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Downtown Lowdown

The DL: Tucson's soul seen in Downtown heart

Downtowns are often thought of as the heart of a city, the place where people gather together to create and share experiences. This has always been true for some of us with Tucson's Downtown, and more and more people are starting to take part in it.

Growing up, I loved downtown, even though most people in town wouldn't say there was much to do. As a kid, I enjoyed journeying from the central part of town to Downtown Saturday Night, being in awe of streets full of music and people. Born and raised in Tucson, I didn't know that so many people could be out in one place, engaging with each other on the street! The same feeling of connectedness was present at so many downtown events, from Tucson Meet Yourself to the Folk Festival. I ended up going to school just south of Downtown, and remember spending time at recess looking out at the few tall buildings towering on the horizon, feeling like I really did live in a big city.

Once I was grown, I took the first chance I got to move downtown. I loved the novelty of being able to walk or bike down to my favorite places on Congress, enjoying a night on the town followed by an early morning meal at Grill. My neighbors were friendly, and I sensed a strong sense of community that I never knew anywhere else in Tucson.

I moved Downtown almost a decade ago. At first when I told people where I was living, the most common response was usually "Why?!". Though I always found plenty to see and do downtown, the perception was that it was a ghost town. Even as things really started picking up over the last few years, with new businesses opening and corporate headquarters relocating, the myth of a dead downtown persisted. Naysayers loved to crow about the failures of Downtown and the "streetcar to nowhere."

Now, the progress is undeniable. Downtown is some of the hottest real estate in the southwest, and it seems everybody wants to be here. Even the people who were loudly proclaiming Downtown a failure just last year now grudgingly admit that it is a happening place to be. The streetcar - before construction was even completed - helped to bring over $250 million in private investment in the city's core, generating increasing enthusiasm in the community and with investors. This renaissance is being spearheaded by Tucsonans, people with a connection to the community and what works in the city.

New businesses are opening every month, and festivals and events are packing the public space Downtown. The 2nd Saturday in July drew over 20,000 people on one night - dining, drinking, dancing and interacting at the monthly, family-friendly free event - despite the threat of rain. More and more people are hip to the reality that Downtown is the place to be. Several housing projects are underway, and at least two restaurants are set to open next month alone, with several more scheduled for subsequent months. These restaurants are owned and visited by Tucsonans, people who see what is happening downtown and want to be part of it.

Downtown is being created by Tucsonans. We're seeing it grow and change, but stay true to who we are as a community. I'm one of those people who values the things that are unique about Tucson, the little eccentricities of the city that are fundamental to our idea of what makes this town great. That's what makes this downtown resurgence so much more exciting - we're building on what we love, with a dedication to enhance and expand the things that are uniquely Tucson, not trying to change them.

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Maria Ines Taracena

Looking out from the 2nd floor of the Rialto building on a tour to showcase downtown development.

Editor's note

In the Downtown Lowdown column, the Downtown Tucson Partnership's Caitlin Jensen keeps you up to date with the latest business moves and things to do in Tucson's city center. Downtown's heating up, and the Lowdown will help you keep tabs on Tucson's temperature.

Downtown events this weekend

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