Miguel Ortega cringes as he remembers spending half a decade drinking stale coffee in dark meeting rooms while serving as a staff aide in the Ward 3 City Council office.
It might have been the Great Recession, but Ortega says he still had enough in his wallet to buy his way out of those sterile conference rooms in order to hold court in a local restaurant.
Today, Ortega is hoping to persuade bureaucrats of every stripe to move their regularly scheduled meetings to businesses in downtown Tucson or along North Fourth Avenue that are hurting due to the modern streetcar construction.
Ortega will launch the Move Your Meetings campaign on the first day of summer next week, believing that many of the locally owned businesses along the streetcar line could disappear forever without a boost in sales.
"The mom and pops that don't make it this summer are not going to survive at all," Ortega said.
He believes the slow recovery from the recession and the limited access during construction of the streetcar lines have pushed many local businesses to the edge of financial collapse. None are asking for a handout during the slow summer months, he said, just the opportunity to host a few extra lunch meetings for local businesses, governmental agencies and community groups.
Nor is he asking the Tucson City Council to hold its executive sessions, which are not open to the public, inside a restaurant.
"We are not asking all meetings be held in public, it is just not feasible or practical, he said. "Just one a month would be helpful to local businesses."
Ortega, who no longer works for the city, said he is working with the merchants, but not for them. He said he organized the effort because he was concerned about people losing their jobs.
Maya Quetzal is one of the restaurants Ortega wants to help.
Sandra Sanchez, the owner, slips out of the kitchen and into an almost barren dining area.
The brightly colored chairs and tables are empty on a Wednesday afternoon, a rare sight during the winter months when tourists and snowbirds flock to Fourth Avenue.
She points to the city workers outside, standing in front of the streetcar line outside her business at 429 N. Fourth Ave.
"Business has not been good," she said.
To kick this campaign off on June 21, Move Your Meetings organizers have arranged scheduled "hubs" at locally owned businesses.
Visitors will be able to look facilities over to see what they have to offer, when, and what spaces can be had for free.
IF YOU GO
Move Your Meetings hubs on Friday:
• 8-10 a.m. - Chocolate Iguana, 500 N. Fourth Ave.
• 10-2 p.m. - The Hopyard, 210 N. Fourth Ave.
• 2-5 p.m. - Caffe Luce, 943 E. University Blvd.
• 5-7 p.m. - The District Tavern, 260 E. Congress St.
Each hub will be hosted by volunteers who will provide information on specific meeting spaces available at businesses along the modern streetcar route.
"We are not asking all meetings be held in public, it is just not feasible or practical. Just one a month would be helpful to local businesses."
Miguel Ortega, founder of Move Your Meetings
Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4346.