Tucson says $50 million grant will kick off ‘transformational’ redevelopment

WASHINGTON – Tucson officials said a $50 million federal grant will allow the city to begin work on long-awaited “transformational” redevelopment of the Oracle Road and Miracle Mile area near downtown.

The grant for the so-called “Thrive in the ’05” plan – named for ZIP code 85705 – will mostly go toward the redevelopment of Tucson House, the largest public housing facility in the city and home to more than 450 seniors and residents with disabilities.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said in a statement that the grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative program will also allow the city to leverage about $300 million in additional public and private funding for the Thrive in the ‘05 neighborhood transformation plan.

The overall plan calls for investments aimed at improving education and training, reducing crime, and boosting health and wellness in the region. But the main focus is on on housing development.

In addition to renovating Tucson House, the grant will fund three additional “affordable, mix-income housing” developments, including developments by the Amazon Motel and on Stone Avenue, said Alison Miller, manager of the Thrive in the ‘05 project.

But Miller said the Tucson House, a 17-story public housing site development, will serve as the “nexus” for the rest of the project.

Tucson House was originally built as a luxury apartment complex in 1963, but the area began to decline in the 1970s and the complex was abandoned by the time HUD bought it and converted it to public housing in the 1980s. Miller said the building has not received any significant renovation since the 1990s and is in serious need of redevelopment.

“We’ve been doing the best we can to maintain the building for current residents, but the grant really gives us the opportunity to fully redevelop Tucson House and make it a modern amenity,” she said.

More than just a revamp

The project will do more than just revamp the physical space. Plans call for the introduction of assisted living services and proposed amenities, including a health clinic, grocery store and cafe, all aimed at letting Tucson House residents age in place. These changes will allow the complex to better serve the aging population of those over 65, who now account for almost half the population in the ’05 area, according to the plan.

Miller said renovations will take place floor by floor to minimize the disturbance to residents, who will be moved out of their units before construction. She said special care will be taken to connect residents with relocation specialists or to move them elsewhere in the building if they are unable to leave.

“We expect to be under construction at Tucson House by the end of next year, and having this grant means we can finalize our timelines better moving forward,” she said.

The July 26 HUD announcement was welcomed by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who called it a “transformational investment in our community.”

“I’m proud to support this vital surge in funding to a neighborhood that is an essential building block of Tucson to ensure its legacy as a thriving, multigenerational community carries on,” Grijalva said in a statement released Wednesday.

Romero said the grant will accelerate the timeline for the housing projects and establish 550 new or rehabilitated housing units. She repeated the “transformative” nature of the project, which in has been in the planning stages for years.

“This transformative grant will benefit Tucsonans for years to come,” Romero said in a prepared statement. “This is a huge win for all of Tucson and the result of strong collaboration necessary to bring federal dollars home.”

The grant may also be used to fund other aspects of the plan including the creation of a “High Capacity Transit” route to boost connectivity from the ’05 to facilities like the Veterans Administration hospital and the University of Arizona.

Miller says the Tucson Department of Housing and Community Development is excited to receive the grant which had an application process of 5 years.

“Honestly, I’m still in shock,” Miller said. “I didn’t necessarily think this day would come but I’m so excited to be able to make good on some of the dreams that we’ve had collectively with residents over this time.”

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