This week we discuss one of Tucson’s newest neighborhoods which sits a few above our oldest.
Each and every Sunday our focus is on Social, Cultural and Economic impacts in Tucson’s Urban Core and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From A Mountain to the U of A and all stops in between. You get the inside track- right here on 99.1 FM, streaming on DowntownRadio.org- we’re also available on your iPhone or Android using our very own Downtown Radio app.
Our intro music is by Ryanhood and we exit with Miss Olivia and the Interlopers
Today is August 11th, my name is Tom Heath and you’re listening to “Life Along the Streetcar”. We start today with a 3 hour tour…yes a 3 hour tour.
Our Ancestors Shopped Here, In A Way
It was the year 2000. America had survived the Y2K Armageddon crisis and Tucsonans had recently approved a $360 million dollar redevelopment project know as Rio Nuevo. The first major task was to unearth Tucson’s Birthplace in an effort to shape future development on the 10 acre parcel just west of I-10 and south of congress . While the dig did not discover original Mission San Agustin built on the site in the 18th century, it did reveal 4000 years of pottery, tools and dishes, irrigation canals and pit house remains.
In the early part of the 20th century, the area, known as the Birth Place of Tucson, held a rock mine, a brick factory, a land fill, and homeless camps. In the early 2000’s, after decades of the city unsuccessfully trying to recreate a historical and cultural center the land was sold to private developers. Rio Development Co and the Gadsden Company have been building a community known as the Mercado District of Menlo Park since 2004-
Their intent has been to incorporated the historical nature of the site into the future development. The archaeology was re-buried, not removed, providing future generations an opportunity to see the continuous historical record. The Mercado San Augustin sits atop the 4000 plus years of history. Even the road in the commercial district curves to match the path of the irrigation canals, just feet below. “
We sat down earlier this week with Kira Dixon-Weinstein to get the history of her family on this project.
Tom Heath: Good morning Tucson. It’s a another beautiful Sunday in the Old Pueblo. And I want to thank you for spending a part of your brunch hour with us on your Downtown Tucson Community sponsored rock and roll radio station. This week, we discuss one of Tucson’s newest neighborhoods, which sits just a few feet above our oldest.
Tom Heath: Each and every Sunday, our focus is on social, cultural and economic impacts in Tucson’s Urban core and we like to shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From A Mountain to the U of A, and all stops in between. You get the inside track right here on 99.1 FM streaming on DowntownRadio.org, also available on your iPhone or Android by using our very own Downtown Radio app. Just head over to your Google Play or App Store and download Downtown Radio Tucson.
Tom Heath: And if you want to get us on the show here, our email address is [email protected]. You can interact with us on Facebook at LifeAlongTheStreetcar and if you were one of those Twitter folks, you can catch us with our handle @StreetcarLife.
Tom Heath: Well today is August 11th, my name is Tom Heath and you’re listening to Life Along The Streetcar. We start today with a three-hour tour. Yes, a three-hour tour. For over two years now, I have been looking for hidden gems and sharing those with our Tucson population. This show, Life Along The Streetcar came about as a way for me to broadly broadcast those things that we should all know about Tucson. We have a tremendous amount of history and culture and for someone like myself has been here for 25 years did not realize how deep that was. And so I started doing some exploring, I realized that there was so much that we had to share. I wanted to get on the radio and talk about it. Well, we’re going to take it a step farther.
Tom Heath: Beginning on September 7th, just in a couple of weeks. You’re going to see the Tucson Trolley Tours taking off from the Mercado each and every Saturday from 9 to noon. We’re going to offer a three-hour tour of downtown, the University area, Central Tucson and share what we believe are the hidden gems of Tucson. Our goal is to really help with people moving to Tucson, the tourists that might be coming to visit, people that may have lived here for a while but don’t really have a full understanding, much like I was, five or six years ago.
Tom Heath: We got a couple of partners in this venture. Tony Ray Baker, Darren Jones. They happen to be real estate agents who’ve been doing tours of Tucson with their clients for years and I’ve been introducing real estate agents to the downtown area and economic development for the last several months. Well, we found a bus that looks like a trolley and we’ve decided to launch this tour. We’re going to do it every Saturday from 9 to noon.
Tom Heath: You can catch us at the Mercado. We’re going to launch from the annex there and the tour will talk about the birthplace of Tucson, Mission Garden, will meander a little bit through downtown looking at some of that culture and history head up through 4th Avenue, main gate.
Tom Heath: Take a look at the U of A, with the University of Arizona Mall Memorial, the Student Union, Old Main, all of that stuff that is been on the show at some point at one time or another and we’re excited to share that.
Tom Heath: We’re going to take the tour little bit beyond the footprint of the show. We’re going to head East as far as Reid Park. We think that’s a good stretch there for three hours, so we can share what’s happening with the Zoo and the Rose Garden. All the fun stuff in that area.
Tom Heath: We’ll talk about much more than we’re able to show, but our goal is from 9:00 to noon to help tourists become trailblazers, help them find ways that they can seek out what they’re going to actually love about Tucson. Since the tour wraps up around noon, that leaves them most of their Saturday to further their exploration.
Tom Heath: So again, if you want more information just head over to our Facebook page right after the show, we’ll have a link to the Tucson Trolley Tours and you can get information. There’s costs involved with this and you have to register. So if it’s something you’re interested in head over to our Facebook page Life Along the Streetcar right after the show and we’ll have all the links there for you!
Tom Heath: Well, it’s no coincidence that our feature today happens to be the Mercado. It was the year 2000, America survived the Y2K Armageddon crisis and Tucsonans had recently approved a 360 million dollar redevelopment project known as Rio Nuevo. The first major task was to unearth Tucson’s birthplace in an effort to shape future development on the 10-acre partial just west of I-10 and south of Congress.
Tom Heath: Well that archaeological dig did not discover the original Mission San Agustin, which was built on that site in the late 18th century. It did reveal 4,000 years of pottery, tools, dishes. There’s even irrigation canals and pit house remains that were uncovered. Well, as we rolled into the 20th century, that area known as the birthplace of Tucson was used for rock mining and had a brick factory.
Tom Heath: At one point it was even a landfill for the city. As we rolled into the year 2000, a lot of that area was now being used for homeless encampments. After decades of the city unsuccessfully trying to recreate a historical and Cultural Center, the land was sold to private developers.
Tom Heath: Rio Development Company and Gadsden Company have been building a community known as the Mercado District of Menlo Park since about 2003, 2004. Their intent has been to incorporate the historic nature of the site. And bring that into the Futures development.
Tom Heath: The archaeology was reburied. It wasn’t removed. It was reburied with a thought that it will provide future generations an opportunity to see this continuously inhabited historical record.
Tom Heath: The current Mercado Saint Augustine sits atop four thousand plus years of history and even the road in the commercial District curves to match the path of the irrigation canals just a few feet below. We sat down earlier this week with Kira Dixon Weinstein to get a history of that property that her family’s been involved with for some time now.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Menlo Park is an you know, an older neighborhood that started in I think like the 1930s the homes here started to be built but going back further. It was as far north as the Spaniards came when they came up through the colonial Highlands of Mexico. They got to Tucson. Of course, they’ve done archaeology in the area right where we’re sitting right now and they have archaeological finds that prove that this has been continually inhabited for at least 4,000 years.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: So, you know people always lived here and if you take the tour at Mission Gardens, they can walk you through the garden of you know, what a garden was 10,000 years ago, five thousand years ago, two thousand years ago, 1,000 years ago and they just walk you eat it. You can do this great tour. What you realize is this is a really old neighborhood. It’s been here for longer than we can probably imagine
Tom Heath: How do we come to know that it was that we always known this? was it with the creation of this site that really uncovered that?
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Yes. So when the city so the city looked at this parcel of land were the Mercado districts sits on 30 Acres south of Cushing Street is another 35 Acres or something and it was basically a homeless encampment at that point. It is just big vacant land right adjacent to downtown and the city said, okay, we need to we need to kind of do something with this land. So they put it out to you know bid for qualifications. But before they put the land out they did archaeology and so they you know, they went through all the stages and this found really old pottery. Lots of it and houses pit houses and all of that.
Tom Heath: That’s still, that wasn’t disturbed, right? This was sort of…
Kira Dixon Weinstein: The way the archaeologist approach it is they do they dig in partial areas and then they say, yeah, for instance the parcel under the Mercado was not dug because they want to preserve it even further. They’re like, one day we’ll all be gone and someone will go through and find the layers and they’ll find the layer of the foundation of the Mercado and whatever got built on top of it one day and keep going down and find all the layers of History throughout so so they purposely preserve some portion.
Tom Heath: Very interesting. This was all about when?
Kira Dixon Weinstein: This was all done in the early 2000 like right around 2000. Yeah.
Tom Heath: And so then your family got involved with this project around that time then?
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Yeah, It was my was really my brother was the person to have a vision for it and it really was the streetcar. It’s really where all the development opportunities lie. Because most of the rest of the streetcar route had been developed, you know, my brother Justin, Justin Dixon had fallen in love with Tucson and the architecture styles, the old Barrio the snoring row house.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: We had all heard the story of the tearing down of the old Barrio for the TCC during, you know urban renewal and the idea was to sort of like build a future historic district for the city and also the city had the objective of expanding downtown. So the city put the land out with the desire for bringing more Economic Opportunity, housing opportunities and culture to the city.
Tom Heath: Well, it’s transformed the area. There’s not there’s no doubt about that and it’s been done in a way that’s not just it’s not commercialization that you could expect. You’re very selective about how you’ve gone about developing this area.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: We think local small businesses are the best the Mercado when we started the Mercado. We kind of looked around in the area. We were headed like a bunch of community meetings where we stand by did everybody and said, what do you want? You want to Farmers Market? Do you want to stir that and it was interesting? Like the thing people really wanted was a place to go.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: They’re like, we just want entertainment really we want like somewhere we can actually go and people that had raised their kids in this neighborhood said, we raise our kids in this neighborhood and then they moved to the east side of town. There’s like nothing going on. We want something to be going on. And so we found some local small businesses that had lived in the neighborhood, Law Street Bakery and the the Sonoran snow cones both were local Menlo Park businesses.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Then we did a contest in the Daily Star and that’s how we ended up getting the cake baker where we gave her a year free rent and like small business training and marketing advice and you know layered a whole package. But then over the years. I just started getting approached by so many people that you know, we have a small business. It would be really great here. So we knew it was time to expand to the annex when that list was getting really long and the quality of young smart entrepreneurial people, some of whom had like grown up in Tucson went and had whole careers and other cities and we’re coming back, you know, the businesses at the annex are really the businesses that Tucson brought to the table at this moment in time.
Tom Heath: I want to talk about the Annex. But before we get into that the housing that’s a big component of the area and it is it’s a mix as well.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Right? Yeah. So the housing their will so that there’s the single family homes and then there’s the apartment so it was Master developed and then sold to some Charter Builder. So there was architecture styles really like put together in all built around Clauses based on the principles of new organisms. Like any good urban city you want to have diverse housing opportunities. So the apartments come in and they kind of do the high density mixed use approach to the expansion of downtown. There’s several affordable housing buildings and opportunities as well as market rate.
Tom Heath: I think that’s the interesting thing. When you look at this, you’ve got West End station, which is designed as Workforce housing. And as I understand it there’s a portion of the rent is control their rent is impacted by their income and then you have senior housing just to the east of that. And then as you come West you’ve got this beautiful single-family residence much higher end and they’re living together.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: And really part of the Mercado district is Landers Apartments, which is also senior in disability housing on the west side of the property and there’s another couple apartment units there. So it’s it really is meant to be interspersed because it’s more Dynamic when when all different types of people can All share the same area.
Tom Heath: But you have a lot of families that have been here for Generations after generation. And now you’re bringing introducing new families into that Dynamic you have a sense of how that’s?
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Well change is always hard right? So I think that really the city government has done its job as it should and sort of protecting people’s property taxes because of course that you know, where there’s increased desire, there’s increased, you know value and there’s increased taxes. City council has worked to create, you know, historic district to kind of protect people’s property taxes, and I imagine there’s a mixed There’s some mixed feelings about the whole thing.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: We you know, this was the intention for a long time to do this sort of high density mixed use Transit oriented shopping district, and it was the intention of the city as well. So they need to really kind of I think step up and say yeah, this is what we knew was going to happen and they should really like work to protect Neighbors at want to stay in their neighborhoods. And I’m sure there’s some that water like excited to cash out.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: I remember the day the streetcar opened. I was decorating. I was like here like the crack of dawn helping put up some decorations for the festivities that were happening later in the day and there was this little guy standing out at this station and Cushing Street looking at the map and he goes all be and I looked over him like yeah. What do you think? I’ll be damned my kids. My grandkids are going to inherit something after all!
Kira Dixon Weinstein: the first award that Rio development, my brother’s company got it was a three to four vote and our competitor was Katie Holmes. So what was the one vote? Otherwise, this would all be Katie Holmes right now, which is not unusual or special in any way. I mean nothing against Katie Holmes, but you know, it’s not unique to Tucson or have character of Tucson and something that was really important to Neighbors at that time that they’re you know, they’re teenagers could get jobs working places. So for sure there are probably a hundred people employed between the Mercado in the annex at this point.
Tom Heath: We’re interviewing Kira Dixon Weinstein of the Mercado District of Menlo Park. She’s talking a little bit about the history of that property her family’s involvement and we’re going to be back to that interview in just a few minutes to talk about the future of that area including a new project that they’ve just released about a year ago with the Mercado annex.
Tom Heath: First, I’d like to remind you that you are listening to Life Along the Streetcar on Downtown Radio 99.1 FM and available for streaming on DowntownRadio.org. If you’re just joining us our first part of the show was talking with Kira Dixon Weinstein about the history of the Mercado just south of Congress and west of I-10 the history of that place. That is the birthplace of Tucson and how the Marcado is fitting in with that history and culture and transitioning it into the future.
Tom Heath: In this part of the interview. We’re joined by Christine Donnelly. She is in marketing promotions with the Mercado Saint Augustine and we’re talking about some of the present activities including the Mercado Annex which is the rusted out, intentionally rusted-out cargo containers that are on the south end of the Mercado near near the new caterpillar building talking about some of the events that they have there and what the future may hold at the Mercado.
Tom Heath: Let’s take a look at the annex, Christine can jump in?
Christine Donnely: Yeah, so they’re all in these converted shipping containers. They’ve been retrofitted by a local Tucson designer. So they certainly kind of catch the attention of a lot of architecture enthusiasts. we get a lot of people reaching out kind of wanting information about the build process and kind of the history of why we chose that they are recycled. They’ve made a little journey around the world which certainly appeals to people and then it kind of gives us both this fun exciting challenge of working in these smaller spaces. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse, you know, it gets it really forces all these businesses to be creative. You pop into Transit cycles. For example, you’d be blown away by how many bikes and how they can have a fully operating bike Workshop like all in this tiny spot what 1,500 square feet in there.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Yeah, and I mean one thing that we use the container We should talk about with downtown is expanding and this will be high density transit-oriented development. But we weren’t we knew we weren’t quite ready to pull that off on this parcel where the annex is. So we wanted to do something that maybe in 10 to 15 years could go away. So we thought if we shipping containers and purposed again rather than scraps and throw in a landfill and that ultimately there be a four-story building then I’ll who knows maybe that’ll never happen. Maybe this will always stay will see that at least the flexibilities there,
Tom Heath: Certainly an interesting and attractive area. What are some of the businesses that are operating out of here?
Christine Donnely: Yeah. So we’re sitting right now in westbound actually in there grab and go Bottle Shop, which I love you can grab whatever bottle you’re interested in take it home. They do custom orders here a nice rewards program, but this is kind of the heart and soul. I would say I think a lot of the food and drink beverage choices here in the annex really kind of anchor us here and give people And the consistent Hub to go hang out in and kind of eat and drink at.
Tom Heath: Westbound’s it’s a product of tap and bottled correct. So they’re they’re pretty well known here as a local businesses get that got to start.
Christine Donnely: I’d recommend kind of following along to all of the individual businesses, you know, everything is individually owned and operated here. So there’s certainly a lot of news kind of about what they’re doing on their site and then as well as on the Mercado District website and on our social media Pages as well.
Tom Heath: Is it all like merchants and retailers?
Christine Donnely: We have a combination. There’s some retailers we’ve got clothing vendors here. We’ve got Services as I mentioned Transit Cycles. They are operating a whole bike shop repair shop in their space. We’ve got some Artisans making Furniture photo styling and Studio as well as Dustin Heritage does you know they have a retail space with they also offer styling and prop services for things like weddings and special events. So kind of a variety a good mix of Retail and services on site.
Tom Heath: Question switching slightly but staying in this space, which I think is very interesting because you are a shopping area your residential area, but you have a very large stage. What is that all about?
Christine Donnely: We do, we have this beautiful Festival ground space. That’s a venue that we love to use and we’re kind of growing into all the time. So we work with Flown 10. They are an acrobatic pyrotechnic Theater Company here in town. Probably most well known for their work in coordinating the All Souls production. So they help us host a variety of performances concerts markets pop-up events like that. I’m all on site which is a lot of fun and I think we all kind of see us grow and change and hosts a variety of events moving forward.
Tom Heath: My first memory of this area in Tucson was I don’t know probably 20 Years ago coming down for a festival. I think it was Dia de San Juan and it was a dirt lot and as this has been building up as an intentional to make sure that you’re not displacing those festivals?
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Yeah, for sure. So the El día de San Juan is I think a really important festival and we all need to kind of do our part to make sure it survives as this area changes like I would love to see ultimately one day there be a proper Festival ground south of Cushing Street, which was envisioned in the original, you know, Rio Nuevo plans, but way back in the day, I still would love to see that, you know permanent home for All Souls and El Dia de San Juan and probably a handful of others that could use that.
Tom Heath: Christine you’re not a native Tucsonan. I’m not so tell us how did you get to Tucson? And why did you why did you end up working for…
Christine Donnely: It’s kind of a lucky story. I came to visit campus and I just fell in love with it. It was the only Applied to some very painful until i got accepted. and I was just kind of that poster case for wanting to brag about Tucson all the time. I really found it accessible. I walked all over I just couldn’t get enough in terms of exploring the venue’s looking at the landscape. I was just sort of really inspired by it all so I chose to stay after college for a few years and I graduated I stayed for about two years and then I returned to the Midwest miss my family and so I lived there for a while had a good run back there and then got to reconnect with Kira here and we realized that there was this need for somebody in my role. And so we made the move and I got back out here and started in January.
Tom Heath: And then what is your role specifically?
Christine Donnely: So I work with managing our marketing Vision our strategy and implementing kind of the Mercado District Vision across our social media Platforms and then also working in event production. So coordinating these sort of larger Mercado District events, like our summer night market and some of those things that we host on an annual basis like our spring in holiday bazaar.
Tom Heath: Well, you have a new neighbor fairly large office there, Catepillar…
Kira Dixon Weinstein: I think the building’s beautiful people were like complaining at one point. But now I’m now people are like am I allowed to say I think the building’s really cool is like no, I think we can say that it looks great
Tom Heath: It’s an interesting job as well with the Landscaping out front.
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Landscaping is gorgeous.
Tom Heath: Yeah. Are you seeing are they are they embracing the Mercado?
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Yeah, you see them. They’re kind of like Little Wolf Pack, they tend to travel in groups of like 10 at a time and they tend to wear identifiable, you know caterpillar logoed outfits and they frequent all of the food establishments. So, you know, that’s That’s the upside of Economic Development issue have other layers of support for these small businesses.
Tom Heath: What did we not talk about that that you feel we should?
Kira Dixon Weinstein: Well, I would love to tell you about our summer night market. So we’ve got two more left this season one on August 30th. And then again on September 27th, and we were really lucky to partner with you guys down downtown radio mocha, and then also Rio Nuevo and we started this artist Spotlight program. So we’ve actually been giving rewards to these artists and they’ve been able to use that money to kind of finance an art installation which has been a really nice added component to these markets. So we have you know, about 40 local vendors popping up on site and bring in food trucks. We’ve got, you know, a DJ and celebrated mixologist making craft cocktails and so it’s really fun to watch this Annex kind of transform into this Lively scene at night. That’s kind of open late and designed to kind Keep us cool on these Hot Summer Nights.
Tom Heath: That was Christine Donnelly. She is the marketing and production coordinator at the Mercado de San Agustin telling us about some of the cool things coming up at that location. And we also earlier were joined by Kira Dixon Weinstein. She’s the executive director and talk to us about the history of that fabulous place. We call the birthplace of Tucson. Well, my name is Tom Heath and you were listening to Life along the Streetcar on 99.1 FM and available for streaming on Downtown Radio.org.
Tom Heath: Well, that’ll do it for episode number 96. Look at the Mercado District of Menlo Park. Just west of the freeway little south of Congress. We were joined by the executive director Kira Dixon Weinstein and marketing and promotions director Christine Donley. also talked about the upcoming Tucson Trolley Tours three-hour. Look at Tucson. downtown U of A and Central Now we’re going to leave you today with music from Miss Olivia and The Interlopers. They had a fantastic concert on Friday at 191 Toole. You’re listening to their song “Blacklisted.” Hope you have a great week until next Sunday for more Life Along the Streetcar.