Indie Wheel – May 2013

May 11, 2013 |
Keeping the ‘Oh My’ Factor in Downtown Tucson

Who should benefit from the progress being made Downtown and along 4th Avenue? There’s nothing wrong with making a buck, but should it only be made by those that just want to profit from a new Tucson? Or should beneficiaries include the artists, the small business owners, and the Tucsonans who not only invested many hours of their time but also thousands of dollars from their pockets back in the 80s and 90s when no one else would? When no one cared?Don’t we want to keep the people that truly care about our local economy here? Shouldn’t we fight for the very people who invested in our downtown to remain downtown? After all, there was no guaranteed return on their investments, yet they kept at it through thick and thin.

Don’t get me wrong. Like most people, I’m giddy about our blossoming Downtown. Come on, you know you are, too. We like seeing all those people walking in the streets, in and out of locally owned restaurants and night clubs. It’s inspiring. We have been waiting a very long time for this.

Yet I am also a little worried. For all of us. As Downtown Tucson rises, locally owned businesses continue to fall. We may be repeating history in Tucson by destroying some of our best assets and then regretting it 20 years from now, just as we did with the barrio that once stood where our lovely Tucson Convention Center now stands. We sure screwed that one up, didn’t we?

It hurts to this day because every person with a little business sense – or any sense at all – knows that what makes a downtown great is its locally owned businesses and historic neighborhoods. Locals and tourists alike crave authenticity. We want what is real with all the gritty, scruffy edges that come along with it. We don’t travel to Rome to eat at an Olive Garden or go to Puerto Rico and complain about a bumpy ride on the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. Yes, we love the real stuff, don’t we?

Yet, slowly, we may well blow it again if we don’t advocate for our locally owned businesses and artists. Several longtime businesses have already closed down or moved. More may do the same because they cannot sustain the hits from all the construction, delays and mistakes due to the Modern Streetcar. Some businesses may not even survive this summer.

Whether you know it now or don’t realize it until 20 years from now, you want a downtown that is a little funky and perhaps even slightly uncomfortable. It’s what I call the Oh My factor. You know, it’s what tourists and locals alike say when they encounter something edgy and perhaps culturally very different from their own personal experience. They say, “Oh my!,” and then they proceed to enjoy that unique culinary or arts experience. Believe me, businesses and local Tucsonans alike do not want the Old Pueblo to lose its Oh My factor!What we want is for Noël Chester, a longtime theater artist and owner of The District Tavern (I’m talking an artist from the a.k.a. theater golden years) to stay put downtown. What we want is to honor the decades of contributions to the downtown performing arts scene donated by my friend, the late, great David “Bunga” Felix. Believe me, Noël and Bunga both inspired many gasps of “Oh my!” over several decades, and their presence and spirit should remain downtown.In essence, what we truly want is to keep the old with the new, side by side. You want your out-of-town, prudish aunt and your tatted, rebellious nephew alike to enjoy themselves downtown. What we must have in order for this thing to work is for new places like The Hub to coexist with places like The District Tavern and for people like Noël to stick around.

There is no doubt about it: we are in the midst of perhaps the biggest, fattest do-over opportunity in Tucson history. Will we get it right this time? I sure hope so.


Bentley’s House of Coffee and Tea on Speedway and Campbell has awesome restrooms. Yep, I dig the coffee and food, but the restrooms make a statement. I have always said that the baños say a lot about cafes and restaurants. And yet I want our beloved Epic Cafe on 4th Ave and University Blvd, funky restrooms and all, to stay exactly the same. Weird of me, huh?ART
Announcing the I Just Made This Up Tucson Arts Awards for April 2013: The Most Politically and Economically Awkward Yet Beautiful Art Award goes to Melody Peters for the bronze dancers at the 4th Ave underpass. And the He Has Stuck Around Forever and Should Stick Around Even Longer Award goes to Ned Schaper. Congratulations on my made up awards, Ned and Melody!POLITICS
So I thought of a ‘walks into a bar’ joke, but I’m not sure it’s very funny. Here goes: A council aide, a former city manager, two school superintendents, a former college chancellor, a consultant, and a bunch of politicians walk into a locally owned bar in Tucson. Bartender says, “I’m sorry, we don’t serve– wait, you know what? Just get out. Please. Get out now!” That’s it. Told ya it wasn’t that funny.
Contact Miguel Ortega at

Category: Community