ROCK ON, DOUG BIGGERS
Douglas Biggers had a love for downtown even before he co-founded the Tucson Weekly way back in 1984. That love was on glorious display in the pages of this rag's earliest days as he championed the launch of a downtown arts district, the rescue and preservation of the Temple of Music and Art, and the efforts of downtown restaurateurs, barkeeps and merchants.
So it was no surprise that after he sold the Weekly back at the turn of the century, he moved on to trying to help the ongoing revitalization of the city's core.
Biggers combined his passion for downtown with a love of live music to help make the Rialto Theatre what it is today. It was sometimes by sheer force of will alone that he was able to drive a renovation of the theater, which was brought out of mothballs by Jeb Schoonover and Paul Bear back in the mid-'90s.
Early in Biggers' run as executive director of the Rialto, the theater underwent a major facelift. To the relief of anyone who goes to shows, the sound quality is much-improved, thanks to a major investment in a new sound system. The atmosphere in the theater grew far more comfortable with a new air-conditioning system that helped prevent artists from suffering heatstroke. A flashy new marquee rose into the sky. The entire joint benefited from a facelift from designers Gary Patch and Darren Clark.
Meanwhile, general manager Curtis McCrary—a TW contributor and a good friend of The Skinny—has brought national and local acts onstage, drawing hundreds of thousands of people to downtown.
The political battles haven't always been pretty, but Biggers deserves a standing ovation for being one of the biggest success stories of Rio Nuevo, the city's troubled downtown revitalization effort.
Biggers stepped down from his role as executive director of the Rialto last week. He's ready to take on a new challenge of creating a new performance space in the funky town of Bisbee. Given his relentless drive, we have no doubt that we're going to be hearing plenty about the Bisbee Royale in the future.
In the meantime, the Rialto will carry on. There's some good news coming out of the old warhorse; thanks to a developing deal with the developer who owns the surrounding building, it looks like the Rialto may have a nice little bar on the corner of Congress Street and Herbert Avenue in the near future.
As always, the theater could use your help, too. If you love what's going on down there, consider a membership in the Rialto Theatre Foundation. It doesn't cost much, and membership has its privileges, including discounts on drinks, a chance to buy tickets ahead of the general public, and much, much more.
GRINNELL MUST GO!
As you can tell from the previous Skinny item, we're big fans of the Rialto Theatre. We believe it's a vital anchor for downtown (and we've had plenty of good times there, most recently on New Year's Eve).
Take that into consideration as we tell you that we spit up our coffee when we read, in recent press reports about the Rialto's latest negotiations with the Rio Nuevo Board, that Republican Rick Grinnell—whose was most recently seen epically failing in his clumsy bid to become Tucson's mayor—is arguing that the Rialto should be put out of business so that the theater can be sold to the highest bidder.
It's an utter abdication of responsibility from someone who is supposed to be looking out for the best interests of downtown.
It's particularly absurd in light of the fact that one of Grinnell's campaign promises, when he was running for mayor, was to find businesses ready to expand and help them do it.
Well, the Rialto is ready to expand: It has a partner from the private sector who is willing to put more money into downtown. And what is Grinnell's response? Shut it down, and sell it off!
Rick Grinnell: He's from the government, and he's here to help.
There's a reason that the city acquired the Rialto as part of the Rio Nuevo effort: It brings people downtown. Those people then spend money at bars, restaurants, cafés and other downtown spots, generating revenue that brings in money to Rio Nuevo.
That is the very definition of revitalization—which is evidently lost on Grinnell, who appears to be on a crusade to ensure that the Rialto faces the final curtain.
And that doesn't even begin to cover the support that the Rialto provides to non-profits, benefit shows and local bands.
We have our own theory as to why Grinnell would like to see the Rialto put out of business: The law firm that represents the Rialto, on a pro-bono basis, is none other than Mesch, Clark and Rothschild—a law firm that, until recently, was headed up by Jonathan Rothschild, the Democrat who clobbered Grinnell in the mayor's race last year.
If Grinnell can't put aside that bitterness, he should resign from the Rio Nuevo Board immediately.