on the sidewalk and temporary installations on the (Joint Courts Complex) fence.”

The likely trees will be desert willow, mesquite Phoenix hybrid, Desert Museum palo verde. The shrubs under consideration are Chihuahuan rain sage, trailing indigo bush, freeway acacia, desert ruellia, bear grass, Santa Rita prickly pear.