Member Spotlight: Main Gate Square

A True Urban Historic Treasure in Tucson

The Marshall Foundation, founded in 1930, is one of the only private foundations in the U.S. that operates solely through real estate. It has preserved the area west of the University of Arizona as an historic, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly retail and dining district known as Main Gate Square. Under the guardianship of General Manager Jane McCollum for the past nine years, the foundation assets have been improved and expanded to include more retail, restaurant and office space in addition to an urban oasis garden. "One of my favorite improvements," says McCollum, "is the addition of over 100 native plants from Dragoon, Arizona around the district."

The foundation's charter mandates that it give 5% of its fair market value away annually. During McCollum's tenure the growth and success of Main Gate Square has doubled its annual giving from $500,000 to $1M. In 2011 about $750,000 was given to the University of Arizona to fund student scholarships and the College of Education's Worlds of Words program. The other $250,000 was granted to non-profits in Pima County, mainly for educational programing.

The district has been ideal for commercial enterprises since the turn of last century due to its location at the main gate of the University of Arizona and being at the end of the trolley line. The area is an historic and modern treasure in Tucson offering shopping, dining and events. The modern district centered at Geronimo Plaza, in the 1920s was the Zuni Lodge, a motel made up of casitas and a lodge, now a local Mediterranean restaurant. The Marshall Foundation also acquired the Geronimo Hotel which houses a chiropractor, Irish Pub as well as offices. This acquisition allowed for an urban park to be added adjacent to the Geronimo Plaza.

These days McCollum thoughtfully recruits and approves new tenants to inhabit the historic and modern buildings for a healthy mix of familiar brands and unique, local businesses. She asserts that it is the local merchants that attract people to the area. As a traveler, she seeks out the local flavor in cities around the country and wants to maintain a unique district that attracts tourists, locals and students here in Tucson.

In 2008, Main Gate Square won a Sonoran Institute Building for the Best award. “Building For the Best Awards salute innovative and responsible architects, builders, owners and developers who are making our community a better place to live,” said Luther Propst, executive director of the Sonoran Institute.

McCollum has increased events in the area to keep folks coming during the construction of the Modern Streetcar which will run west on University Blvd from Park to 4th Avenues. This Friday, May 18 enjoy Domingo DeGrazia perform Flamenco music during Friday Night LIVE!, a free summer jazz concert series. Visitors can enjoy live music from any of the Geronimo Plaza restaurant patios. The jazz series is every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month through August and features local musicians.

McCollum is leading the district merchants in celebrating the construction and the coming of the Streetcar in 2013 by booking events and collaborating with Local First, 4th Avenue Merchants Association and Downtown Tucson Partnership. As the second largest land owner in the area after the University, the Marshall Foundation has, in McCollum's words, "A lot of skin in the game," when it comes to construction and the changes to come for the West University area. The Foundation is committed to supporting its tenants throughout and looks forward to a new modern era.

Main Gate Square is the eastern most boundary of the Small Wonders Map to come out later this year and is home to several LFA member businesses. With the current construction of the Modern Streetcar through the district, the balance of public and private multi-modal forms of transportation will be restored to the area. The area has stayed true to its roots while working for a continued vital urban center.