The demand for one-of-a-kind business ventures in Oro Valley may soon be fulfilled in a manner that should be music to the ears of residents.

Come spring, Steinway & Sons will be opening the first Steinway Piano Gallery in Arizona in Steam Pump Village, a 42-acre retail center on the west side of Oracle Road, north of Hardy Road, being developed by Diamond Ventures. It also will be the first Steinway Gallery store in the Western United States and only the 12th in the country.

The 2.5-acre project will consist of two buildings, a 10,000 square-foot building that will encompass a 7,500 square-foot Steinway Gallery with inside seating for between 70 to 100 special guests attending recitals and lectures, a full-service kitchen to complement catered affairs and 2,500 square feet of retail space.

The development also will include an 8,000 square-foot, 400-seat outside concert venue with a stage large enough to accommodate anything from solo artist performances and plays to a symphony orchestra or opera, said John Simon, Steinway Piano Gallery chief executive officer. Other uses of the performing arts center will include business gatherings, workshops, lectures and fund-raising activities benefiting churches, nonprofit orgnizations, music programs, schools and universities throughout Southern Arizona.

A second building is being set aside for an upscale restaurant that is expected to take up between 6,000 and 9,600 square feet. Whatever space isn't needed for the restaurant will be for retail uses, possibly an interior design store or another use that will complement Steinway, Simon said.

Getting the project off the ground required the addition of 21 special design features by the 151 year-old Steinway & Sons company. Steinway has been occupying a temporary 5,000 square-foot showroom at 2850 E. Speedway since April.

"What's all that outside activity bring in?" Simon asked rhetorically in a recent interview, referring to all the planned musical activity at the Gallery. "Business" was his response, business not only from the greater Tucson area, but also from 100 miles away or more.

"We feel this facility will enhance not only people to our business, but it will also increase traffic for the entire Steam Pump Village complex and the greater Oro Valley area," Simon said. "Our goal is to create a hub for community arts and events in conjunction with enhancing business activities in the area."

As a means of heightening the area's already intense interest in the arts and music, he and his partner, Leng Tshua, president and former manager of Sherman Clay & Co. in Bellevue, Wash., one of the largest Steinway dealerships in the country, have already committed to sponsoring the already sold out Arizona Friends of Chamber Music concert in the Tucson Community Center's Leo Rich Theater, Invisible Theatre Group's Sizzling Summer Sounds Cabaret performances July 1 through July 18 at the Arizona Inn and performances by the Green Valley Concert Association.

The desirability of the Steinway name has already been illustrated at the smaller Steinway Gallery on Speedway where sales by the end of the year will exceed in eight months of operation what had been projected for a full year of business, Simon said.

Although Simon's father had been in the piano business for 36 years back in Moline, Ill., Simon was on a different career path after receiving his degree in marketing from Arizona State University in 1968. The sudden death of his father that year, however, brought him back to Moline to help his mother with the business. It wasn't until 1983 though, that he was offered a Steinway dealership, the fulfillment of a 10-year quest.

Looking at the possibility of "semi-retirement," Simon bought a lot in Oro Valley's La Reserve Community in 1999. "I always wanted to be in a college community and Phoenix was just too congested for me," said the former ASU grad.

Before Simon even began building his dream home, though, he was asked by a Steinway district manager back in Illinois if he would be interested in running a Gallery store in the Tucson market. Simon jumped at the chance and sold his Moline business in January.

Comparing a Steinway, the instrument of choice by 99 percent of all concerts pianists, to any other piano, is like comparing the car in your garage to one running in the Indianoplis 500 race, said Simon. With its 120 patents, a Steinway " is the piano by which all other pianos are judged," he said.

Consider the fact that a typical mass produced piano takes about 72 hours to produce, resulting in production of about 175,000 pianos a year by any one manufacturer to be sold by more than 400 dealers, Simon said.

In contrast, a Steinway piano takes a year to handcraft and assemble and only about 4,500 will be made each year. There are only 64 Steinway dealers nationwide.

Steinway offers three upright models ranging in size from 45 to 52 inches high with suggested retail prices ranging from $17,000 to $32,000. Five grand piano models, ranging from 62 inches to 94 inches in length, run from $37,000 to $96,000. One of a kind models can run as high as $650,000.

Steinway also puts out two less expensive, limited production, machine-made pianos, the Boston and the Essex, made in Japan. An upright Boston sells for about $5,800, a Boston grand for about $15,300, while the upright Essex sells for about $4,900 and the Grand for about $13,000.

For those who can't afford a Steinway they're a great alternative because Steinway will offset the purchase cost when the buyer is ready to exchange that piano for a Steinway for up to 10 years from the time of purchase.

As an example of the draw the Steinway name has, Simon said that in 1932, during the Depression, Steinway was offered $1 million by General Electric for the right to put the Steinway name on its refrigerators. Steinway turned the offer down.

Churches and schools, Simon said, are the toughest places to place pianos, not only because of the inability to control humidity, but because of the wear they receive from the advanced level of the players who use them."It's not like putting a piano in your living room," he said. "But because they're more likely to last four times as long as a typical piano, they're a savings to taxpayers," he said. A school would have to buy four pianos at half the price to outlast the Steinway and they're simply not the choice of students and teachers today.

"Every Steinway is different, a different touch, a different sound," Simon said. "Each has its own personality. There's a Steinway for everyone, you just have to find the one you like best, in contrast to the mass produced piano where once you've heard one you've heard them all."

Steinway & Sons is owned by Steinway Musical Instruments Inc., which also owns the Selmer Co. Inc., the nation's leading manufacturer of orchestral and band instruments. The alliance is the largest domestic manufacturer of musical instruments with annual revenues of more than $300 million.

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