The spat between Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage—better known as BICAS—and landlord David Aguirre has taken yet another turn.
It now appears that the Arizona Department of Transportation is maneuvering to keep the bike nonprofit in its current, ADOT-owned basement digs on East Sixth Street. Meanwhile, the city is also angling to take over that warehouse under a special arrangement with the state.
This flurry unfolded in May, when BICAS was hit with the news that Aguirre was boosting the rent from $800 to $1,890. (See "BICAS Battle," Currents, June 11.) This, for a space that, although large at 6,386 square feet, is short on natural light and lacking the accoutrements of heating and cooling.
The latter is abundantly obvious on this drizzling, muggy Friday, as John Salgado stands amid the humid hubbub of people diligently fixing their rigs, and a swarm of teens learning the nuts and bolts of bike-building.
As BICAS' administrative coordinator, Salgado is a bit preoccupied about the spot where this spirited nonprofit will end up. But he does have a hint: Last week, the state impressed upon Aguirre to squeeze BICAS' rent back down. That's the good news. The dicier news is that the city has plans to gain control of the Citizens Warehouse where BICAS is located, possibly by August. After that, all bets are off.
This temporary reprieve followed a visit from Jacki Valinski, who works in ADOT's right-of-way management division. Valinksi wasn't permitted to speak with us; instead, we were referred to ADOT public involvement director Teresa Welborn, who confirmed that BICAS wasn't going to suffer a drastic rent increase after all.
"I talked to our right-of-way folks, and they said they asked both parties—BICAS and David Aguirre—to hold the status quo," Welborn says, "which is the $800 rent."
The city has also suggested various land swaps with the state to obtain Citizens, says Andrew Singelakis, Tucson's deputy transportation director. But a deal has proven elusive, primarily because the city properties haven't approached the Citizens building's estimated $500,000 value. Still, deals are pending for other downtown warehouses, including one occupied by the Museum of Contemporary Art on Toole Avenue.
In the meantime, city officials have steered very clear of the BICAS-Aguirre feud. "We're not involved at all," Singelakis says. "David Aguirre is ADOT's tenant at this point in time."
But that situation may be about to change—whether or not the city obtains Citizens outright. Publicity surrounding BICAS' plight apparently ratcheted up pressure on both city and state officials to get creative. The result is a proposal in which the state would grant control of Citizens to the city, as an easement to the planned Barraza-Aviation Parkway extension. The parkway is slated to course through the Warehouse District and connect to Interstate 10.
Although ADOT would still own the building, the city would put Citizens management out for bid, which could lead to Aguirre being contracted to run it, much as he does today. (Currently, he leases Citizens from the state, and sublets to BICAS.)
The driver behind this move is City Councilwoman Regina Romero, whose Ward 1 includes the Citizens building, and the Steinfeld Warehouse across the street. Last week, Romero paid a visit to BICAS, and says she came away impressed. She also offered the group some advice regarding Aguirre's rent hike: "I told them in our meeting, 'Please make sure that you're contacting ADOT. They are the owners of these properties, and they should know what's been happening to you lately.'"
Aguirre acknowledges that he has agreed to drop BICAS' rent back down—at least temporarily. "ADOT told me they were getting ready to transfer the buildings in August," he says, "and that they didn't want anything to derail that. And I said, 'Let's do whatever we need to do.'"
It also turns out that BICAS isn't just any tenant. When ADOT turns over a building in this way, the law requires that the property maintain a transportation aspect. "We all consider BICAS to have a public and a transportation purpose," says Romero, "so that would feed into it perfectly."
She also considers the group a boon for her ward. "I believe in BICAS and their mission," she says. "They train people to use a form of transportation that we have been using for hundreds of years, that's healthy for our environment and healthy for the people using it. They also work closely with youth that may be at risk of being homeless or getting into some type of unhealthy lifestyle."
Ultimately, the future of BICAS at Citizens will come down to money. Romero says the city is committed to keeping downtown space affordable for artists and nonprofits. Meanwhile, the obvious choice to oversee Citizens, say insiders, is the Warehouse Arts Management Organization, or WAMO. Given Aguirre's longstanding involvement with WAMO, it's quite likely that he'll get the nod to continue managing Citizens.
But the city would have the final say on leases, says Romero, and that means keeping them reasonable. "We have to. We wouldn't want to start kicking people out because they can't afford their rents."
So whoever manages Citizens will probably operate under far tighter reins than Aguirre has known. And while a little fence-mending may be in order, don't hold your breath: He's a little peeved at all the flak he's received for hiking BICAS' rent. "Citizens needs at least $150,000 worth of work," he says, "so I started looking at the rent thing, especially with BICAS, because I heard they had all this money. That's fine. But the rest of us are struggling, and the rest of the artists in the building have been underwriting BICAS for years."
Back in his steamy basement workshop, John Salgado wonders why Aguirre insists that this nonprofit has deep pockets. "We have an annual operating budget of $100,000," Salgado says, "and most of it is from grants that we have to spend on certain things."
As for BICAS' much-contested nest egg, "We have about $26,000 in our savings account," he says. "That's not a lot of money."