Ronstadt transit center bff 3.20.14Document Transcript
Ronstadt Transit Center (Ronstadt)
Jim Hannan, Bus Friends Forever
March 20, 2014
Bus Friends Forever has been a participant in the Ronstadt Transit Center stakeholder meetings.
We plan to stay engaged with the process moving forward, with both the RFQ and RFP and the
possible development agreement. Our hope is that the city will find a development proposal that
produces more revenue for the bus system and also makes downtown more attractive.
However, this process may take as long as five years to build out. It is our opinion that there
could be improvements made immediately that would improve the three parcels for both transit
users and the downtown environment. These are easy, low cost solutions that could be started
tomorrow. The following is a brief recap of the current situation, then the actual proposals by
parcel. Finally, I have included a few unresolved questions from the stakeholder meetings.
History and current status
Ronstadt was designed in the late 1980’s and opened in 1991, so it is now 22 years old. There
may be as much as $6 million invested in the site, from both federal and city funds. The city just
completed a very extensive remodel, including east area rebuilding, fencing and other
Ronstadt is thriving as a transit center. It serves thousands of bus riders every day, bringing
people to their downtown activities and also serving as a transfer point for jobs, schools, and
businesses. Sun Tran, the city’s bus system, is 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 and 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 the UA/4th 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 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. There is a central kiosk that is currently serving as a storage area. There is no regular
employee in the kiosk at this time.
The Ronstadt arcades are beautiful. The clay murals are some of the finest public art in Tucson.
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
Madden Triangle parcel
The Madden Triangle has 50 parking spaces. The Madden Company, under a lease agreement
with the city, controls the parking. During the work week, the parcel provides parking for
Madden employees and visitors. In the evening and on weekends, the lot is a short term parking
lot, with a $5 fee. Madden pays a very low rate for the use of the parking spaces and collects and
keeps the revenue from the short term parking.
The city could change the arrangement with Madden. Madden could continue the regular work
day lease for the 50 parking spots. But in evenings and weekends, the lot would become free
short term parking, perhaps 2 hour time slots, and become a parking lot for streetcar tourists and
also encourage people to come downtown to eat and shop. People using the parking lot would
come to the Ronstadt kiosk to sign in.
The Toole parcel is currently run by Parkwise. There are an unknown number of parking spaces
on this large site. The lot is an unkempt, unsightly dirt lot, with holes and random abandoned
power poles. Parkwise is currently offering spaces in this lot for under $20 per month. With a
little work, the site could be cleaned up, and with concrete parking pieces, it could be marked out
for the maximized use of the parking space. The Toole lot is also a good location for a bicycle
parking area, perhaps accommodating as many as 20 bikes. Currently, bikes are parked on
sidewalks, locked to parking meters, poles and trees. It would de clutter Congress to have a
clean, safe parking space for much of the eastern downtown biking population.
I propose using the rear twenty feet all the way along the northern edge as an urban camping site.
A high chain link fence already separates the parcel from the railroad property. With a minimum
of grading, landscaping and fencing, this strip area could become tent sites for approximately 40
to 60 urban campers. Urban campers could register and pay a $1 per night fee to camp, using the
employee at the Ronstadt kiosk. One or two portable toilets could be located in the northwest
corner of the parcel. This site would provide an alternative to the current arrangement of urban
campers sleeping in the downtown park at Broadway and Stone.
Ronstadt Transit Center parcel
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 Ronstadt 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
kiosk 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. The open space in the southwest corner of Ronstadt has rolled curbs, allowing easy
access by food trucks. The space in the middle open space does have a hard curb, but could
easily be accessed using portable ramps. 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 $20 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.
To recap the kiosk activity, the person inside the kiosk could handle the vendor payments and
site selection on the perimeter of the site, the parking lot management of the Madden Triangle
and the urban camper registration at the Toole lot. This person could also become a Visitors
Bureau type reference person, with brochures and other material for downtown tourists.
Hopefully, there would be enough revenue generated by the vendor program and the urban
campers to pay for this position. Perhaps the Downtown Tucson Partnership could handle the
The streetcar track could be moved to the north side of Congress, to allow for easy access into
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. Downtown residential activity is on the upswing, with the completion of the student
complex at the Cadence, One East Broadway now nearing completion, and the vacant parcel on
south Congress apparently headed for development.
Unresolved questions from the stakeholders meetings
How much revenue does the city earn now from the triangle and Toole lots?
What is the revenue target from a future development?
What is the appraised value of the two parking parcels?
What is the extent of the environmental contamination at Toole? The Phase I report in the Poster
report covers the Ronstadt parcel, but it is unclear about the other two parcels. The Poster report
does say that it cost $600,000 in environmental costs to develop the MLK site next door. Who
will bear this potential cost on this project?
The city has cleared the Ronstadt parcel for cultural resources. It has a $36,000 bid to study the
Madden triangle. What is the cost to study the Toole parcel? What could the financial cost be to
preserve or move cultural resources located on the two northern parcels?
How much would it cost to develop the infrastructure, including utilities, at all three parcels?
If Ronstadt is altered from the current configuration, what will the City’s obligation be, if any, to
the federal government for sunken costs?
How much would it cost to run the streetcar line on the north side of Congress?