The Rialto Theatre Foundation won a battle last week when Pima County Superior Court Judge Michael Miller ruled that the nonprofit organization had previously worked out a verbal agreement with landlord Don Martin that required Martin to give the foundation 60 days to move out of spaces the Rialto is now using for a green room, administrative offices and storage.
That means Martin can't demand the foundation vacate the administrative space within five days of the verdict, as he had hoped. As of now, they have to get out by Aug. 18.
But Martin—who appears to be doing all of the talking since his partner, developer Scott Stiteler, left the stage earlier this summer—still wants the Rialto Theatre Foundation out of the offices and is resisting the idea of selling any property in the Rialto block to the city or the Rio Nuevo District, which already owns the theater, which is leased to the Rialto Foundation.
Unless the city can acquire that property, the Rialto Theatre will have problems making improvements in the future—like, for example, better bathrooms or a lounge off the lobby.
But Martin, who has tried to take control of the theater in the past, sees all of those people going to shows and wants to figure out how to get a piece of the action for himself. And helping the Rialto improve itself only makes it harder for him to take it over in the future.
As we've said before, the Rialto Foundation has brought hundreds of thousands of people downtown to enjoy hundreds of bands from around the world over the last four years. That doesn't only improve the quality of life for the people who get to enjoy an evening of live music; it also helps the nearby bars and restaurants that folks visit before and after the shows.
Count us among those who are skeptical that Martin would have the same kind of success in running the theater. Hell, given his thin record in the development business, we're a little skeptical that he can get anything done with the portion of the Rialto block he owns.
Granted, we're biased, given that Doug Biggers, the Rialto's executive director, is the founder and former editor and publisher of the Tucson Weekly. But really now: If you can't fight for rock 'n' roll in this town, what's left to fight for?
While the majority of the City Council has backed the Rialto Foundation in recent months, members appear reluctant to use the power of eminent domain to force Martin to sell the space to the city. City Manager Mike Letcher has advised against condemnation, worried that it would send the wrong message to potential downtown developers. It's a line that's been echoed by Ward 6 Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, whose refusal to work with the Rialto Foundation earlier this year set the stage for the current mess.
Evidently, Nina and Mike figure it's better to send the message that people who have managed to make a success of something in the Rio Nuevo redevelopment disaster are expendable.
The council is now dishing off the job of negotiating with Martin to Glenn Lyons of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, and Anne-Marie Russell of the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District Board and the Museum of Contemporary Art. We hope they have some negotiating savvy, given that they have less power than the City Council.
This will be an especially big test for Lyons, who is supposed to take the lead in the city's downtown-revitalization efforts.
IN OTHER DOWNTOWN NEWS ...
An interesting twist occurred this week in the ongoing saga of the former Volvo dealership property on Broadway Boulevard.
The city-owned land, valued at $1.9 million, was originally slated to be given to aforementioned developers Scott Stiteler and Don Martin in exchange for promised improvements to land they own downtown.
However, that deal has since fallen through, and now, three nonprofit groups—the Rialto Theatre Foundation, the Warehouse Arts Management Organization, and Mission Gardens—are proposing that the city give the land to them.
Look for this idea to be discussed at next week's City Council meeting, on Wednesday, Aug. 5.
To ensure that it can cover the growing demand for electricity, Tucson Electric Power needs to run new high-voltage lines between its Tucson Substation near Sixth Street and 11th Avenue over to the DeMoss Petrie Substation at Grant Road near Interstate 10.
One potential route takes the line straight through Dunbar/Spring, a rebounding neighborhood that's already lucky enough to have 46-kilowatt lines on poles that are close to 90 feet tall, running straight down 11th Avenue. TEP's new line, which will require even fatter poles that are 80 to 110 feet high, could fall in the same corridor, which also passes through the Blue Moon and San Ignacio neighborhoods and past Richey Elementary School.
The nearby residents, as you might expect, aren't thrilled about the fact that the new line could be passing through their neighborhood. They're pushing for an alternative route that would redirect the line through industrial areas along the Interstate 10 and the railroad tracks.
"We feel it's not appropriate for residential areas because of the potential health impact, the property value impact and the visual impact," says Ian Johnson, who lives right around the corner from the Tucson Substation. "We think there are other and better options."
Johnson and his neighbors have organized under the name Citizens for Safe Powerlines and set up a Web site, safepowerlines.org, to press their case. They're suggesting a route that follows an existing 138-kilovolt line that runs west of the Sixth Street substation. The line could then run parallel to I-10.
TEP spokesman Joe Salkowski says several different routes remain under consideration. He expects the utility compnay to deliver a plan to the Arizona Corporation Commission for approval sometime before October.
Last week, Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías weighed in with a letter to TEP, citing the large size of the poles, the potential dangers and the impact on property values.
"I urge your company to place this line underground or select a preferred route for submission to the Arizona Corporation Commission that follows the Union Pacific Railroad, or Interstate 10, and that impacts industrial areas instead of residences," Elias wrote.
When The Skinny reported last week on the Sierra Club's annual report card on the legislative session, we mentioned that Southern Arizona Republicans got failing grades on the report card as a result of supporting bad environmental legislation or missing votes.
State Rep. Frank Antenori took issue with our coverage, pointing out that Southern Arizona Republicans had a nearly spotless history of showing up to vote on the environmental bills cited in the Sierra Club's report card. He also complained that many Democrats missed the votes that the Sierra Club graded.
Antenori is right—while some lawmakers saw their grades lowered because they missed some environmental votes, Southern Arizona Republicans earned their failing grades from the Sierra Club by straight-up voting to restrict regulations, shift funds away from conservation and otherwise undermine efforts to protect the environment.
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