CorrectionThe computer rendering of Simon Donovan's Diamondback Bridge accompanying "Downtown Downturn" (June 28) should have been credited to Lance Hanson.
Down and OutTo the Editor,
There are many inaccuracies and at least one misquote that I know of in Margaret Regan's "Downtown Downturn" (June 28).
First of all, Regan misquoted me when she wrote that no funding institutions offered to help Damesrocket Theater. The Tucson/Pima Arts Council and the Arizona Commission on the Arts did try to help Damesrocket Theater. In my interview with Regan, I quoted the exact amounts they offered and said that it was simply too little too late. These worthy organizations did make an effort, but as you might guess, funding for the arts is slim and may get worse. I would be interested to know how many of the people Regan interviewed for her article are associated with nonprofit entities as opposed to myself and Debi Schoenholtz, who make a living without relying on government funding.
If Sarah Clements of the Tucson Arts District Partnership, Inc. (or, as I like to call them, TADPINK) was not misquoted as I was, she is lying when she claims "Caroline gutted the theater." Did Regan check her facts? I bailed aka out in early 1998 when they were a year behind on their mortgage and the space was signed over to me. The theater had not been maintained before that. The entire ceiling had fallen in along with some of the roof. The floor was shredded, windows were broken, most plumbing unworkable. Oh, and TEP later turned off the electricity citing "fire hazard." The place had been ransacked. Nothing but decay, pigeon poop and six truckloads of junk to the dump.
I fixed all of the above and paid for audience platforms, curtains, etc. I paid for the seats, and if I wish to donate them to a church, I will do so. This building, in addition to finally being safe, is a beautiful showcase compared to when I took over. There is maple flooring that came from McKale Center and looks much like Dinnerware's floor. There are some short, temporary dividers on this floor to provide privacy--the only change in immediate appearance. The vintage skylight is intact and properly repaired.
Regan states that "the stage is gone." There never, ever was a stage per se--the absence of which is what defines a black box theater, something an arts writer should know.
To say I gutted the theater is absurd and just may be Clements' backpedaling after okaying a tattoo business. During my search for tenants, I repeatedly asked TADPINK to define what they meant by "arts related enterprises" as stated in the deed restriction and the closest definition I got was a letter to me stating a tattoo business was not unacceptable to herself or her organization.
I live in downtown Tucson, love it, and want the best for us. I don't need TADPINK spending tax dollars to tell me what constitutes art--who does?
I agree with John Updike that occupancy and improvement are crucial. Retailers are reluctant to move downtown because it's too risky due to all these groups squabbling and ultimately providing no leadership, not because of tattoo studios. Articles like "Downtown Downturn" can only drive values down and therefore assist developers in taking over. I, for one, plan to remain positive in spite of this silly, scrap-grabbing political jockeying.
Margaret Regan replies: Caroline Reed was in no way misquoted in my story. To take her criticisms one by one:
First, the quote she objects to, "I never received assistance from any granting organization, or the Arts District, or the Tucson Downtown Alliance," was taken verbatim from the statements she gave me in a telephone interview. These remarks came at the end of a long tale in which she explained that she had hedged her bets by applying for nonprofit status at the same time that she applied for grants from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. When she learned that the small amounts they were willing to award her would in no way begin to meet her expenses, she canceled her application for nonprofit status and thus gave up the possibility of receiving grants. Her statement is accurate and true: She never did get any grant money. While there wasn't space in my general overview of downtown to detail the complicated transaction between Reed and the granting groups, I regret if the summary version in my story was unclear. However, it is ironic that while Reed now boasts that she makes a living "without relying on government funding," she certainly was willing to play the grants game if it had yielded greater financial rewards.
Second, she characterizes as a "lie" a statement that "Caroline gutted the theater." There's no contesting the fact that the theater was gutted. What once was a theater is no longer a theater. It's a tattoo parlor. The theater was gutted. Of course I checked my facts. The last time I had visited the space was in March 1998 to review Reed's production of the play Top Girls. At that time, 125 Congress Street was a working theater, with platforms, seats, lights, the works. For the current story, I visited the space again, now called Hardcore Tatu, and described what I found, not a theater but a "shop open for business," "a brightly lighted tattooing studio," with "its walls now covered with ... tattoo designs." The building is in no way described as a ruin. I asked Reed in our interview what had happened to all the theatrical equipment, and I noted the fate of some of the things in my story: The theater seats were sent to a church, the platforms put in storage. True, there never was a "stage" as such, but there certainly was a performing space that's now vanished.
None of these facts have anything to do with the fact that Reed had earlier worked hard to renovate a theater that was in ruins after aka theatre fell apart. Her efforts were duly noted in the story, which recounted, "Reed says she invested almost all of a small inheritance to buy the theater and renovate it."
Third, her contention that my article will serve to "drive values down" and "assist developers in taking over" is laughable, a classic case of shooting the messenger.
Finally, the article did not provide only a "forum for bureaucrats." I talked to people on both sides of the debate over the tattoo parlor, including some people who are angry with Reed. I gave a great deal of space to both Reed and her tenant, Debi Schoenholtz, and I interviewed a number of artists and gallery operators, a movie theater operator, a movie theater renovator and a city official who specializes in the downtown. I would have been remiss if, in a story on the Arts District, I had not interviewed Sarah Clements, executive director of the Tucson Arts District Partnership. Perhaps Reed would have preferred an all-Reed-all-the-time-format, but she's not going to get that from me.
Town CriersTo the Editor,
Well, well, well ... It seems that all these years of people saying they want to see the downtown area thrive is well and good as long as it is the "right" kind of people that go downtown. Ones that don't smoke outside and stare at women, have tattoos or enjoy music that is not of the classical or light jazz variety, or look like sailors. My suggestion to the galleries: Get some artists in that actually might appeal to someone who isn't trying to match the sofa in their foothills home. Elizabeth Cherry does a fine job, Etherton Gallery does the same and the Center for Creative Photography on campus is usually good for an afternoon.
To Mike Dominguez, the climate for family-friendly retail does exist--at WalMart, Target and Home Depot. Would you like your art gallery to resemble one of these "grand" stores?
I find it amusing the Weekly mentions James Graham converting Pleasure World into a new gallery, as I remember James saying the former porn shop was one of the high points of downtown Tucson in your very rag. Hopefully Graham will keep the video booths in his new space.
I hope all the people complaining about "sleazy" businesses being downtown will remember that not one of these establishments gets funded by the public through taxes. It seems the art students who seemed so pathetic and whiny in high school and college don't change much when they reach adulthood.
I'll leave you with Simon Donovan maybe summing everything up in a nutshell by stating the obvious: "Scottsdale it ain't." Thank you very much, and if you really want it to be Scottsdale I would suggest moving there. It's only two hours away.
To the Editor,
For seven years I have been helping out with Tucson's downtown restoration and arts activities. Last week I was enlightened by a visit to San Francisco.
The June 23 San Francisco Chronicle had an article about a 1930s art-deco gas station that some dedicated folks were trying to save. First they tried to persuade the developer building on the spot where the gas station had stood to use the old building as an entrance to his new apartment complex. He declined, so that plan failed. Then, just to save one tiny, old building, they moved it across town at great expense. It is now part of a park after years of neglect. How wonderful for that already awesome city.
Then I come back to Tucson and read your disheartening article. It did nothing to improve public opinion about the efforts of revitalization. Seems hopeless? Why bother? What's worse is that big projects eligible for Rio Nuevo funds are scrapping for crumbs. San Francisco made me see that our projects deserve more. That commitment and investment must come from the City of Tucson.
Tucson is still rich in cultural flavor and character; all is not lost (despite the staggering losses since the '60s). So I look forward to six months from now, or whenever we'll get a more positive spin on the continuing hard work of the people and organizations who are committed to improving downtown.
Short TemperTo the Editor,
I have a message for the columnists who gave me a new nickname, "Spokesmidget," in The Skinny (June 7): Pick on someone your own size.
KudosTo the Editor,
Just wanted to say that I've enjoyed Susan Zakin's column, including the important series she's just completed on endangered species. It's been great to get some background on this disturbing issue through her witty, smart columns. I hope we can continue to read about what she learns in Madagasgar in future columns.
Also liked Pamela Uschuk's review of David Applebaum's latest book of poetry in last week's issue. Nicely done.