Michael Peel

The City of Tucson has launched an exciting opportunity to make the most of the city’s existing buildings. Projects are being actively sought for the Adaptive Reuse Program to encourage infill that adapts older, existing buildings for use by business, with benefits including permit fees waived up to $5,000. 

The 24-month pilot program, focused on the adaptive reuse of existing buildings, uses existing code relief tools. Both during and after, the program assesses the effectiveness of the projects and whether additional code changes or other tools are needed. Metrics of success include number of jobs created, city revenues generated and reuse or recycling of materials.

City of Tucson Historic Preservation Officer Jonathan Mabry manages the new reuse program, and said that one of the major benefits is saving developers, business owners and real estate owners time and money by waiving some fees, and helping the customer through the whole permit review process. According to Mabry, the collateral effects of adaptive reuse are increased density in our urban core by putting vacant buildings back into use. Historic preservation is achieved by giving new lives to our vintage and historic buildings, and sustainability is created by recycling entire buildings. 

“This program will make it easier to get new businesses into old buildings,” Mabry said, who added that he believes the program will accelerate adaptive reuse projects throughout the city.

Buildings sitting vacant for a considerable time have special priority, as there may be an otherwise seemingly insurmountable obstacle to redevelopment. One which the program’s tools may solve. The transformation of these buildings could be catalyst for the surrounding areas, and contribute to the revitalization of struggling commercial districts in the city. Projects need to meet eligibility criteria such as providing a community benefit as defined by the Plan Tucson general plan, as well as consistency with area and neighborhood plans.

Tucson’s new program was developed by looking closely at a similar-and successful- program in Phoenix, and those in cities like Los Angeles. Various strategies Tucson will use include assistance with the application of available building code options and zoning code relief tools for parking, setbacks, density, height and screening, and with development of Individual Parking Plans. Components specific to Tucson include the community benefit of the project based on Plan Tucson. The age criteria focuses on buildings 50 years or older, or those at least 30 years old, vacant for 30 months or longer and built of durable masonry construction.

All of the program’s components save significant time and money for developers, while serving as an economic engine that creates more jobs than new construction projects, in addition to the multiplier effect of more secondary and tertiary jobs created when dollars pass via business to business in the Tucson region. 

The “Older, Smaller, Better in Tucson” study by the Preservation Green Lab in 2016 found the measurable benefits of urban fabric composed predominately by older buildings or mixed-vintage buildings to include real estate performance, higher densities of businesses and jobs, higher rates of startups and locally owned businesses, more inclusive business activity that is more diverse, and more resilient during economic downturns. Another return on investment for the city is that the waiving of permit fees in this program will not impact the Tucson’s general fund, as it will be covered by the department’s overall fee revenues. 

Similar fee waivers in the City of Phoenix program leveraged $217 in private sector investment and $2.50 in other fee revenues for every $1 in permit fees waived. Those waived fees can make all the difference in a project’s success, particularly for smaller developers.

Local First Arizona has focused on strengthening adaptive reuse programs and sustainability over the past eight years. We are helping to frame a vision of more thoughtful, sustainable, walkable and inclusive infill development that leads to more locally-owned independent businesses, more local jobs and more diversity in our community. The adaptive reuse of existing buildings helps preserve vital incubator spaces that help our city grow new businesses and strengthen Tucson’s economy, while adding to the unique flavor of Southern Arizona. 

This is a regular series of columns from Local First Arizona on local sustainable economy issues. Get involved as a member or volunteer of LFA by signing up at www.localfirstaz.com.

(1) comment


Downtown is up and running, how about the rest of the city businesses getting in on the sweet deals.

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