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Points of Controversy

A business-led review and an exorbitant bid bust City Hall's plan to break up Five Points

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The star that is the south gateway to downtown will keep its five points.

Five Points, where 18th Street crosses Sixth and Stone avenues, will keep its shape despite a 12-year plan to reshape the intersection marked by the Alamo Apartments, a scene in several movies, and the longstanding Wanslee "Ugly But Honest" used car dealership. The city reversed its plans after South Sixth and South Stone business and property owners demanded a fresh review. The decision was made easier by a sole bid that was more than double cost estimates.

City Hall proclaimed Five Points to be vanishing and vanquished history as recently as May 2, when the Arizona Daily Star reported: "It'll soon be farewell to Five Points." That plan shaved off the east point of Five Points: A "pork chop" traffic barrier would have sealed off 18th Street east of the confluence of Stone and Sixth and through the heavily gentrified Armory Park, where neighborhood leaders have pressed for such a blockade. The city also moved to change southbound Stone and northbound Sixth to two-way traffic.

Tom Epperson, who took over the 72-year-old Wanslee auto business after the death of his stepfather, Clyde Wanslee, had no problem with some parts of the plan.

"I just wish two-way traffic was in tomorrow," Epperson said. "And I hope they go ahead and put in the storm drains. They are needed. They are very necessary."

Armory Park leaders have long sought closure of through traffic via 18th Street. But Epperson said Armory Park's fears of 18-wheelers rumbling down 18th Street or the neighborhood's other streets--strikingly wide compared with those in Santa Rosa and Barrio Viejo to the west--are exaggerated.

"There's nothing for them to go over to," Epperson said.

The issue came to a head May 18, when City Manager Mike Hein and his key transportation directors hosted Epperson and Albert Elias, owner of the South Stone Avenue mainstay Old Pueblo Printers. John Burr, president of the Armory Park Neighborhood Association, was invited but could not attend. Ruben Reyes, a top local aide to U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, also attended to assess whether the feds would be required to join in with renewed funding for the project and assistance with a possible new environmental impact study.

Impeccable in manner and appearance, Elias is the father of two rising stars in local government: Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias, the Democrat who succeeded Grijalva, and Albert Elias, the city's planning czar. But he came loaded with his own information and statistics and impressed his hosts.

Elias, Hein said, "did a very thorough job" exposing that the city's outreach in the long-anticipated plan was potentially inadequate.

Elias also gave quite a bit of history, explaining how he would watch "Okies" drive past on their way from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to California.

Hein promised what has been his trademark in service in Nogales, Marana and Pima County governments: a solution that he says will seek to "harmonize" discordant, if polite, messages from Epperson and Elias, who has long performed the printing jobs for most Democratic, and a few Republican, political candidates for a wide variety of offices in Tucson.

"We're going to rescope the project now," Hein said.

The delay has been made easier to take since the lone bid on the estimated $1.4 million project hit $2.9 million. That bid came from Mountain Power, a firm that does mostly electrical work--traffic lights and signals--for the city while the Five Points project requires extensive paving and concrete work.

City Transportation Director Jim Glock said more favorable bids could come after a frenzied contractors' market cools.

Councilman Steve Leal, the Democrat whose southside Ward 5 includes a portion of the area, said a new look afforded by the delay "may be a way that not only dilutes, but strengthens what both sides want. The concerns from Armory Park are both serious and valid," especially if a proposed looping underpass is constructed off Interstate 10 that connects with 18th Street.

The plan to reconfigure Five Points accelerated with the dangle of federal money and was included in the larger downtown traffic plan, adopted by the City Council in 1993, to add two-way traffic on Stone and Sixth south of Broadway Boulevard, as well as two way traffic on now-eastbound Broadway and westbound Congress Street.

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