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Tucson Mayor and Council approve demolition of historic structure for new diocese building

Posted at 11:04 PM, Jun 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-08 02:09:54-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - With a vote of 7-0, Tucson Mayor and Council approved the demolition of historic Parish Hall which sits next to Saint Augustine Cathedral.

Parish Hall is just to the north of the cathedral and is 100-years-old. The Catholic Diocese of Tucson owns the building and uses the space for offices and banquets. 

"It is only for 200 people. For the kind of projects we're looking for for the future we need a hall for at least 500 people," said Father Gonzalo Villegas. He is based at the Saint Augustine Cathedral.

The diocese plans to demolish the building because it is too old, too small, and parts of the building are not up to code.  Additionally, the say renovation will cost too much and even if they do, the bishop says the renovated structure will still not be big enough to fit their needs.

Renderings of the planned building were included in agenda items given to mayor and council. It appears to be a modern four-story structure. The diocese says it will include new offices, a new Parish Hall, and banquet facilities. There is no final design yet.

Bishop Kicanas told the mayor and council that they have raised close to $6 million from donors for the new building, but those donors will not give the money to renovate Parish Hall. He added that he can get between $2-3 million more in donations.

Parish Hall is a historic building along with the wall which surrounds the area on Ochoa Street. They contribute to the Cathedral Block Historic District. 

Tuesday's crowd at the public hearing was mostly in favor of the church, however a handful of attendees came in opposition.

"They see the need to tear down what's left of their historic district essentially to put up new buildings to incorporate all their needs," said John Burr, an artist.

"There are alternatives that haven't been explored and as a result we are losing a building designed by Manuel Flores, one of three buildings that comprise of the historic district in downtown," said Demion Clinco, executive director of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation.

Marist College and Our Lady Chapel are also historic buildings in disrepair, but they are being restored. The diocese plans to lease the Marist College building for affordable senior living.

The Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission reviewed plans for the new building and voted unanimously against it. Their denial was based on the replacement building's incompatibility with historic context of the Cathedral Square and the treatment of the historic wall currently surrounding Parish Hall.

Contingent upon the approval for demolition, the diocese must continue to refine the plans for the replacement building. Additionally, two other amendments to the approval were made. The diocese must include architect Corky Poster as a consultant and they must work with the adjacent property owner to improve Ochoa street on the north side.