Student Housing Will Arise Next to Rialto Theatre

June 18, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Joe Pagac murals on the Rialto Theatre wall delight drivers as they emerge from the Broadway underpass.

Six stories of student housing will be built on this lot next to the Rialto. Construction starts in a couple weeks.

Otherwise, there’s little to capture your attention other than the parking lot that has spread over the Broadway-Toole-Congress lot ever since the Greyhound station was razed in early 2006.

That’s set to change before the Fourth of July.

Get ready for some serious urban density that will create an instant Plaza Centro neighborhood with nearly 500 new residents at Downtown’s eastern edge. Imagine a six-story student housing structure stretching the length of the Rialto plus street-level retail.

Oasis Tucson President Jim Campbell has been getting ready since 2006 as he got the right of first refusal to develop the 2.47 acres of city-owned land on both sides of Toole Avenue between the Rialto and the railroad tracks.

While we’ve see nothing but surface parking and, since September 2011, the four-level, 378-space Centro Garage, Campbell has visualized several urban village settings since long before the Downtown renaissance took hold.

By the end of June, Campbell’s mental image will finally start to take shape on the former Greyhound lot and atop the Centro Garage.

A look at the Cadence student housing that will be built on the former Greyhound lot.

Campbell’s partner, Capstone Development Partners of Birmingham, Ala., will start construction of a $33 million, 456-bed university student housing complex called “Cadence.” The name is a nod to the rhythm of the nearby railroad, the rhythm of the even nearer bicyclists and the rhythm of the music right next door and across the street.

Capstone expects to have Cadence ready for University of Arizona students by August 2013.

“It was clear to us when we looked at the Downtown property that Downtown was on the move,” said Bruce McKee, Capstone’s principal. “Just in the period we’ve been involved, things are changing in an extremely positive way. When we started, we said we were at the end of 4th Avenue. Now we say we’re at the end of Congress. You can sell Congress as a true amenity of Downtown.”

Cadence will have a pair of six-story buildings in an L-shape on the Broadway-Toole-Congress triangle east of the Rialto and three stories on top of the Centro Garage. The buildings will run along the Rialto and Broadway with a one-story commercial section extending along Toole to create a tenant-only courtyard.

The six-story complex is a radical shift from the 11-story tower proposal with 750 beds that Oasis/Capstone presented in April 2011. At that time, the University of Arizona chose Oasis/Capstone and Peach Properties in a request for proposal process for privately-financed and –owned student housing projects with UA branding and student referrals.

In the past year, the Capstone team rethought plopping an 11-story tower in a 1910s environment. McKee acknowledged “it was pretty harsh” and there was a “certain skepticism” from the public for the tower.

“We scaled it down to the adjoining neighborhood,” Campbell said. “It goes back to the old master plan,” sketched out by Los Angeles architect Aleks Istanbullu.

Drivers coming to Downtown on Broadway will thread between six stories of student housing on the left and more student housing atop the Centro Garage to the right.

Originally, Campbell’s Plaza Centro literally was a village plaza environment with restaurant/retail/loft buildings built around a plaza. Back then, commercial was primary, housing secondary, something a couple stories above the shops.

Even in the past year, commercial space has been scaled back more, from 12,000-14,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet. Campbell plans to start marketing the commercial space in July.

Capstone is tapping into the new school of student housing that has just come on the market in the past couple years. Apartments come in one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom configurations, but the days of shared bathrooms or bathrooms down the hall are so – 20th century.

“All of the students will have private bedrooms and bathrooms,” said Chad Izmirian, a Capstone senior vice president based in the Encinitas, Calif., office near San Diego. “The building will be fully wireless. Cable and Internet is included in the rent. We lease by the bed, not by the unit.”

Cadence is non-freshman housing. The six-story structures on the Greyhound lot will have more three- and four-bedroom apartments and some two-bedrooms and singles.

The 169 apartments on the Centro Garage will have one-, two- or three- bedrooms.

“We thought the garage side is more attractive for an older student, a graduate student or a senior.” Izmirian said.

The Centro Garage will undergo quite a transformation in the next year. Think of what you see now as a skeleton.

10,000 square feet of commercial and offices will wrap around the 4th Avenue and Toole sides at street level and 12 apartments will be built on the cantilevered deck jutting out from the garage’s second level. Three stories of apartments will be built on top of the garage.

“It will make it look like a mixed-use development rather than just a garage,” McKee said. “It will change the character dramatically.”

Capstone has built 60,000 student housing units on or near 62 universities, including most recently the University of Florida and Bowling Green State University. Capstone also opened two phases of Taylor Place with 1,284 apartments in fall 2008 and 2009 for Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus. Taylor Place is on Taylor Street between 1st and 2nd streets.

Izmirian’s Western Division has built student housing for Colorado State University,  University of the Pacific, University of San Diego and University of Redlands.

Plaza Centro could only happen because Campbell convinced the Tucson Department of Transportation to realign the underpass. The original design had two tunnels aligned in a way to render the Downtown side undevelopable.

“You ended up with no useable land (next to the railroad) and the Greyhound lot was about half the size it is now. It made the land worthless,” Campbell said.

Campbell suggested the present alignment, which created two workable pads that will be Plaza Centro.

In the mean time, streetcar construction has started, and Cadence and the streetcar should come online at roughly the same time.

“We’re going to heavily promote the streetcar and try to get our students to only use the streetcar,” McKee said.

Izmirian added: “Being a mile from campus is not necessarily convenient, but the streetcar makes it convenient.”