September 20, 2006 - Oro Valley doesn't have much of a visitors center or gift shop. Its historical society doesn't have anywhere to house its artifacts. And start-up businesses usually have to operate out of homes until the owners can afford to rent space.

But the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce has an idea that could change all that.

The chamber's executive committee and staff want to build a new, 4,000-plus square foot chamber building that would be the central business hub of northern Pima County. And some on the committee say they hope it's built in Oro Valley.

Renderings show the building to include a visitor's center, gift shop, conference room and shell space for start-up businesses or community groups to rent.

The project looks expensive, but chamber president Jerry Bustamante, who has been presenting a Power Point plan to groups around the Northwest, is reluctant to put a price tag on the project yet.

"It's going to cost however much we can raise," he said. "If we can raise $2.5 million, then we're going to build a building with $2.5 million. If we raise $1 million, we'll do a building with $1 million."

Past chamber chairman and executive committee member Jeffrey Jones said he thinks the chamber could raise $1 million for a building, but it's the land that's going to be costly.

Bustamante said he wants the new building located on Ina or Oracle roads, and he said he'd love to see it in Oro Valley - two expensive requests because land is expensive and limited in those areas.

The chamber leases office space on West Magee Road, but wants to own the new building.

Ideally, the chamber would partner or make some kind of agreement with Oro Valley or another community in northern Pima County, Bustamante said.

The chamber serves businesses in Oro Valley, Marana, Casas Adobes, the Foothills, Catalina, SaddleBrooke and Oracle.

Bustamante said he knows Oro Valley is cash-strapped, but is hoping to at least get the council's backing, and possibly work out construction deals in the future if the chamber decides to build in Oro Valley.

"We currently have a contract to provide tourism services for the town, so we certainly need their support to do this," he said. "We don't want to compete with putting more police officers on the roads. But when we're building, there will be development fees. We may ask if they could waive some. I don't know if its been done, but it won't hurt to ask."

Oro Valley Councilwoman Helen Dankwerth said she "absolutely" supports the chamber's idea to build a new office.

But she said it's too early to say what the council will do to assist the chamber in the process.

"I think (the chamber) has a lot to do in the way of securing funding from constituents," Dankwerth said. "But I'm enthusiastic. It's long over due."

Tim Booth, the chamber's chairman, said it makes sense to combine the new chamber building with some of Oro Valley's needs. He said the chamber might be able to locate it on the Naranja Town Site or in Steam Pump Ranch.

Booth said he thinks there could be some "interesting synergies" created between the chamber and the town.

Jones said the chamber also is looking for private developers willing to help out.

"There are some very civic-minded developers out there," Jones said. "Now we have something concrete to present, we can start talking to developers to see what we can work out."

If the new location doesn't go in Oro Valley, it would probably be in unincorporated Pima County, Bustamante said.

Bustamante said sometime in 2007, the chamber would hire a professional fundraiser and start a capital campaign to finance the project.

Bustamante said chambers around the country have similar chamber buildings that serve as business hubs of the community. Loveland, Colo., a Denver suburb, for example, has "quite a showpiece."

Loveland worked out deals with the city and a private developer.

A developer, who wanted business anchors for his new development, donated Loveland's Chamber of Commerce a parcel of land in the early 1990s, said Pat Farnham, the executive director of the chamber at the time.

Farnham said the city then agreed to loan the chamber the money for the building, and didn't require payments until three years after it was built. In that three years, the chamber raised donations and put the money in the bank to gain interest until it was time to start paying back the city.

"It worked extremely well for us," Farnham said. "We convinced the city council because we were building a chamber and visitors center, the city helped design the visitors center. Then I managed the visitors center with no cost to the city. City insured the building, and we split costs for visitors center. That was the reason we were able to build such a nice building, and 10 years later, we are on prime property."

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