By Doug Cummings
Photos by Cliff Jette
Arizona Daily Wildcat
he young man stands outside a large building that thumps with deafening ma-
chine gun-like percussion, and gestures toward the multitude of young people around him. "Everybody comes here," he nods enthusiastically.
"I used to live two miles down the street and everybody I knew came here." His name is James, and a grin is permanently plastered on his face. James is fairly typical of the teenagers standing in various clusters in front of the building: slouching, casual, and happy as a lark. "It's a place to hang out, you know, instead of getting bored and causing trouble. It would be a shame if they tore it down."
The building James is referring to is the warehouse-like Downtown Performance Center, or DPC, at 530-B N. Stone Ave. It is the popular home of Tucson's harder core alternative music and art scene, entertaining bands such as Green Day, Jawbox, Superchunk, and Samiam as well as various local bands. This week, the DPC has just announced their lease will be officially terminated Nov. 1. The month of October will be the DPC's last in operation.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), who owns the building and has leased it to the DPC since March of 1991, has decided to destroy it and the surrounding buildings because of an asbestos-covered roof and unsafe conditions in the surrounding buildings. The building next to the DPC has suffered structural damage because of an adjacent roof's collapse, and ADOT fears future problems with the DPC building.
Joel Marin, the manager of the Property Management section within the state department says, "The bottom line is that the buildings are being shut down in the interests of the public health." He says the roofing problems alone would require "thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars" to repair, and that the cost is simply beyond ADOT's means.
owever, over the past few years, the DPC has developed a loyal
clientele of young people like the enthusiastic James who will be lost without the accommodating location which provides a place to mingle and belong.
One of the DPC's doormen, Jason, says the city of Tucson will have to deal with rising crime as a result of bored teenagers in the downtown area who will have to devise new ways of entertaining themselves.
The founder and director of the DPC, Steven Eye, contends that other than the asbestos, "There is no real problem with [the DPC's] building. The only real problem is paper . money." He feels the DPC provides a valuable service to the community, and in particular, the city's teenagers by providing a controlled environment that is a safer, non-alcoholic alternative to traditional nightlife activities like cruising the streets in search of excitement.
Visiting a DPC concert, it is easy to see his point. Even during a loud aggressive performance by Spiral Fix, a local punk band, the people simply stand in slightly swaying groups, bathed in the stage's fiery light, staring ahead transfixed by the music's driving fury. All of them seem content to simply be among friends in an atmospheric warehouse resounding with trendy music. Others escape the music's pounding volume to cluster outside the building and sit on car hoods or lean against the walls to kick gravel and banter with friends. It is hard to imagine the teenagers dancing, much less creating havoc in this environment. Perhaps the blaring staccato music takes on their tensions, leaving them in various states of congenial passivity.
However, Jason the doorman observes a darker side as well. "You wouldn't know it to look at them," he begins, "but a lot of these kids basically live on the streets. This is like a second home to them." After this and other similar remarks, it is impossible to avoid feeling an undercurrent of real urgency that prods the surface relaxedness. There is an intensity to everyone's casual presence.
Even the workers are not removed from the pervading sense of belonging. Jason explains how he originally arrived from Florida in May in order to write an article about DPC for his alternative magazine, Lizard's Eyelid, and ended up "staying on board" and never returned to Florida.
Bruce Momich, the DPC's amiable sound man, explains how he and Steven Eye plan to fight the state's decision, and keep serving their "roughly a thousand" patrons. They hope to entice the city of Tucson to donate funds to fix up the building and hopefully reverse ADOT's condemnation.
arolyn Campbell, assistant to Coun- cil member Molly McKasson, says
that "Molly has been totally supportive of the DPC from the start" and that "she's working on finding a solution" to the DPC's plight.
"We're trying to raise awareness in the city," Bruce explains, "to show them how important this is to the kids so that the city can take control of the situation instead of being outside of it. If the rooms aren't worth anything, instead of demolishing them, the state should give the building to the city. They could repair it and it would be money well spent because if they don't spend it now, they're gonna spend it tenfold sending the kids through Juvenile (Hall). If the kids don't have anything to do on Friday and Saturday night, they're going to get into trouble."
The more time one spends at the DPC, the more it begins to resemble a musical soup kitchen for the socially challenged. The idea that a venue could save young people from their own destructiveness is a tribute to the art of music.
Capt. Raymond Hardyman of the Tucson Police Department agrees that "there have been no complaints" at the DPC and he is "at a loss for information" about any disturbances there. He adds that as a parent of teens, he feels like teens having something to do "needs to be in the forefront of city meetings."
However, the audience is not perpetually placed in protective refuge. The sudden threat of the DPC's demise has caused Steven and Bruce to realize "the kids" need to take an active role in the DPC's fight for survival.
Giving an impassioned speech to the DPC's audience between bands Tuesday night, Steven challenges, "We're not going to give up the fight! Now it's time to pass the torch on to you guys. It's up to you guys, with all of your voices, to get out there and make a difference!"
Amidst enthusiastic clapping, he then encourages the audience to "write to Tucson City Council and tell them how important this place is to you and what it means to your lives. We have enough intelligence between all of us to figure out a solution to this. The city has the power to keep this place open. They need to hear it from you."
The shutdown of the DPC building also upsets other plans as well. The building is a vital part of Steven's and Bruce's long-range plans to use future profits to help fund an almost-completed cafe and record store they've built just around the corner. Bruce mentions they have already spent $5,000 of their own money building the cafe, and understandably shudders at the thought of losing his investment.
Bruce talks of their plans to give cafe jobs to high school students who would work three-hour shifts a day so as not to interfere with their schoolwork.
Bruce has done most of the remodeling himself, and the cafe holds charming potential, even now under the scattered assortment of tools, sawdust, and various cans of paint.
aving his hand over the room,
Bruce enthusiastically declares, "Things are basically finished here and it would only take a couple of days to have the place up and running." Looking around at the dusty leather booths and mural-decorated bar, it is remarkably easy to picture the room filled with mingling people and the clandor of coffee cups.
Leaving the cafe, Bruce waves to two apparently homeless men crouched under a streetlamp. They wave back, yelling hello. "Those are the guys we hired to paint the mural on the outside of the cafe," he says. It's encouraging to see how the arts continually lend people the opportunity to provide cultural contribution.
As the end of October draws near, the DPC will intensify its fight to retain its location. If the state remains resolute and the buildings are torn down, Tucson will lose one of its only venues for beginning, underground and successful punk bands. And many people will lose their major alternative to bar-hopping or weekend cruising.
As both a cultural and social organization, the DPC has made a strong impact on the Tucson community. It would be sad to see it relegated away through paperwork and lack of funds. Perhaps the sense of cultural responsibility demonstrated by the workers and administration of the DPC will inspire city officials, or other people in influential positions, and convince them that there is still time left to save a singular source of cultural commitment in downtown Tucson.
For more information, contact The Downtown Performance Center, 628-1650, or write to the Tucson City Council at P.O. Box 27210, Tucson AZ 85726-7210.
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