Tohono Chul

An event center three decades in the making is coming to Tohono Chul Park, opening new horizons for the space. 

The center, which will cost around $1.5 million, includes an amphitheater-type setting that can hold up to 420 patrons, as well as a curved roof that can harvest rainwater. The unique structure, in combination with solar power arrays, will allow Tohono Chul to provide top-notch, environmentally-sustainable entertainment, according to Executive Director Christine Conte. 

Conte, who has led the center since 2010, believes the new facility will allow Tohono Chul to provide new opportunities for the area as a whole. 

“This project makes good on the main mission of Tohono Chul, which is to allow people to gather and connect with nature,” she said. “Tohono Chul was built as a home. It was never really meant to be a place for the community to meet. And the family is very pleased with this idea, because they realize that this has to be a place for everybody.” 

The development at Tohono Chul will take place over two phases, the first of which includes $100,000 for parking and solar areas. The second portion of work consists of a 4,744 square foot event space, called A Place to Gather in the Garden.  Construction of phase one began in the spring. 

The project, which is slated to be completed by mid-October, is funded entirely by donations from members, as well as a $250,000 partnership with the town of Oro Valley. 

The town, in exchange for its partnership, will be able to hold one event per year in the event center, while receiving a title sponsorship on an event each year at the facility. 

Oro Valley Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett said the partnership between Tohono Chul and the town is a no-brainer, given Oro Valley’s lack of outdoor entertainment spaces at the moment. 

Barrett believes A Place to Gather in the Garden can be a game-changer for the region, opening a door to opportunities that weren’t possible in the past. 

“I think there’s been a lot of citizens who have been asking for some arts and culture space and some event space, and so Tohono Chul really adds in that regard to our community,” Barrett said. “I think it provides a venue to give people something to do to enjoy music and art. That’s something that’s been important to our community historically, and I think it’ll continue to be so.” 

The efforts behind A Place to Gather in the Garden project speak to Tohono Chul’s altruistic mission statement, according to director of communications Michelle Armstrong.

 “It’s a big opportunity for us,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize that when you’re a nonprofit that you rely on donors. A lot of time, donors like to give to certain projects like gardens, but at the end of the day that’s an additional expense. This is a wonderful project because it’s mirroring where we need to go as an organization to help become a little bit more self-sustainable and drive that revenue.” 

Armstrong can see a future where the pavilion space is in constant demand, either by local theater groups or for weddings and special events. 

All of those events generate revenue, not only for the facility but the town as a whole, which Armstrong sees as a win-win for the community. 

“We’re offering a space for the community to gather and I think that’s a really big deal,” Armstrong said. “It’s a mid-sized space, which means we’re also mid-range price for nonprofits. We can use it for educational opportunities and outreach for organizations that are under our umbrella of nature, art and culture, and make sure that we’re good partners with them.”

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