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Downtown Lowdown

What's cookin' Downtown?

  • The view from the space above the Rialto Theatre that will soon house Connect.
    Maria Inés Taracena/Downtown Tucson PartnershipThe view from the space above the Rialto Theatre that will soon house Connect.
  • Scott Stiteler and Paul Moir address the crowd at Proper.
    Maria Inés Taracena/Downtown Tucson PartnershipScott Stiteler and Paul Moir address the crowd at Proper.

Two much acclaimed restaurants, Proper and Diablo Burger, opened recently Downtown, joining the long list of critically acclaimed dining options in the heart of the city. As Jim Nintzel noted in the cover story of the Tucson Weekly, "downtown's restaurant scene is booming."

And more are on the way. Scott Stiteler, the developer behind Proper, Diablo Burger, Hub, Sparkroot, Playground and other popular locations, recently led a tour of 200 or so people through projects underway near the intersection of 5th Avenue and Congress Street. He led the crowd first to the future home of Saint House, a restaurant that will focus on the food - and drinks, of course - that originate in the rum-producing regions of the world. The project, from the minds behind 47 Scott and Scott & Co.'s Nicole Flowers and Travis Reese, is expected to open in August.

Stiteler paused the tour after Saint House to point out the murals painted by Joe Pagac on a wall between Hub and Playground on Congress Street. The murals, which depict John Dillinger and his gang as they may have looked while staying at Hotel Congress, cover the space that will soon be occupied by Chris Bianco, the first pizza chef to win a James Beard award. Bianco, whose fare has won accolades from GQ, Bon Appetit and the Weekly, is expected to open his second location of Pizzeria Bianco in November.

The tour continued on to the corner of the Rialto Block building, on the southeast corner of 5th and Congress, which was in the process of being transformed into Proper, a restaurant concept from Paul Moir, owner of the popular Flagstaff restaurants Brix and Criollo Latin Kitchen. Proper, which opened for happy hour and dinner last week, serves up farm-to-table fresh food and drinks. Breakfast, brunch and lunch service will begin Sunday. Before introducing Moir to the crowd, Stiteler discussed his belief in finding the right tenants for his properties, turning down national chains with no ties to a local community in favor of those who value a connection with Tucson.

After Proper, the next stop was Diablo Burger, another new, locally-sourced restaurant with a tie to Flagstaff. Owner Derrick Widmark opened Diablo Burger in Flagstaff in 2009, and the burgers have already been mentioned as some of the best in the country. Diablo Burger was just days away from their opening on the day of the tour, and it has already proved to be incredibly popular with the downtown lunch and dinner crowds. In the space between Diablo Burger and the Rialto Theatre, Widmark will open Good Oak Bar, which will have a focus on locally produced beer and wine.

Stitler led the group through Diablo Burger and up some scaffolding in back of the Rialto Building to a long-vacant space on the second floor above the Rialto Theatre. The area was dusty and bare, but will soon house tech start-ups and other innovative professionals in a coworking space called Connect. Connect will be the latest of several coworking spaces in downtown. Spoke 6 and Gangplank are already open, providing an accessible space for the creative class to work and connect with other professionals. Maker House and Connect will be two more steps in the process of creating a high-tech hub downtown.

While the restaurant scene is booming, Downtown's population is also poised to increase. Cadence, the student housing project at the east end of the city center, will add almost 20,000 square feet of retail space, some of which will be occupied by a new World of Beer location. One East, the mixed-use project at the corner of Church Avenue and Broadway, is under construction now and will provide market-rate housing, office space and even more retail space. And The Herbert, the name of the building that was the Armory Park Senior Center and is in the process of being transformed into market-rate housing, hopes to add even more residents to Tucson's city center.

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