UniSource has moved into its new HQ

October 31, 2011

By Teya Vitu


Move-in day was last weekend for the first wave of what will ultimately be 500-plus employees into the new UniSource Energy/Tucson Electric Power headquarters on Broadway at Scott Avenue .

About 85 employees have moved in and the rest will follow on Nov. 21.

More precisely, some 400 will drive home Nov. 18 from TEP’s Irvington Campus off Alvernon Road and commute to Downtown the following Monday.

This is a huge influx of Downtown employees for UniSource, which had only about 85 employees on four floors of the UniSource Energy Tower. Those exiled at Irvington for the past decade are relishing a return to Downtown.

“Everybody is jumping up and down,” said Dan Hogan, supervisor of TEP’s residential energy efficiency program. “Is it a good thing to have Janos across the street? Oh, yeah. There’s the 107X express to Downtown right in front of my house in Oro Valley.”

Beyond the bountiful lunch and public transit options, the Downtown consolidation principally serves UniSource/TEP employees.

“The idea is to get a lot of folks that work on the same projects under the same roof,” TEP spokesman Joe Salkowski said.

That particularly appeals to Shannon Breslin, the power company’s director of land management.

“Setting up a meeting can be cumbersome,” Breslin said about working at Irvington. “We work very closely with government relations, communications, treasury and finance. We pretty much touch every activity. We’re looking forward to being able to work under one roof.”

A lunch outing is an expedition from Irvington.

“Instead of taking 15 minutes to do that, you pop out the door and you’re right there,” Breslin said.

The new tower reconsolidates UniSource/TEP offices as had been the case prior to 2001, when the power company owned and occupied what is today the University of Arizona’s University Services Annex building, 220 W. Sixth St.

“There are efficiencies,” Hogan said from his Irvington Campus office. “Some of our business units are Downtown. If I have to ask a question about marketing, I can walk over. We’re so limited here.”

TEP currently has 85 administrative, legal, communications and budgeting staff Downtown. The Downtown consolidation will move about 420 employees in accounting, information technology and similar tasks Downtown from TEP’s Irvington Road facility.

The final employ count is still in flux.

“Part of it is finalizing which department heads want which people here,” Salkowski said.

Another unfinished detail is what will fill the 11,000 square feet of street-level commercial space along Broadway and Sixth Avenue. An announcement could come at a ribbon cutting ceremony tentatively set for December.

“We have not finalized anything yet,” Salkowski said.

The new TEP HQ is across from the Providence Service Corp. HQ.

The $60 million, nine-story, 170,000-square-feet office building is the first substantive office structure built Downtown since the Evo A. DeConcini Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse opened in 2000 and the 23-story UniSource Energy Tower was built in 1986.

UniSource bought the vacant Santa Rita Hotel from Humberto S. Lopez in July 2009 for an attractive $6.3 million, demolished it between September and November 2009, started excavating a hole in April 2010, with the building rising to street level by late summer 2010. Since early this year, the nine-story structure has pretty much had its finished look.

“We considered locations elsewhere in Tucson, but Downtown proved to be the perfect place for UniSource Energy’s new headquarters building,” said Paul Bonavia, the company’s chairman, president and CEO.  “We’re close to our community’s government and business leaders, and our employees will have easy access to restaurants, cultural attractions and other downtown businesses.”

The decision to locate downtown was made easier when UniSource Energy zeroed in on the two-acre lot occupied by the former Santa Rita Hotel, which became available for an attractive price of $6.3 million in a depressed real estate market.

“The availability of that lot gave us an opportunity to develop a cost-effective downtown headquarters building that represents a good long-term investment for our customers,” Bonavia said.

Meanwhile, the UniSource Energy Tower will be renamed One South Church as soon as the power company is out.

“I haven’t signed up anybody for the naming rights,” said Buzz Isaacson, broker at  CB Richard Ellis and Downtown’s leading commercial real estate leasing agent.

UniSource’s departure supplied Isaacson with 35,000 square feet of vacant space. Another 25,000 square feet will be emptied next year as the FBI moves to its new building on the West Side. The tower has 233,000 square feet of leasable space.

“I’ve had lots of action. I’ve been showing the TEP space,” Isaacson said.

But he has no signers. Isaacson said the UniSource Tower has had 96 percent occupancy for years. Next year, it could conceivably be 25 percent vacant, but that doesn’t faze Isaacson.

“Landlords don’t want big empty spaces, but you can’t attract big tenants without big space,” he said. “If you want to be in a big building, this is a great opportunity.”