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Urban Core Champion: Tom Heath’s Tale of Tucson Transformation

In this special episode of Life Along the Streetcar, host Tom Heath turns the spotlight on himself, sharing his compelling origin story. Discover how an unexpected encounter with Tucson’s rich history sparked Tom’s passion for uncovering and promoting the hidden gems of the Old Pueblo. This extended content piece dives deeper into Tom’s journey, featuring direct quotes from the episode to provide further context and engagement.

Men in historical military clothing firing a replica cannon at the Presidio Museum with embers and smoke, Downtown Tucson skyscrapers visible in the background.
Historical reenactment at the Presidio Museum, showcasing a replica cannon firing as part of Tucson’s rich cultural heritage.

Discovering Tucson’s Hidden Gem

Tom Heath’s journey began with a surprising revelation about Tucson’s rich history. “I remember hearing from a friend that there’s a museum in downtown Tucson that fires off a cannon on second Saturdays,” Tom recalls. Despite having lived in Tucson for over two decades, Tom had never encountered this intriguing local tradition. This moment of realization marked the beginning of his deep dive into the city’s cultural heritage.

Tom’s visit to the Presidio Museum was transformative: “They dress up in Spanish colonial military uniforms, they replicate civilian life… I sat there and it just hit me like a slap in the face. Oh my gosh, how can you have lived here for this long and not known that this was going on?” This experience ignited Tom’s desire to explore and share Tucson’s hidden treasures.

The Awakening: A New Perspective

Tom’s newfound passion for Tucson’s history led him to a profound understanding of his role in the community. “I realized I’m asking people to make this huge financial commitment and investment into property in Tucson, Arizona, and I don’t fully understand what it is that they are actually buying into. What is this community all about?” This epiphany spurred Tom to delve deeper into the community, attending presentations, visiting museums, and engaging with locals to uncover the stories that define Tucson.

Creating Life Along the Streetcar

In 2017, Tom took his passion to the airwaves with the launch of Life Along the Streetcar. “I wrote out 50 topics that I would cover that first year… just want to highlight the work that they’re doing and make people aware,” he explains. The show quickly gained traction, with Tom uncovering countless stories and connecting with a wide array of Tucson’s residents. “People would approach me and say, oh you should talk to this person or you should do this… all of a sudden I just found this year spiraling out of control because I’m not getting to the meat of what I really want to talk about originally but I’m covering things that I’m so much having fun discovering.”

Unintended Consequences: Building a Legacy

Tom’s journey led to several unintended yet impactful ventures, including the creation of the Tucson Gallery. “I remember talking to a very popular muralist who is working on maybe opening up his own gallery… the muralists themselves are not profiting on it, it’s like, hmm this seems like something we should fix.” This realization, coupled with a collaboration with Crystal Popoff on coworking spaces, resulted in a new platform for local artists to showcase and sell their work.

Continuing the Mission

Tom remains dedicated to his mission of promoting Tucson’s unique culture and history. “I think I’ve helped a lot of people get better acquainted and better connected to their community,” he reflects. His story is a testament to the power of curiosity and community engagement, inspiring others to explore and appreciate the vibrant urban core of Tucson.

Listen and Connect

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📧 Contact Tom Heath to learn more about his story or to nominate someone who is making a difference in Tucson. Thank you for listening and being part of the Life Along the Streetcar community!

Transcript (Unedited)

Good morning. It’s a beautiful Sunday in the Old Pueblo and you’re listening to KTDT Tucson. Thank you for spending a part of your brunch hour with us on your downtown Tucson community sponsored all -volunteer powered rock and roll radio station. On this week’s show we’re going to speak with the host of a local radio program and a podcast about Tucson’s urban core. He co -owns the Tucson Tri Tours and the Tucson Gallery. His journey began with an unexpected discovery which helped him understand he knew little about Tucson. Wait a minute, that sounds like me. Huh, I guess I’m interviewing myself today. What do you know about that? Today is May 19th 2024 my name is Tom Heath And you’re listening to life along the streetcar 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 University of Arizona and all stops in between You get the inside track right here on 99

.1 FM streaming on downtown radio .org Also available on your iPhone or Android by using our very own Downtown Radio Tucson app. If you want to interact with us here on the show, we can do that through Facebook and Instagram. That’s probably the best of two ways. And if you want information about us, our book, past episodes, or just to contact us or leave a comment, you can head over to our website, which is lifealongthestreetcar .org. And of course, we invite you to listen to this podcast on all kinds of platforms like Spotify iTunes I heart radio and If we’ve done it properly, you can just simply ask your smart speaker to play the lifelong the streetcar Podcast and sometimes it pops up. It’s pretty cool a huge shout out to the United Way They had a toast to Tucson event. This was their first time doing it. It was their inaugural event it was hosted just a couple days ago on a Friday and it was the The it was a fundraiser was the effort to really kind of make people aware of all the cool

things happening in Tucson But was raising money for the young leaders united which is helping to inspire Community activity community action with young leaders in our community and the the event was a casual It was held at the proper shops in downtown The Tucson Gallery is one of the sponsors. Got to kind of check out the vibe. Very active and engaged group. I’ve seen so many faces that I’ve interviewed on the show come through there. So it was creatives, business people, culinary. It was just really, really well done. So a huge shout out to the team at the United Way. I know they worked hard on this. And anytime you do an event that’s challenging, when it’s the first event, it certainly can be nerve -wracking. They knocked it out of the park from where I stood and do hope they continue on this journey to do this for other years. It seemed like it was a good mix of people and a good outcome. Hopefully they raised the money they were looking to to support the Young Leaders United program.

You can check out more about that on their website and if you head over to lifelongstreetcar .org just put in United Way. You’ll see a few interviews we’ve done with them. One, we did talk a lot about the Young Leaders United group about a year or so ago. And we’ve also done some other shows on the efforts of the United Way here in the Tucson area. Well, speaking of other shows, this is kind of a weird one for you. My guest today is me. And no, I’m not going to ask myself questions and answer them like I do every morning in my head. No, I’m going to just share with you a little bit and tell you a little about the things that I’m involved with. Because this has come up more frequently, I think now after seven years, the show’s gaining a little traction and I’m starting to find people that they may be new to the show. And if you are, thank you, thank you for listening, whether it’s on downtown radio or if it’s on the podcast. and I often, I’ve been asked this question a lot lately, like how’d

you get started, why’d you get started, why’d you do this, because it’s clear this is not a huge profit -making deal here, so what is your effort behind this, are you just bored? And then with my partners, we’ve got a few ventures going that are supporting the community downtown, just Tucson in general, so I thought, you know what, the people are asking, and one of my things to do Uncover a hidden gem and as silly as it sounds to say I think maybe this show that you are listening to is a hidden gem And even though you’re listening Maybe we can help encourage others to participate if they they kind of understand their rationale and the reasoning and the history behind it So I thought about this and decided you know what I’m gonna do The origin story of life along the streetcar and some of these efforts that are happening underway here in the community to strengthen that. So bear with me, it’s gonna be my voice today that you’re going to hear. I hope you get something out of it. I enjoy telling

the story because it’s not really as much about me, it’s much more about the community, the things that are happening, and my complete lack of awareness to that one cathartic moment when I realized, hey, I have to know more, I have to do more, I have to be more engaged within our community. And that moment came to me and I was around 2015. I’m almost positive 2015 But it’s now it’s been you know, nine ten years and the exact date still alludes me But I remember hearing from a friend That there’s a museum in downtown Tucson that fires off a cannon on second Saturdays. This is 2015 now keep in mind I moved to Tucson from the Midwest in 1993 that’s when I first got to this city and And so 10, over 20 years that I had been here. And I had explored Tucson to some extent. You know, I’d golfed, I’d hiked, I’d gone to different restaurants and venues and sporting events and such. So I kind of felt like I was active within the community. And then I hear about this museum that fires off a cannon

on Second Saturdays. I’m like, that seems kind of interesting. So I go downtown and I go to the Presidio Museum on a second Saturday, and sure enough, they fire off an honest -to -goodness cannon. The volunteers, and we’ve had them on the show before, you know, we’ve done many shows on them, you can find them on the website, put in the Presidio Museum, you’ll see multiple interviews we’ve done with different people connected to it, but they dress up in Spanish colonial military uniforms, they replicate civilian life, they have blacksmith they’re making and creating the materials necessary to sustain the museum’s structure, and I’m sitting there and they’re all doing this on a second Saturday and it just hit me like just a slap in the face. Oh my gosh, how can you have lived here for this long and not known that this was going on because this is your thing. I mean, you’re a nerd. You’re kind of a dork and people firing off cannons. Yeah, that’s what I want to see. And so I stuck around for

the day and I watched the whole festivities. I did musket volleys, all kinds of stuff. It was just fascinating to me. And I just talked to so many of the volunteers and and then they pointed me to the turquoise trail So I’m like what I’ve got to learn more. I didn’t fully understand why August was our birth month and I didn’t understand why Hugo O ‘Connor was our our founding father and I learned all that through the museum and Honestly, I said to myself. Well, if I don’t know about this After 20 years, what else don’t I know? You know a little sidebar at the time and still now I’m in I’m in the mortgage business I’ve been doing home loans, helping people purchase homes for 25 years at this point, as of now. And at that point, I’d been doing it for quite some time, and I realized I’m asking people to make this huge financial commitment and investment into property in Tucson, Arizona, and I don’t fully understand what it is that they are actually buying into. What is this community all about?

It was shocking to me that I never thought about that before. I’d always thought about it as real estate, a home, a purchase, and that’s the tangible asset that you get, but really the intangibles are the community, the neighborhoods, the people, the things that make this place so special, and I knew nothing about it. So I started on this venture, and I just went out and was fascinated by things, and when I could, I just talked to people. I didn’t interview them, I wasn’t doing a show, I just talked to people, and I found all this stuff, and honestly, I realized at that moment in 2015, and soon after as I was out exploring that I knew nothing, literally nothing about our history, our culture, the economic development, the good, the bad, the challenges, the obstacles, the outcomes, the positive path which we might be on. I knew nothing. And for me, it was somewhat embarrassing, given what I did for a living and what my passions are. And I just said, you know what, I’ve got to do more. So

I just started spending a lot of time in just downtown and talking to people, going to presentations, going to museums and such, mostly a lot of them run by volunteers and just chatting. Well, you start putting things on Facebook about, oh my gosh, I didn’t know this. And you put it out there in the world that, hey, this is a fun thing, you should check it out. And fast forward a little bit to 2017, and I meet the general manager at the time of the station, this one, Downtown Radio, 99 .1 FM. And we have this conversation about, hey, could this be a show for the radio? And you know the lineup here, right? Monday through Saturday it’s a rock and roll mix and on Sundays we mix it up a little bit. We put different types of music and we have talk shows and at the time it was a big push for mental health and we had Ty Logan who’s still on the show now with Heavy Mental and there were a couple other shows. Education Matters and Laura had a show about mental health. There were a variety of things

kind of lined up and they had an empty slot And I was like, yes, let’s do this. So I sat down and I wrote out 50 topics that I would cover that first year, some of which I’d already reviewed and some I’d wanted to learn more about. And I wrote it down, I gave it to the general manager, and I said, look, here’s what I’m going to do. Not a commercial for any of these places, but just want to highlight the work that they’re doing and make people aware. And I can do this for a year. We talked about it, 50 episodes, one year, bam, we’re in. And let’s see what happens. Well, as you can probably tell, I’m still doing it. The year passed, and I hadn’t covered my 15 topics at that point. I’d started down paths, but then those conversations led to more details that I had to follow up on and more people I needed to talk with, and then people would approach me and say, oh, you should talk to this person, or you should do this, or hey, this event’s coming up. And all of a sudden, I just found this year

spiraling out of control because I’m not getting to the meat of what I really want to talk about originally, but I’m covering things that I’m so much having fun discovering. And that’s kind of what launched this. It was in 2017 that the show began, it was 2015 where my awakening, so to speak, was. And now I encourage people to get out there and explore. Check out their community. I hope, you know, if you live in Tucson, that’s great, I can help you explore. Or wherever you live, though, just get out. Find out why the streets are named the way they are. Who put this together for you? Who came before us, and where are we heading? And that’s exciting to me now. It’s become a passion, and that’s why I still do it to this day, because it’s just a really rewarding thing for me to be sharing this with the world there. You know, you do something and unintended consequences, and for me, most of them have been good. But a lot of things have come from the show and your support. And after the break,

we’ll talk a little bit about a couple of those ventures. But first of all, I want to remind you that right now, you are listening to Life Along the Streetcar on Downtown Radio. We’re at 99 .1 FM and we’re streaming on downtownradio .org.

Now, and speaking of Tucson Gallery, that’s one of those unintended consequences we’ll talk about. If you’re just joining us, today’s an interesting show. My guest is me. I don’t do this very often. I really enjoy the conversations I have with community members. But after having lots of questions over the last few weeks, and probably the last couple of months, actually, about what I’m doing with Life Along the Streetcar, the gallery, the other things, like why and how did this come to be, I wanted to put that out there in the world. I figured I might be interesting enough to be on the show if I wasn’t the host. So, you know what, I made the executive decision to interview myself and tell what I’m calling the origin story of life along the streetcar. And just before the break, I gave the history of how I got involved and what drove me to do this and mentioned there were some unintended consequences that, in this case, they seem to be favorable. But some of the things that happen, you know,

as you’re talking to people, and you have a radio show, you’re kind of a cool dude, even if, until they get to know you, of course. But there are a lot of things happening in Tucson, and I would love to, you know, I’d go up to someone and say, man, I just love this project you’re working on, or I love the art that you create. Can I buy a cup of coffee? Can we just talk? Because I just want to know more. And more often than not, they’re just too busy, and they’d say, no, no, go away. But if I go up to him and say hey, I love what you’re doing. I love this project I want to know more I want to know more about how you produce your art and I’d like to feature you on my radio show On downtown radio and on my podcast life along the streetcar all of a sudden. Hey, yeah, what do you want to meet? So it was a springboard for me to really engage with conversations And that’s why when you listen to the shows almost all of them, you know today being a very rare exception And there’s a guest, and we

talk about what’s happening in their world and how it affects Tucson and the urban core or how they’re doing something in the urban core that affects the world. So it’s rare for me just to talk about my own story. But as you do that and you have these conversations, then it leads to, well, I need to get this information out in different ways. And the person who helps me put this show together, he does a lot behind the scenes to convert it from a radio show to a podcast to get it out on the social media world, and get at all the podcast platforms. His name is James Portis, and he’s been with me since very early on. I don’t know if it was the beginning, but maybe. But very early on, he’s been involved with this, and during the time around COVID, we were talking about things we could be doing, and this idea of a book came up. And so we kind of got working on this idea of what would a book about life along the streetcar be? And of course, with these interviews, I’ve got all this recorded material,

So I’ve got a ton of of data ready to go and we just sifted through that and tried to narrow down Some topics that covered the entire length of the streetcar from Mission Garden all the way to the University of Arizona You know something on 4th Avenue downtown Maingate University all of those things We wanted to have a story and we also wanted that story to be impactful not just a piece that was interesting You know for the time but something that had a legacy to it and we found all of these different stories that were Both influential and how the show shaped because remember I didn’t know what I was doing or where the show was really gonna go But after I started talking to people that’s where it took shape. And then also we wanted to cover things that were impactful for Tucson so they gave direction to the show and they impacted our community and Some some stories really rose to the top There were a few that we thought we could include in the book We ended up not doing Because of the timing

of things because we had to go back to the original the interview We had to talk to the people who originally had recorded the show, make sure the information was still accurate, up -to -date, if there’s any major changes. We went out, we took photographs, and had to write some introductions and reasonings behind why they were selected. So it took a lot of time to do this, a lot more time, honestly, than I thought, given that we had all the recorded material. I thought we would just be able to transcribe that, and there’s a book, but if you’ve ever read a transcription of a conversation, It is it’s not fun reading. So we work through that. We got the book out and yes, and we in 21 we published my life along the streetcar collection of stories You know our intent was maybe to do a book every year because this the first book focused on shows from the first 12 months That’s all we did and you know now we’re going on seven years. We thought okay every year We’ll knock out another book way too

labor -intensive for that and and again other other Constraints on my time where I’m doing that thing where I try to make some money so I can Afford to do all this stuff Now maybe we’ll do another book here and in 2025 and in every you know, three to four years Well, we can knock out a book maybe about different different shows or different themes But that you know that book was exciting other things that have come from this because you start talking to people and then You’re so excited about wanting to share what you’ve learned The show is one way to do it, but we also wanted to share this with the community And you know, I’ve got two business partners who are in real estate. They’re you know top performing real estate agents I’m in the mortgage market and we realized a lot of people in Tucson that are Helping people move here and buy homes here other real estate agents don’t necessarily have that same perspective So we started doing tours for real estate agents to help them understand

all of these really fascinating parts of Tucson History and culture and also share with them what’s coming the economic development, you know You see vacant lots and empty buildings and here’s a rendering of a hotel. Here’s a rendering of City Park Here’s a rendering of the AC Marriott. These are things that are coming. You know, we started doing this, you know, again, early on. And that has continued and morphed into things where we work with the general public. For a while, we were partnering with a company that had a trolley bus and doing trolley tours. Now we’ve really, for many reasons, have severed that relationship and are out doing walking tours within the community. Probably not so much now since it’s warming up. We’ll probably take the break for the summer. But bringing, you know, groups of people through parts of Tucson and sharing with them not just our perspective, not just what I think about Barrio Viejo, not just what I think about Mission Garden and in the Presidio Museum,

but what people have shared with me who volunteer or work or live in those areas. And so the tours became a part of this and then you know as you’re interviewing people you make these connections and I started interviewing artists here in Tucson and I remember talking to a very popular muralist who is working on maybe opening up his own gallery and had thoughts about it. And I found out in talking to him that many of the muralists have their art sold all over Tucson but oftentimes without their permission and they make no money on it. And I’m not saying anyone’s doing anything wrong with it because it’s public art and you can certainly have some rights to it if you, you know, you can alter it in a different way and you don’t have any copyright restrictions on that. and I’m not suggesting he was doing it wrong, but the fact that this work is being, that the muralists themselves are not profiting on it, it’s like, hmm, this seems like something we should fix. And then I do this interview

with Crystal Popoff, who is a coworking space guru. She’s converting all kinds of old buildings into coworking spaces and having success all over Tucson with this. And it started with the L offices in the Chicago store, the former Chicago store on the top floor. So I interview her and then we make this connection and she starts telling me about this idea she has for an empty restaurant in downtown that’s been empty for a long time but has a good footprint and she thinks she can do this co -working space with retail shops and not the same concept but offer short -term, easily negotiated terms for merchants to open up a physical retail presence and sell their products and it would be an incubator for people to see if their product translates into the brick and mortar world. Would it be, it could be someone that’s selling on an online platform and wants to become physical, it could be someone that has a physical location in some other part of the city or state and wants to see how they would

do in downtown Tucson, it could be someone that is just wanting to experiment for the very first time and see if their hobby or their craft or their skill set will translate into a retail environment. So I’m interviewing her about the L offices, and then we have these conversations, and then this pops up. So of course, because I’m a celebrity radio show person, she reaches out to me and says, hey, what do you think about this idea? You talk to a lot of people, and I’m just enamored with this. And remember, I just had this conversation with the muralist about helping them find ways to get their art into the world, And I’ve got two business partners who have been helping share the history of Tucson through Through the eyes of a tour with many real estate agents in the general public to help them better Understand Tucson as a community and all these pieces line up and I go to them. I’m like, hey We should open a gallery. It’ll be fun Sidebar and I’m just kidding. It’s actually been a blast

But I go to them and we have this history of working together and doing these things And they’re and I think they mulled it over for a very short amount of time and came back and said yes This makes so much sense and then their brains, you know, this is a Tony Ray Baker and Darren Jones These are my partners in the the Tucson Trolley and in the in the Tucson Gallery Their brains just going to overdrive and start coming up with all these ideas of of ways We can go well beyond this initial concept that I have of helping the the muralist we can we can put together a platform for all kinds of local artists and and then the name the Tucson Gallery and the proper shops is the name that comes out of the retail establishment because it used to be in the proper restaurant and all of these things line up and those are unintended consequences. In 2015 I found out that there was a museum that fired off a cannon and I wanted to know more and that exploration has just changed my the world completely

and opened up so many avenues for enjoyment for me. And I think, honestly, without the self -deprecation and the humor that I like to put in here, I think I’ve helped a lot of people get better acquainted and better connected to their community. And I’m super excited about that. Super excited and proud of that role that I’ve played in helping those individuals. It doesn’t happen without James Portis. It doesn’t happen without Tony Baker, Darren Jones, all the support, Downtown Radio, All of these people, these individuals, these organizations have supported everything that I’ve wanted to do in this. I really want to make sure that they get the recognition for this success because I do see it as a success. I joke a lot and I honestly don’t know how many people listen because I don’t track that. But I do have people come up to me and we talk and there are people that have listened to the show more than I realized. It’s exciting for me when they’ve learned something and they might be a lifelong

Tucsonan. That’s my origin story, people. I promise not to bore you too much with my monotone voice and lack of conversational partner too often, but I do appreciate you bearing with me here on this. My name is Tom Heath. You’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar and Downtown Radio, 99 .1 FM and streaming on downtownradio .org.

Well, thanks very much for sticking around episode 295 295 there. Our guest today was me and I get to tell you my origin story. I appreciate you listening. And I hope you stay tuned for words and work as Ted Prozalski interviews writers and to others from the labor movement. And I trust that you will come back and listen to more Life Along the Streetcar. We’ll have other guests on the show here. We’ve got local First Arizona. We got a duo, unlikely combo coming up with a really interesting product that’s just taken hold and it started right here in the urban core downtown Tucson. And if there’s things you want us to talk about and you’re involved and you think there’s something that we need to uncover, hit us up on social media, Facebook and Instagram. Hit us on our website, lifealongthestreetcar .org And we would love to connect Well, James Portis is our production specialist. My name is Tom Heath. I am your host and producer We open every show with Ryan hoods music Dillinger days and

we’re gonna leave you today with brain heart featuring sis It’s a 2019 single means a lot to me. It’s called Explore the world. I hope you have a great week and tune in next Sunday for more life along the streetcar