I've lived in Tucson for 27 years. During that time, I have seen many changes in downtown-- some positive and some negative. (Yes, for those of you who live in the 'burbs. Tucson does have a downtown.)
I can remember walking downtown to shop at the old Jacome's and Penney's stores that once stood where the public library now is located. I also can remember the hey-day of Downtown Saturday Nights-- a downtown arts promotion program from the late 1980s. Hundreds of Tucsonans flocked downtown on the first and third Saturday nights to enjoy music, dancing, art, and shopping along Congress Street. (What happened to the enthusiasm of Downtown Saturday Nights and the businesses that used to be on Congress?) I also remember not too long ago when almost nothing was open on Congress Street except the Hotel Congress and the Rialto Theatre.
A small but determined group of artists and dreamers like me have been downtown supporters for years, despite multiple setbacks. Now, it appears as if downtown is rising again (even in the midst of the current traffic and parking nightmares). Along Congress Street, new shops and galleries are popping up next to bars and restaurants like The Grille, Sharks, The District, Tooleys, and Hotel Congress. The trolley tracks that will connect 4th Avenue and downtown are being installed. The city is helping businesses renovate the facades of the old buildings. There is progress.
Events like the Central Tucson Gallery Association's Summer Arts Cruise in June are bringing people downtown. Hundreds of people braved the construction to enjoy art, wine, music, finger foods, and good conversation. More than a dozen galleries were open along Congress Street, 6th Street, and 4th Avenue. (I currently have pieces in two of these galleries on Congress-- Dinnerware Artspace and the new Central Arts Gallery.)
I'm hoping that the artists, politicians, and downtown supporters will work together to wisely invest the Rio Nuevo funds to build a vibrant downtown.