Chicago Store, Pioneer Building, Shoe City Building Vie for Facade Improvement Grants

March 20, 2012

The Screening Room was restored during a previous facade improvement program.

By Teya Vitu

Façade improvement grants could restore the gleaming 1916 façade of The Chicago Store and bring some of the original 1929 panache back to the Pioneer Building.

Both are finalists in the third round of the Downtown Tucson Partnership’s Façade Improvement Program, along with City High School, which wants to restore the 1941 look of the Howard & Stofft/Shoe City Building on Pennington Street.

Each received $5,000 from the program to draw up architectural designs, determine engineering costs, explore building conditions and final budget planning. The program’s selection committee will announce on April 30 which projects will be awarded grants up to $100,000, which the applicant must match dollar-for-dollar.

“I’m terribly excited,” Chicago Store CEO David Fregonese said. “For quite some time, it’s looked like an old building in need of serious repairs. I don’t think that has helped the image of the store.”

The Downtown Tucson Partnership has eagerly awaited a façade grant application from the Chicago Store since the façade improvement grant program was launched in May 2008.

“The first time, it was at the beginning of a reorganization for us,” Fregonese said. “This time, it was just more appropriate for us as a company. This time it’s a wonderful opportunity. We’re here to stay.”

The Chicago Store, 130 East Congress, has occupied the two-story brick structure since 1964. Prior to that, a JC Penney was in that building, which dates back to 1916.

Fregonese signed on with Eglin-Cohen Architects. Improvements will include uncovering transom windows that have been covered by a metal sign; exposing closed-up windows, restoring cornice pieces, patching stucco and making brick repairs.

“We want to restore the building back to a more historic look,” Fregonese said.

He hopes to have The Chicago Store all spiffed up by the end of the year.

Façade improvements have been a much more recent inspiration for the 11-story Pioneer Building, which would, by far, be the largest building enhanced by the Façade Improvement Program.

“It’s been something we’ve been looking at for the last six months,” said Michael Laatsch, Pioneer’s asset manager for Holualoa Companies, which owns the tower. “A lot of it had to do with the lack of demand for office space. We can’t just continue what we’ve been doing. We need to do something to generate some interest.”

Laatsch reckons Holualoa’s façade investments will by far exceed the required $100,000 match. Downtown architect Rob Paulus will oversee the transformation of the 1970s look back to the original 1929 Spanish Revival design.

The plan is to remove the windows from the third story up and install more historical windows in the 1929 building that was largely dressed in the 1970s look after the deadly December 20, 1970 arson fire that killed 29 people and redefined the Pioneer – as a structure and its purpose.

Much attention will go to the Pioneer roofline. Laatsch also wants to remove the existing metal façade at the roof line that covers the intact Spanish Revival detailing. Also, restore the original openings at the loggia at the roof deck, and repair and repaint the connection points on the roof cornice.

“What we are looking at doing is restoring some of the historic look,” Laatsch said.

Just a few feet beyond the Pioneer Building, the third façade that may get an improvement grant involves the former Howard & Stofft Stationers/Shoe City building at 37 East Pennington Street.

This 1941 structure sits across an alley from City High School and both are owned by the Cele Peterson family. City High Executive Director Carrie Brennan intends to expand into the Shoe City building.

If you’re not quite sure what the Howard & Stofft/Shoe City building is, you’re not alone.

“The building’s been boarded up and painted over and it has essentially disappeared,” Brennan said. “We want to bring back the storefront windows.”

Brennan is working with B Space Architecture, which also did the interior designs for City High School.

The proposal calls for restoring storefront windows and sidewalk display cases, repairing front entry doors, adding new signage and awnings, and restoring exterior stucco and paint.

Brennan anticipates City High and the Shoe City buildings soon sitting in the heart of what is becoming a prime dining intersection just a few feet to the east. The University of Arizona Downtown is already in place across the street. Café Poca Cosa, 47 Scott and Café 54 are dining favorites, Reilly Craft Pizza is on the way, and if a premiere restaurant replaces Dizzy G’s, the Pennington/Scott intersection would become Tucson’s most densely packed urban dining destination.

“The Façade Renovation Program will allow us to restore the building… and have an immediate positive effect on people’s perceptions – and the reality – of Pennington Street as a vibrant and viable commercial corridor,” Brennan wrote in the grant application.

Façade improvement grants have had a marked impact on Downtown’s striking revival. The Downtown Tucson Partnership’s program directly led to Providence Service Corp. moving its corporate headquarters Downtown; Science Downtown turning the Rialto Block into an exhibition center; the Screening Room expanding beyond an independent movie venue; and brightening 6th Avenue with new color at The Drawing Studio, Beowulf Alley Theatre and Imago Dei Middle School,

“The combination of architectural authenticity and fresh, new business ideas is what’s leading the way in Downtown’s amazing four-year renaissance,” said Michael Keith, DTP’s chief executive. “I think the reason people like to go to places like Hotel Congress and HUB is they are architecturally historic and culturally interesting.”

The third round is funded with $90,000 from the Tohono O’odham Nation, $80,000 of dedicated city preservation funding remaining from the first round, $15,000 remaining from the second round, and a new $60,000 infusion from Providence and other private sector donors. More information on the current and previous programs are here.