Mayor Rothschild Is A Strong Ally for Downtown

December 20, 2011

By Teya Vitu

Downtown was Mayor Jonathan Rothschild’s stomping ground long before he took up his 10th floor roost in City Hall.Jonathan Rothschild makes his very familiar walk through the El Presidio Neighborhood.

In fact, his pre-mayoral office for half his life at the Mesch, Clark & Rothschild law firm was only two blocks north of City Hall, tucked in the El Presidio Neighborhood.

Rothschild grew up with the old Downtown when it was the city’s commercial center.

His 29-year stint at Mesch, Clark & Rothschild – the last 10 years as managing director – coincided with the very end of Downtown’s department store era and the three-decade slumber that followed.

“It was a different Downtown,” said Rothschild, who resigned from the law firm before taking the mayor’s oath. “You didn’t eat lunch Downtown. There was a character to it but not one that would attract people Downtown.”

Now Rothschild becomes mayor just as a sudden Downtown renaissance is thrust upon him.

“I bring people down and walk them around and they say ‘I didn’t know that was there’ and ‘Oh, that’s neat,’” Rothschild said. “That foundation’s in place. Some things I’d love to see is the Downtown façade program. I’d like to see more appropriate vegetation and lighting. The Toole Avenue (streetscape) is a good experiment. We can take that as a model of what all of our Downtown streets look like.”

The mayor paused a moment, wondering if he wanted to voice his next thought.

“I’d love to see Congress Street turn into a pedestrian zone,” he said. “There’s retail, restaurants, clubs, that’s when there’s going to be people walking past them and not driving by them.”

Rothschild often talks about partnerships and collaborations to make Tucson a better place.

“It can’t happen without public-private partnerships,” he said. “I’m lucky I’m assuming the reins when we are at a time that Downtown can take off.”

He already has a firm relationship in place with the Downtown Tucson Partnership’s chief executive and economic development director.

“I talk regularly with Michael Keith and Pam Sutherland. They have great ideas. Pam is great with finding funds,” Rothschild said.

Keith sees Rothschild as a strong ally in the mayor’s office for Downtown’s continuing revitalization.

“Jonathan is an extremely thoughtful individual with a long history of involvement Downtown,” Keith said. “I believe he understands the issues facing Downtown as well as anybody I’ve met. I think the City needs more collaborations with as many community partners as it can bring to the table, more so now than ever in the past.”

Buildings, streets, and infrastructure are vital, but they mean nothing without people.

“Corporate headquarters are important,” Rothschild said.

Tucson’s tallest building has 35,000 newly vacated square feet thanks to UniSource Energy’s move to its new headquarters building in Downtown. Now called One South Church, the tower will empty another 25,000 square feet in 2012 as the FBI moves to its new building on the West Side.

That adds up to 60,000 vacant square feet in the tower’s 233,000 square feet of leasable space.

“One South Church is going to be on the radar next year (2012). It’s going to be a six-month priority,” Rothschild said.

Next year, One South Church could conceivably be 25 percent vacant, but that doesn’t faze Buzz Isaacson, the broker at CB Richard Ellis representing the tower.

“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.”

The next chapter for Downtown is building the Modern Streetcar route, bringing University of Arizona students Downtown to live, and adding to the retail pool.

“The government should provide infrastructure,” the mayor said. “Then it’s up to the private sector to come down and do it.”

The City built the Depot Plaza and Centro garages in the past two years, rebuilt the 4th Avenue Underpass and resurfaced Toole Avenue.

Rothschild talks about “cleaning up and sprucing up,” improving street lighting, “probably some curb work,” and adding vegetation. If money can be found, Rothschild wants to once again fund the Façade Improvement Program, which is managed by the Downtown Tucson Partnership and has been privately funded the past year after being launched in 2008 with City money.

Rothschild steps into a testy relationship between the City and the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District. The Rio Nuevo Board in October filed a $47 million claim against the City to recover money spent to acquire Downtown land. Rio Nuevo also wants the city to hand over the West Side land originally destined for a Tucson Origins museum complex and freeway frontage road land once designated for a new arena.

“We want to resolve the dispute with the Rio Nuevo board. We will work to make that happen,” the mayor said. “If we can get that dispute resolved, we can make a great partnership with that board. I don’t know at this point what their priorities are.

“The state told them to focus on the Convention Center. As far as I’m concerned, they should do what the Legislature told them to do.”

In the mean time, Downtown moves ahead with the private sector in the lead.

“There’s been people interested in coming Downtown now,” Rothschild said. “It’s a safe place. It’s a place where there’s synergy. It’s a place where you can make a living. The pioneers laid the groundwork.”