Monday, April 09, 2007

Is a Monorail Next?

I am usually relatively loathe do delve too deeply into popular culture references in relationship to my posts, but with this latest, I feel as if I have no other choice.

There is an episode of the Simpsons, arguably one of the best, where the good folks of Springfield find themselves with extra money in the town till, and hold a meeting to figure out how to spend it. Marge Simpson, sensible as always, uses the town meeting to urge the city to spend the money fixing up dilapidated Main Street, which is shown to be terrible. At that point a shifty salesman appears and uses a special musical number to help convince the citizens that a new, albeit unneeded, monorail is exactly what is needed. They vote overwhelmingly for the scam.

Cue the Tucson City Council. Outakes from the recent meeting where a $130,000,000 arena was just approved.

Councilwoman Shirley Scott said the arena would "make Downtown dazzling, exciting and new. It's a new energy and a new place," she said.

And best of all, from TCC director Richard Singer,

When I was growing up, I watched the Mickey Mouse Club religiously," Singer said. "Everyday had a theme and Wednesday was the 'Anything can happen' day."

Mickey Mouse came to my thoughts as well, but for an entirely different reason. I appreciate the emotional euphoria associated with spending 180 million; it must be fun. But was a rush to approve a plan that hardly anybody has seen really the best way to proceed?

In the Citizen article, cited above, it seems apparent that much of the reason the city plan was approved so speedily is due to the presentation of Tucson businessman Allan Norville's competing plan.

DOn't get me wrong, Norville's plan was not without warts, but all in all it was far superior to the city plan for the following reasons:

1. It actually included three parking garages as opposed to the city's one amorphous parking garage/development area which is a long hike from the supposedly newly renovated TCC which, in turn, will lose considerable parking space by expanding. Have any of the council members actually had to park at the TCC? It is already a nightmare. Now add a larger arena, take away more net parking space and call it good. Honestly, this isn't rocket science.

2. It includes a hotel, shops, and restaurants. You know the type of things that makes people want to come downtown even if there is not a concert or convention. The type of things that were pitched when the extra taxation was started. The city plan is void of these details.

3. The Norville plan starts with the Gem Show, something that is already secured for the Tucson area, then branches out from there. The City plan starts with the arena, and makes a bunch of tenuous leaps from that point. I will need an entire future post to go over the faulty logic presented for this case. It will be coming shortly.

4. It appears that the Norville plan includes a fairly standard, upgradeable arena. The City plan arena appears to be artistic and able to blend into the surroundings. This generally means that it will be non-upgradeable and overrun projected costs by quite a bit. It's a freakin' Arena. It should be a bit obtrusive.

5. The city plan uses none of Norville's land. I agree, it hurts that Norville holds that card. It is what it is, however, and that land, and some accommodation with Norville will be needed to make this successful.

6. Norville's plan first and foremost looks to make downtown more accessible to commerce and visitors. The cities main concern looks to be Barrio Viejo homes and businesses. I get this, but if this is truly your main concern, pursue it and put the arena and other boondoggles somewhere else than the downtown. A thriving downtown, and a quiet, peaceful Barrio Viejo cannot coexist. Sorry, pick your priority.

Again, Norville's plan is self serving and far from perfect, but it is far more sound and sensible than the turtle-shell fiasco.

I will definitely have more on this, but I am already overlong. This council's decision was impetuous, strangely capricious, and possibly disastrous. I guess it is a good thing that nobody suggested a monorail (or had a compelling song) or who knows what else would have been approved with little or no details or planning.


sirocco said...

An excellent post ... I confess to not really having pored over the details of either approach, but when I was ust giving everything a fast overview, I preferred Norville's plan too.

One of the issues with organizing large events for the TCC (and I have organized one there) is the lack of reasonably nice hotel space within easy walking distance (although that has improved over the years).

Having more shops in the area might help encourage restaurants to stay open later and on weekends as well, which would also help the convention crowd.

Also, as you note, parking is a nightmare already, and likely to become a horror if the city actually implements what it says it plans to do.

Of course, an Escalator to Nowhere would be better than either plan.

Kralmajales said...

Yeah, I must say that this downtown arena idea smacks of stupidity. There are many leaps here and I'd be shocked to see it as much of any kind of draw. There are also so many other things that could be done with this money to vitalize downtown.

12,500 brings possibilities of arena football and minor league hockey, which just DO NOT excite when you can get the real thing up the road...and even that doesn't always do so well (hockey that is). And I guess there will be concerts as well with a much bigger venue. Maybe then we can get Willie Nelson downtown instead of out at Desert Diamond or AVA.

Its a lot of money though...and someone will profit from having built it...and a big ole downtown hotel might bring conventions.

Lots of mights for me though.

I still think the best idea of all would be to build a well designed soccer stadium and to bring in a Mexican La Liga team. Kind of like baseball in Canada, but La Liga futbol north of the Border. I bet Chivas de Guadalajara and UNAM coming into to town would pack a stadium, while a "Sting" concert might fill half.

Framer said...


Excellent idea on the soccer stadium, although I certainly wouldn't place it downtown. There are plenty of good venues that could actually provide parking. If there was a way to make it convertible for baseball, we could possibly lure in another spring training team as well.

The arena idea is even worse than I have currently laid out. Mr. Singer is making up numbers from wholecloth concerning expected revenues which I will demonstrate shortly.

thinkright said...

I'm not a fan of light rail or a monorail...check out Portland's Max - no one rides it. & Seattle's monorail - terrible waste of money..
But SF & OAK BART was pretty good when I lived in the Bay Area (1985-1991 - I don't know if BART is still considered a success...

sirocco said...

Bart (and CalTran) were both still great as late as 1998 or so. I would think they are still good now.

Is Max the Portland light rail system? If so, every time I've been on it it's been pretty busy.