Ronstadt transit center 1.11.14Document Transcript
Ronstadt Transit Center (Ronstadt)
Jim Hannan, Friends of Sun Tran
Ronstadt was designed in the late 1980’s and opened in 1991, so it is now 22 years old. The federal
government has spent over $3 million, the City of Tucson over $600,000. The city just completed a very
extensive remodel, including east area rebuilding, fencing and other improvements.
Ronstadt is thriving as a transit center. It serves arounds 20,000 residents per day, bringing people to
their downtown activities and also serving as a transfer point for jobs, schools, and businesses. Ronstadt
and Sun Tran generally are the number one economic development tool of the city. Ronstadt works
very well from an operational point of view. Buses enter from both Congress and 6th
Street. There are
an adequate number of bus bays now, and the seating for customers is also sufficient. But any decrease
in the size of the current center would cause hardship to both Sun Tran and the bus riders. And with
projected increases in transit expected as Tucson continues to grow, there may be need for more room.
The streetcar operation will impact Ronstadt. The westbound track lies across the street from Ronstadt,
so the UA, 4th
Avenue riders will get off and walk across Congress to enter Ronstadt, to make
connections south, north and west. Bus riders coming into Ronstadt that want to use the streetcar for
Avenue will have to walk south one block to catch the eastbound streetcar. And streetcar users
from the westside will walk one block north to enter Ronstadt.
Ronstadt is clean, safe and provides the only semi-public space on the east side of downtown. There are
currently signs and ordinances that tell people that Ronstadt is only for bus riders. The center has great
signage, comfortable benches and cooling towers. In the winter, the southern sun is able to penetrate
into the center. The Ronstadt has public bathrooms which is a real amenity in a downtown setting. It is
often difficult for tourists and others to find public restrooms. There are janitors working at Ronstadt
during the day to ensure that the site stays clean.
The City of Tucson has been somewhat apologetic about Ronstadt since inception. Every few years it
commissions another study, the Poster report is now about the fifth. There is always an underlying
tension with some of the community that something needs to be done about Ronstadt. It would be
more helpful for mayor and council to embrace the Ronstadt, to acknowledge what a great job it does
now, in terms of its mission, which is to move bus riders into and out of the city core.
The Poster report has some goals. One is to make the Ronstadt more of a multi modal center. That
could be done with a few minor changes.
1. Change the triangle Madden lot to short term parking. There are 50 parking spaces in the
triangle. I’m not sure how much revenue the City of Tucson makes from this lot. That
information should be part of the public record going forward. It appears that some of the
parking is long term parking for Madden Enterprises, some is short term parking at a rate of $5
per day. Instead, there should be shorter term parking to encourage customers of the
downtown businesses, and to encourage tourist use of the streetcar. There could also be
substantial bicycle parking, which would clean up the bike parking that tends to use random
poles, street signs, etc. It would be a safe location for bike riders to park their bikes.
2. The Toole lot could become the Greyhound depot. This would then put the train, the intercity
bus, the city bus, the city streetcar all within one block of each other. Currently the Greyhound
sits on a lot near I-10. It is very painful to watch Sun Tran bus riders in wheelchairs get off the
bus on the corner of Broadway and Granada and have to navigate at least two blocks to the
Greyhound station. The current Greyhound sits on land that is owned by Rio Nuevo. It is under
consideration for a higher best use. But the city is obligated to provide Greyhound with a
location. The Toole lot has some Phase I environmental issues. The Greyhound is housed in a
modular office that could be moved to Toole.
3. The streetcar track should be moved to the north side of Congress, to allow for easy access into
Ronstadt could be developed to engender more human friendly activities, with very little cost and no
dislocation to current and future bus riders. The way that RTC was designed, there is about a five foot
interior sidewalk area that would be very welcoming to small scale vendors. In fact, this activity already
happens on the 2nd
Saturday downtown each month. There are jewelers, artists, and other vendors that
set up shop on the Congress street side of Ronstadt. There is still plenty of sidewalk space for
pedestrians. This could be done on both Congress and 6th
Street. The City of Tucson could chalk mark
locations on both streets and start charging a nominal fee for usage, say $5 per day. The money could
be handled by the person working the booth at Ronstadt. It would be first come, first served. Other
cities do this very successfully. For example, in Santa Fe, the Native American vendors line up each
morning to sign up for a lottery to get a similar sized space in front of the Palace of Governors. This type
of activity is also very tourist friendly. Tucson needs more tourist activities downtown. There is very
little retail. While we are seeing a resurgence of high end restaurants, the retail is still very weak.
Beyond Chicago Music Store, Wigorama, a couple of galleries, there has not been any significant retail
downtown in many years. The street vendors will bring people to the area, especially in the tourist
months of October through April. There is physical space for probably at least 25 spaces, while still
allowing for some open bench seating on the fence wall.
Another low cost, low impact multi use development would be to allow maybe two food trucks to come
inside Ronstadt and set up on the western side. This area is currently a buffer zone between the core of
Ronstadt and the sidewalks on Congress and 6th
. There are several large mesquite trees and palm trees
as landscaping, and the ground is covered with a people unfriendly large gravel. The only change
needed would be to change the gravel to a pea gravel, more foot friendly. Again, the city could open
this up to various food trucks, and see how it works. At the same time, put up picnic tables inside these
gravel areas and encourage people to eat, but also discourage long term hanging out at the tables. This
could be done easily. The city could charge the food trucks more, maybe $50 per day for this right.
Food trucks could cater to both bus riders and other downtown users. It would again engender more
human activity on the site, make it more interesting.
Downtown Tucson is evolving. With stores like Buffalo Exchange, start up centers like Gangplank and
the Makers House, City High School, downtown entrepreneurs are finding their niche. There are still
large vacant lots, in particular, the large lot on Broadway and 4th
Avenue, that would be good to
develop. There are also street level parking lots that could be redeveloped to a higher better use. And
there are still substantial vacancies in store fronts throughout downtown.
It does not make sense for the City of Tucson to spend a lot of time and effort into trying to encourage
large scale commercial development on the Ronstadt site in particular. The City is very much mistrusted
by the residents of Tucson on redevelopment, given the sad history of Rio Nuevo.
If it does decide to encourage proposals to redevelop Ronstadt, it should be explicit to any prospective
developer how much revenue it is looking to secure. We should know the following before we proceed:
1. How much revenue does the city earn now from the triangle and Toole lots?
2. What is the extent of the environmental contamination at Toole?
3. How much would it cost to develop the infrastructure, including utilities, at all three parcels?
4. If Ronstadt is altered from it’s current configuration, what will the City’s obligation be to the
federal government for sunken costs?
5. How much would it cost to run the streetcar line on the north side of Congress?
6. How much City money has been allocated to this RFQ? It appears that there will be substantial
staff time from both OIP and Procurement. Where is this money coming from?