Downtown Growing…September 5, 2013


Downtown Tucson is growing into a vibrant destination

For many years, I was a “city girl.” I lived in Chicago — not “Chicagoland” or any of the suburbs that are miles and miles from the city.

I didn’t own a car until I was 29 years old. There was no need to. I took the elevated train, or “L,” rode the bus, walked and took taxis.

Whether I was living in a walk-up or high-rise, in the Wrigleyville neighborhood or Lakeview area or Old Town, a variety of restaurants, bars and shops were just a short stroll from my door.

Moving to the Tucson area was an adjustment. When my husband and I explored downtown for the first few times, about six years ago, we were disappointed at the lack of a vibrant city center. We would occasionally go to a concert at the Rialto Theatre, take our sons to the Children’s Museum Tucson or have dinner at Café Poca Cosa, but downtown wasn’t a regular destination for us.

But on a recent weekend, as we sipped cocktails and enjoyed a great meal at Saint House Rum Bar on East Congress Street, we reflected on how far downtown Tucson has come.

When Maynards Market & Kitchen opened at the Historic Train Depot in late 2008, it was really big news. Now I feel like every few weeks there is an announcement about a new restaurant coming to downtown.

The increase in the number of restaurants downtown is exciting, but even better is the high quality of these establishments. Most of the newer downtown restaurants offer delicious menu options, are locally owned and occupy cool, unique spaces. Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, Penca, Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails and Hub Restaurant and Creamery are great examples.

Of course, downtown’s emergence is due to more than its restaurants. New housing and office space have been integral. The popular “Meet Me at Maynards” social walk/run has been bringing hundreds of people together downtown every Monday since April 13, 2009. The free and family-friendly “2nd Saturdays” offer music and entertainment.

As parents, we are excited to check out Get Air, the indoor trampoline park on 330 S. Toole Ave. that just opened. Playformance is another indoor fitness and games space for children at 119 E. Toole Ave. Indoor play space is certainly worth driving for, especially during the hot summer months.

Downtown Tucson has been getting better and better, and I hope it continues in the right direction. I do have one suggestion that would really help downtown shine — a nice, big Nordstrom. Hey, a city girl can dream!

Kelley Helfand is a foothills resident and mom to two sons. E-mail her at