|The Arizona Daily Star,
TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 11, 2009 - About 50 people got a close look at a preliminary architectural design for a Downtown convention center hotel Monday night. The architects detailed their plans, including their goal to break ground this fall.
Imagine a 25-story, 525-room hotel shaped like a deck of cards -- narrow on the east and west and broad on the south and north. The northern face, overlooking the center of Downtown, would be a mix of glass and metals to make it reflective; the southern face would be more subdued, with indigenous rock. Questions abound
What's not known is how much the design would cost or exactly how the hotel would be paid for. The architects, the DLR Group of Overland Park, Kan., and the developer, Garfield Traub Development of Dallas, are scheduled to deliver the design and budget numbers to the City Council in two weeks.
Stephen Moffett, president of Garfield Traub, told us after the public meeting that financing for the publicly owned hotel would probably primarily be through bonds backed by the hotel's revenues. But some support from the Rio Nuevo tax-increment-financing district would also be required.
If Tucson loses the TIF money -- sales taxes paid in the Rio Nuevo District and rebated to Rio Nuevo by the state -- the hotel will not be built, Moffett said.
During the meeting, architects and developers fielded questions about the design, including:
--Given that the proposed hotel's main entrance will be on Granada Street, how will designers encourage pedestrian visitors?
The answer: Some design elements already do; it's a question the designers will work on as they refine the plans. Also, the new streetcar route will go past, bringing people from the West Side or down from University Medical Center, through the Fourth Avenue underpass and over from Congress Street.
--Will the designers use any solar energy in the design?
The answer: Maybe a pilot effort in part of the building.
--How will designers avoid creating a heat-island effect from the combined convention center and hotel complex?
The answer: By including indigenous materials, lots of shade and other mitigating designs.
--Will the hotel incorporate public art by Tucson artists?
The answer: Yes, emphatically. There will be a call to artists for large landscape sculptures, wall pieces and murals, and art for the meeting and hotel rooms. Coordinating with arena
Among those attending the meeting Monday were representatives of 360 Architecture of Kansas City, which has been tapped to design an arena south of Congress along the Interstate 10 frontage road, and Swaim Associates of Tucson, the local architects on that project.
Ken Martin of DLR said the hotel architects and developers met Monday with the arena team and streetcar engineers.
"We talked about how we need consistent design guidelines (at street level) so that it all makes sense and flows together," said Martin.
The hotel, as tall as the Unisource Energy Tower, would be operated and marketed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide as a Sheraton convention hotel. It would include meeting spaces and be linked to the Tucson Convention Center. A four-level parking structure next to it would begin underground and be tiered and landscaped as it rises so that it won't look like a garage.
"We're trying to make a heroic building for the city of Tucson," said Gary Worthy of DLR's Phoenix office.
Tony Traub, a principal with Garfield Traub, said the firm may build hotels, but in fact is in "the redevelopment business."
He said, "You've got wonderful infrastructure Downtown. Part of our business is to spur private developers to invest Downtown. It really can happen here."
We were impressed with the design, especially the hotel's glowing north facade. We hope designers will continue to work on its heat-island effect and pedestrian friendliness. The TCC-hotel complex must not be a monolith that's daunting to approach.
The unknowns are still plentiful: the project's cost; the ability to float bonds in a spiraling economy; and whether the necessary TIF support will be preserved by state lawmakers, who face a large budget deficit.
We hope the hotel project proves viable because we want the best for Downtown. A vibrant city center is critical to economic development and an overall high quality of life. Great cities have great downtowns.
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Copyright (c) 2009, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
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