Around Arizona: Southern Exposure

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Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel brings us up to date on issues from southern Arizona in our monthly series, “Southern Exposure.”

Richard Ruelas: Once a month, we examine issues that are happening in the other part of our state in our monthly segment "Southern Exposure." Here with that update is "Tucson Weekly" senior writer Jim Nintzel. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Nintzel: Always a pleasure.

Richard Ruelas: What is going on? What should we know about that will get us down to Tucson?

Jim Nintzel: The biggest thing going on right now is our annual gem and mineral show. A huge event. The major show actually is this weekend coming up. If folks from Phoenix want to come and check it out, they can do that. A big event at the convention center, but, really, the whole month we have gem and mineral dealers in town, 40, 50 different shows going on. Huge event. Brings about 30,000 out of town visitors.

Richard Ruelas: I think if you haven't been, I mean, you think gem and mineral show. If you haven't been, this thing -- I mean Tucson plans construction projects around when this show is in town.

Jim Nintzel: It's the largest in the world really. It's gems, minerals, fossils, jewelry. A ton of people come into town. Economic impact of about $120 million for our community down there. And if you -- if you are planning on going down, you probably should make it a day trip because I'm not sure there are many hotel rooms left available for you. We have stuff from the Smithsonian coming to town. It is really an incredible way to just browse and you can see dinosaur fossils, to rare minerals, gems, extraordinary event that the entire community depends on because it's a huge boom for the economy.

Richard Ruelas: Hotel rooms are booked, I imagine restaurants will be crowded. Amateur gemologist who knows little to nothing about this, still something for the eye.

Jim Nintzel: Plenty to see, not only in the main show, but in all of the little shows that pop up all around downtown and elsewhere. If folks are interested at all in this kind of thing, it is an incredible experience.

Richard Ruelas: I imagine some colorful characters that come down there.

Jim Nintzel: Absolutely. It is well worth your time to make that drive to Tucson.

Richard Ruelas: Talking about the debate in the state legislature, microbreweries, which have exploded in Phoenix. What is the beer scene like in Tucson?

Jim Nintzel: Also have exploded down in Tucson. Arizona craft beer week is upon us. We are doing our part to try to celebrate down in Tucson. My colleague, has a great story in "the Tucson Weekly" this week about what is going on in the local breweries. We only had two, three until a few years ago and a lot of enterprising people got together and got to work and now we have got nearly a dozen local brews coming out of downtown and some really cool spaces and old warehouse spaces and other spots around Tucson, and, you know, they're a part of this whole battle at the legislature, as far as what is going on there, and also a big celebration of it. A lot going on in terms of -- and of course I'm sure there is a lot going on up here in terms of crawls and whatnot. If you look at Tucson Weekly online, you can see exactly what all of the events are about. A lot of tastings, beer crawls and all sorts of stuff going on. A friend of mine did a pairing of his daughter's girl scout cookies with beers at one of our local taverns down there last weekend. A ton of stuff going on.

Richard Ruelas: Four Peaks is the big name here. Barrio brewing in Tucson --

Jim Nintzel: Barrio brewing is very big. So is -- it is escaping me at the moment. But Barrio brewing is big, and they are one of the top ones down there.

Richard Ruelas: Even some of the wineries have gotten together with some of the Breweries down there. It seems like there is a big scene of craft beer, craft wine.

Jim Nintzel: Farm to table stuff is really taking off. This artisan approach to giving you something to drink or eat is really big right now in Tucson and in southern Arizona, down past Tucson, tons of wineries open down there. A great day trip to go down there and tour those.

Richard Ruelas: A big rodeo and -- when is the big rodeo in Tucson?

Jim Nintzel: Coming up at the end of the month. 75th anniversary of our rodeo. And we boast the largest non-mechanized parade in the United States. Used to be in the world, but we got beaten out by some elephants in India or something like that.

Richard Ruelas: This is a very specific category, so large non-mechanized parade. We're not going to see any animated floats --

Jim Nintzel: No, no cars, all horses pulling the wagons and some of the floats. No cars allowed in the parade.

Richard Ruelas: Has it always been that way?

Jim Nintzel: Always been that way for the 75 years they have been doing this parade. A lot of people put a lot of work into getting this thing done every year.

Richard Ruelas: I have never seen it. How big a thing --

Jim Nintzel: It is the largest in the United States. I don't know what else to tell you.

Richard Ruelas: It is a good length. What does it run from --

Jim Nintzel: Used to go through downtown but that got too crazy with the modern streetcar and traffic. We couldn't fit all of the horses down there anymore. On the south side of town, concludes at rodeo grounds. That is also a big deal. A huge event down there, tons of people come out to watch those cowboys and cowgirls doing their roping and bronco riding and all of that stuff. Great fun to watch.

Richard Ruelas: Work for people who sweep up behind the horses, of course.

Jim Nintzel: Without a doubt. Job creator.

Richard Ruelas: You mentioned streetcar. If people -- again, if you haven't been down there in a while, when I was down there last, it was just a lot of construction on this line. It seems like it has come in. How has it changed life along the parts where it runs?

Jim Nintzel: A lot of it came in ahead of the streetcar, businesses anticipated that the streetcar route would help downtown. At the same time they were working on the track, you saw a lot of economic activity in our downtown, which has rebounded tremendously in the last few years and a lot of infrastructure work going on at the same time. So a bit of a challenge to get into downtown, but right now, downtown has simply exploded in Tucson. Tons of restaurants and bars, student housing coming into the downtown area. Very vibrant area. If you had been down there 10 years ago, you would think you are in an episode of the omega man, something like that, last man on earth. But now it is packed with people all of the time.

Richard Ruelas: Excellent. If people -- is it a success, can we call the streetcar a success? Are people using it?

Jim Nintzel: Only been going for four, five months. I think the jury is still out on whether it is a success. It was the first couple of months, you had to really squeeze on to it. I think it has fallen off a little bit. Folks are saying it is because students are out of town. Winter break. But I don't have any exact numbers.

Richard Ruelas: Whether it is something that is going to really bring --

Jim Nintzel: It connects the university to downtown. So, that makes -- that is a vital connection to have created. It allows the student housing to go downtown. University is moving some offices downtown. So that is working out really well. But we will see. Time will tell exactly how successful it is.

Richard Ruelas: That is how we had to deal with it here, too.

Jim Nintzel: Yeah.

Richard Ruelas: Thank you for making the drive up from Tucson. We have no time to talk about basketball.

Jim Nintzel: Oh. That was a rough night for the Wildcats without a doubt.

Richard Ruelas: Appreciate the time. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Nintzel: Pleasure.

Jim Nintzel:Senior Writer, Tucson Weekly;

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