The heart of Tucson is coming back to life

Across the street from the El Rio Health Center on West Congress there’s a Rio Nuevo success story. Jerry Dixon, his son Justin, his daughter Kira Dixon Weinstein and his son-in-law Adam Weinstein are bringing the heart of Tucson back to life.  Their project is called the Mercado San Agustin.

im_merc copy

The following is from the Gadsden Company’s web site. Gadsden is Dixon’s company:

The Mercado San Agustín will be Tucson’s first public market. The Gadsden Company is excited that the Mercado will be part of the city¹s Rio Nuevo project, which will include diverse housing, commercial spaces, museums, and parks; all of which provide the essential base for an integrated and authentic city center.

We believe that our culturally diverse community is the asset that provides Tucson with a unique advantage. Mercado San Agustín will help fill our city center with the real heart of Tucson, the people who live and work here. Mercado San Agustín plans to foster small business growth within an open-air marketplace in Tucson’s expanding city center.

Mercado San Agustín will offer an attractive venue for any business, but the inherent affordability of vendor space can be an opportunity for members of our community who may otherwise find business ownership beyond their reach.

Our goal is to support the development of future vendors by connecting aspiring business owners with appropriate educational, technical, and financial resources. Mercado San Agustín will ensure that the future development of our city center rests on the foundation of its people, that¹s the Tucson advantage.

This web site summary just barely touches the surface of the project.

Dixon’s project is on 14 acres on the south side of West Congress. They won the right to develop the Rio Nuevo site in a competitive bid Tucson offered 6 years ago.

Jerry Dixon of left discussing project with Chris Lewis

Jerry Dixon of left discussing project with Chris Lewis


The Mercado project involves the entire Dixon family. Jerry’s son Justin won the original 14 acre bid 6 years ago and subsequently his daughter Kira and her husband Adam who is an architect worked with him to win the next 14 acres bid 2 years ago.

The initial 14 acre Mercado District has been incorporated into the overall Mission District which includes the City of Tucson land south of Cushing Street all the way to 22nd street

The Mercado project is a mixture of residential and commercial uses. The commercial portion is slated to open sometime this Fall.

There will be 18 businesses in the commercial section, and the space is 100% leased according to Dixon. “Ninety-three jobs are being created in the retail segment of the project.”

“The tenants include a market being developed by the Peter Wilke the owner of Time Market, an Argentine restaurant, the La Estrella Bakery, a restaurant and even a place where taco truck vendors can cook their food,” said Dixon “ All of the commercial tenants are local businesses.”

tucsonjune162010 008 copyThat’s one of the many details the Mercado is paying attention to. Helping the local economy by offering local businesses a place to thrive.

The attention to details is what sets the Mercado project apart from virtually every new development that has been attempted in Tucson in recent years.

“We’re gold LEED certified,” Dixon noted. “We are using rainwater harvesting, we have solar pv, and we’re using green building materials,” Dixon added. And then he pointed out where the herb gardens for the restaurant and the chickens will be raised next to the restaurant.

I have been involved in land development issues for over 40 years in the Tucson region, and that was the first time a developer showed me a place in his brand new development where there would be a place for happy chickens.

Walking through the residential portion of the project, a funky garden sits next to one of the new homes. In any other new subdivision in Tucson, that garden would be disallowed by the homeowners association. In the Mercado project the garden is an important part of the community emerging on the site.

tucsonjune162010 004 copyThe Mercado project sits cheek by jowl next to a city of Tucson public housing project. But you would not know this wandering through either project. They are actually connected so folks can mingle and share their community. Rarely would one find an upscale project right next to a public housing project, and if you did, there’d be a wall between them. Not in the Mercado. The two neighborhoods flow together to make one community.

The attention to details is everywhere one looks in the project. The parking areas have trees providing shade. There are courtyards all over the site so people can mingle with their neighbors. No wall of garage doors facing the streets here.

Dixon is ebullient in describing his vision of Tucson that he is building in the Mercado. He cites recent articles about how Tucson is one of the top communities in the nation for research and development, number 8 for retirement, top twenty for innovation. And he’s right. And he’s building a place where all those positive attributes of Tucson find tangible expression.

tucsonjune162010 039 copyDixon is also high on Tucson and Rio Nuevo. “The decision by UniSource to build their headquarters downtown was driven by their workers wanting to be downtown,” Dixon said. “And then there’s Providence, a new corporate headquarters downtown.”

While some of the Rio Nuevo’s grander projects have fallen by the way side, Dixon is positive on the future of Rio Nuevo. “The Cushing Street bridge is funded and will be built, and the convento and museum projects are going forward,” he added.

Dixon also notes “there’s not one penny of Rio Nuevo money in my project.”

That’s right. The Mercado has been a 100% privately financed venture. Over $23 million has been spent so far, according to Dixon.

Dixon is highly enthused about the recent news that the trolley has been funded to cross the Santa Cruz River into his project. The next phase of the Mercado includes a large Guadalajara type market, a major hotel, more commercial space, and more housing. His company won a second 14 acre RFP about two years ago, and construction of the next phase should start within a year.

“If the RTA vote had not been positive, we probably would have finished up the first phase and left,” Dixon said. “But when the citizens of Tucson affirmed their belief in the future of the city, we had to stay,” Dixon added.

What Dixon is building on the west bank of the Santa Cruz is vision of Tucson… the one that used to be and is being restored again.

Dixon’s Mercado project isn’t just another Tucson land development. It’s a prayer about reverence for a place called Tucson.


For more information about Meracdo San Agustin


About Hugh Holub

Attorney and writer.
This entry was posted in tucson lifestyle, tucson politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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