University Boulevard booming

By Ryan Johnson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 28, 2005

If a landlord has an office space vacant for more than a calendar year, he begins to panic. If that office space is a 9,100-square-foot anchor for a brand-new $18 million building, it becomes a serious problem. But for one landlord around the UA, the wait is worth it.

Meet the Marshall Foundation, University Boulevard's super landlord. Created in 1930 off the generosity of professor Louise Foucar Marshall, it now owns a significant portion of the land by the street.

This includes, among other plots, all the buildings from Park to Euclid avenues (with the exceptions of the land at Frog & Firkin, No Anchovies, Chen's Cafe, and Landmark Clothing), the large lot on the corner, the land on which the Louise F. Marshall building sits, and the parking lot next to the Marriott University Park hotel. Prime real estate, indeed.

All of the foundation's revenues are generated from profit it makes from the land along University Boulevard. To date, half of the foundation's donations go to the UA, to the tune of about $500,000 annually. The other half goes to different foundations in Tucson. So we need it to succeed.

But the Marshall Foundation faces one long-term problem: Its charter mandates that it give away 5 percent of its net worth each year. Not revenues or profits, but net worth. Translation: If it doesn't earn an average return of more than 5 percent, it will eventually disappear.

So after spending a small fortune, $18 million, on a signature five-story building, why then is one of the best parts, the large 9,100-square-foot space on half of the first floor, currently occupied by desks and exposed insulation?

Foundation General Manager Jane McCollum can't disclose details of negotiations, but says it boils down to the foundation looking for the right tenant. Unlike a purely profit-minded organization, the foundation sees itself as the steward of University Boulevard. More than just to run up profits to increase donations, it seeks to create a vision for University Boulevard.

This means no clubs or bars in the space, although McCollum said entertainment is a top priority. An entertainment-minded restaurant sounds like a more likely bet. But students and the university should hope the foundation secures a deal soon. Not just because the foundation is losing tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue, but because that revenue ultimately goes to the university.

And what about the giant dirt lot at the northwest corner of Park Avenue and University Boulevard? The old pharmacy complex that was torn down last year is scheduled to be a single-story building of restaurants and other options similar to the style of the other buildings on the street. McCollum says it's 75 percent leased, and the problem is actually a shortage of concrete.

A few calls to concrete vendors confirm that there is a global shortage, but with due diligence, the university should be able to secure the needed supply.

And what about the step after that? The parking lot next to the Marshall building could become an entertainment complex, according to McCollum. After running focus groups in collaboration with UA students, the foundation found that entertainment was what students wanted most. But the foundation realizes that half of UA students are under 21, and so it wants to do something that can cater to all ages. Some options include a movie theater, a live theater or an arcade.

Anything is a good option at this point. University Boulevard has been gaining momentum for years. Even in the past year or so, new restaurants have opened and street traffic has noticeably picked up. Once the bottom floor of the Marshall building is full, the building on the corner is built, and something is constructed on the parking lot is, University Boulevard could reach a tipping point as a Mecca for students.

The Marshall Foundation has already meant so much to this university; University Boulevard wouldn't be the same without it. Ten years ago there was little traffic on the street, but a careful renovation and construction of buildings, in their original style no less, has quietly made it a hot place. It will never be Tempe's Mill Avenue, and McCollum says they don't want it to be, but it's still important to students.

Now here's to it taking the next step.

Ryan Johnson is a senior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at