Old Tucson Studios could reopen by next fall

Posted at 3:08 PM, Dec 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-03 17:50:12-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — While the future of Old Tucson Studios is still unclear, the county, and at least one task force member, are hopeful the attraction can reopen in eight to nine months.

Old Tucson has been a ghost town since closing in early September.

Once the state's second biggest tourist destination, it now sits empty. Old Tucson is a casualty of COVID.

Pima County owns the land, and is trying to find someone to take over the Old Tucson lease.

"They're hoping for fall, end of summer, fall of next year,"said Daryl Mallett, referring to a reopening date for the western-themed attraction.

Mallett is a member of the Pima County Old Tucson Task Force.

As the chair of the Arizona Film Expo, Mallett knows what Old Tucson means to so many in the film industry, and what it means to so many in Southern Arizona.

"They were filming real stuff here," Mallett said. "They actually filmed movies. Actors walked there. John Wayne walked where I was walking or sat on the bench where I sat. That's kind of cool."

Mallett's love for Old Tucson, and for movie making, landed him on the county task force.

During the group's two virtual meetings this fall, he's been consistent with his vision for Old Tucson.

"Reopen as an attraction," Mallett said. "With an eye toward rebuilding the sound stages and starting to shoot films there again."

Diane Frisch is the Director of Attractions and Tourism for Pima County.

She says keeping Old Tucson as an attraction, and attracting filmmakers, are the top two ideas she has received from county residents.

"It could be a combination of recognizing the history of it as a film location in the old west, but then some new elements," said Frisch.

Frisch says County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has been heavily involved in this process of finding a new lessee.

She says the next step is for the county to study the recommendations of the task force. Then they will finalize the requirements for groups or individuals to submit proposals.

"Putting together all the information which we're doing, taking all the input," explained Frisch. "Then putting it out there and saying 'ok, show us what you have.'"

"I think it will reopen as an attraction, and event space," said Mallett. "Who's going to run it? That's the only real question right now."

Mallett says he has been in close contact with the family of the late Bob Shelton, who founded Old Tucson Studios.

Mallett says the Shelton family also wants to see Old Tucson reopen, and a new sound stage built for filmmaking.

Frisch says the county hopes to start accepting plans in the next 30 days.

They hope to award the lease by July.