Saturday, November 25, 2006

Artists' eviction from Tucson warehouses pushed back two months

[Source: Teya Vitu, Tucson Citizen] -- Artists now have until March 31 to move out of two downtown warehouses owned by the state. Officials from City Hall and the Governor's Office on Wednesday discussed the challenges presented to artists by the previous Jan. 31 eviction deadline and persuaded the Arizona Department of Transportation to add two months to the exit date. "Thank you, ADOT," said Zee Haag, owner of Zee's Gallery, 1 E. Toole Ave., which has occupied one of the two targeted warehouses for about 15 years. "I appreciate it very much."

Haag's warehouse is filled with upward of 100 tons of large minerals, fossils, crystals and art. The Jan. 31 deadline would have created havoc at the most critical time of year for him: The Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase starts at the end of January. "For me, it's for the gem show," Haag said. "For the other artists, it gives us more time to figure out what to do." The other artists occupy the 100-year-old Steinfeld Warehouse, 101 W. Sixth St., where the arts warehouse district was born in the mid-1980s. ADOT has told them the Steinfeld Warehouse also must be vacated, though no eviction notices have been mailed yet. ADOT hasn't given a definitive reason for the eviction, except to say the space needs to be "reintegrated" into the community.

Artists in all 29 state-owned warehouses are on 30-day leases, meaning the state could evict them with 30 days' notice. The city Transportation Department has offered to find new downtown studio space for artists, where they would pay the same rate they pay now. The department also is offering to pay moving costs, said Lou Ginsberg, real estate special projects manager. Jan Lesher, director of the governor's southern Arizona office, took charge of the state's response to concerns. Lesher appreciates how the warehouse dilemma goes beyond two buildings and taps into downtown revitalization efforts. "Artists and people from the city called us and really let us understand the full impact," Lesher said. "We have a little flexibility with the date." [Note: Are artists important to downtown? Take the Citizen's online poll here.]