Creative Solutions Revitalizing Site of Historic Lumber Yard in Downtown Tucson

 |  Building
The outside of the historic building that will soon house professional-grade pickleball courts.

The project team at Corbett Block in downtown Tucson, Arizona is finding creative solutions and inventive ways to repurpose materials to breathe new life into the historic site of the former J. Knox Corbett Lumber Yard.

The existing historic Corbett Building is being renovated to house two professional-grade pickleball courts with three more outside. Adjacent to that is a spacious beer garden outfitted with picnic tables and a stage for live music. A new restaurant space was constructed as well, which will be the home to a scratch-made burger joint. To add even more character to the space, the owner has invited local muralist Joe Pagac to create artwork for the walls inside once the renovations are complete.

The outskirts of the site are also getting a facelift with sitework and roadwork to improve safety and traffic flow to and from downtown. The developer has big plans for an additional site nearby, including constructing a new 10-story hotel and 15-story apartment complex. The renovations and newly constructed gathering places are a part of a broader vision to transform defunct spaces and revitalize downtown Tucson.

The picnic tables for the beer garden are crafted from heavy, high quality recycled lumber from California. The fence was made from repurposed decking boards, woven to create an eye-catching pattern.

The project has allowed room for the team to get creative with the design solutions. Owner support and enthusiasm coupled with the abundance of recyclable materials has led to the creation of one-of-a-kind aesthetics, dreamt up and built out by the Sundt team. Materials such as corrugated metal, composite decking boards, and old but sturdy wood planks were given a new life — mindful of sustainability and cost-saving. The decking boards, used to fence the restaurant’s patio, are eco-friendly composite decks made of recycled plastic film and recycled sawdust.

The team is currently working on constructing three ramadas outside. Each one will have a decorative “glulam” beam which was salvaged from leftover materials on site. These beams are extremely high quality, heavy and strong. They are made by layering adhesive and lumber, creating a specially engineered wood material that is pound for pound stronger than steel.

Recycled corrugated metal from a demolished structure on site was used to outfit the walls inside the restaurant, giving the space a rustic, industrial feel.

The minds behind much of the ingenuity on the Corbett project are Field Superintendent Eric Rolbiecki and carpenter Jacob Leon. Despite holding a management role as superintendent, Rolbiecki hasn’t let that stop him from stepping in to help with the fabrication processes. “This project has allowed us some freedom to get creative with our work, which is a pretty unique and exciting opportunity for a job like this,” said Rolbiecki. “The owner has been really open to hearing our ideas, so we usually come up with the plans for a few different design concepts. They pick one and we build it.”

Having much of the material on site already has helped the project team generate ideas because they can better visualize how they can be used in different ways. When asked if they have a creative process for this, Leon said, “When you’ve been doing what we do for as long as we have, the ideas just sort of pop into our heads as we work. But carpentry involves a lot of trial and error. Sometimes we, or the architect, will draft up a design that looks great on paper, but to build something that makes sense in terms of functionality and quality, adjustments must be made along the way. So, it’s not just about creativity, it’s also problem-solving and engineering.”

The impressive interior of the old building that has been resurfaced for the pickleball courts.

The city of Tucson has a rich history, and Corbett Block is just one small part of it. Sundt is proud to have a large number of projects in the works across the Old Pueblo that aim to improve the community and draw more visitors and transplants to the city where we’ve had our roots since 1929.

Discover more of Sundt’s projects in the Southwest, click here.