Backhoes trundled atop a pile of debris yesterday, scraping the last of the carpeting and interior fixtures from the former Macy's at El Con Mall.
The storied structure - remembered fondly by many Tucsonans as Levy's - is slated for demolition today at noon.
A Walmart is expected to go up in its place, but construction is stalled until a Pima County Superior Court judge decides a case brought by the shopping center's neighbors.
El Encanto Estates Homeowners Association - whose neighborhood sits just west of the mall, between it and North Country Club Road - opposes the 24-hour supercenter planned at 3601 E. Broadway.
The lawsuit will not hold up demolition, however, said Susan Allen, an El Con spokeswoman.
"The building was very outdated, and it had to go," she said.
The walls of the three-story, 290,000-square-foot building will come down section by section with water spraying to keep the dust down, Allen said.
Asbestos was removed during an earlier phase in the process.
Barker Morrissey Contracting is handling the job.
Walmart and El Con's relationship dates back years. The company considered building a supercenter at the mall in 1999, but neighborhood activists fought the plan, leading the City Council to pass its big-box ordinance.
The ordinance requires supercenters of 100,000 square feet or more to restrict grocery sections to 10 percent of their floor space. It also requires additional public hearings, lengthens the planning process and gives the council the final say on the stores.
The city found that the ordinance didn't apply in this case because of a 20-year development agreement the city struck with the mall in 2000.
Officials decided that if the Walmart fit into the existing footprint of the Macy's, it wouldn't need mayor-and-council approval.
The neighborhood argues that the city's zoning administrator and Board of Adjustment erred when they decided a Walmart was a "substantially conforming use" under the development agreement.
No neighborhood association members responded to requests this week for comment, but a former group president, Ron Spark, said earlier that neighbors were concerned about Walmart coming to the mall because they were hoping for more high-end retailers. Court documents also show worry about increased traffic and shopping-cart corrals in the parking lot.
A decision in the lawsuit is expected anytime, and Walmart is optimistic that it will be able to begin building its proposed 102,000-square-foot store in the Levy's footprint within months.
"We expect to begin construction in the fall once the necessary site work is complete," Delia Garcia, a Walmart spokeswoman, said in an email.
"Grand Opening is projected for late 2013," she wrote. "We are excited to be part of the continued revitalization of El Con Mall."
Garcia earlier said the store will create about 250 jobs.
El Con, which is owned locally by the Kivel and Papanikolas families, struggled with vacancies in its interior for years as it competed with newer malls built farther from midtown, but it recently completed a "de-malling."
"It's all open walkway now," Allen said.
The mall roof was removed and replaced by landscaped outdoor paths connecting major stores such as JCPenney, Ross and Target.
Stores are opening, too, Allen said. Discount shoe retailer Shoe Carnival is now hiring for about 40 sales and management positions in advance of its June 29 soft opening, she said.
Did you know?
Construction on El Con Mall - Tucson's first mall - began in 1959 adjacent to the El Conquistador resort hotel. At first, developers said it would be integrated into the shopping center, but in the mid-1960s the hotel was closed and demolished.
Levy's closed its downtown department store and moved to El Con Mall in the late 1960s. It was the first major downtown retailer to leave downtown for the city's outskirts. Several mergers and acquisitions brought new names to the mall anchor over the years, including Sanger Harris, Foley's, Robinsons-May and, most recently, Macy's, but Levy (as shown above) was still spelled in the exterior molding.
Contact reporter Carli Brosseau at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4197.