Separate scions of a prominent Nogales, Sonora, family have been quietly investing in downtown Tucson.
Let’s call them the Downtown Dabdoubs.
Rudy Dabdoub was the clan’s pioneer, partnering with downtown developer Scott Stiteler in 2012 on a boutique hotel project planned for the surface parking lot on South Fifth Avenue between Congress and Broadway. Now he’s working with Stiteler on more ventures, though he prefers to maintain a low profile.
“I love Tucson, I love downtown,” he said.
The newcomer is Marcel Dabdoub, who leads a company that in July bought the Arizona Hotel building on South Sixth Avenue, across from the Ronstadt Transit Center. His father is the brother of Rudy’s father, meaning Rudy and Marcel are cousins.
But no, they are not business partners. In fact, Marcel and Rudy say their entry into downtown is coincidental. Which, if true, is a pretty good sign: Despite Mexico’s relative poverty, there is plenty of money down there that could be invested anywhere.
“I think it’s an indication of the level of interest not just from Mexico but from around the United States about the high level of activity in downtown Tucson,” said Jan Cervelli, chair of the Downtown Tucson Partnership and dean of the UA’s College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. “You want to attract developers who understand the unique aspects of downtown and Tucson.”
The Dabdoub (pronounced DOB-doob) name comes from a set of early 1900s immigrant brothers who left what’s now Palestinian territory, settled in Nogales, Sonora, and became merchants. A few generations later, the family has passed through the stage of becoming completely Mexican and is now binational.
Marcel went to Salpointe Catholic High School and Boston University before getting a law degree and master’s in business administration at the University of Arizona, he said. Rudy graduated from Northern Arizona University.
Rudy was involved in his family’s gas-station business in Nogales, Sonora, when he seized the opportunity to get into the hotel business, building a Holiday Inn Express in Nogales, Ariz. One thing led to another, and now the family-owned hotel business, North Face Investments, has properties in Sierra Vista and Chandler as well as Nogales, Ariz., and Sonora.
Rudy Dabdoub had been interested in downtown for a long time, he said, when he heard last year that Stiteler was looking for partners for his boutique hotel project, AC Tucson.
“We started meeting about a year ago and hit it off right away,” Stiteler said Thursday. “They have a long history of investing in the region. Their philosophy is long-term in Southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.”
Dabdoub and Stiteler got along well enough that they’re also partnering on another project: A 13,000-square-foot “co-working” space on the second floor of the Rialto block. Customers there will be able to rent out work spaces for periods as short as a day and have access to services such as Internet, printers and scanners and conference rooms.
They have a temporary version of the business, called Connect Beta, at 245 E. Congress St., Suite 171.
About a year after Rudy Dabdoub partnered with Stiteler, the company led by his cousin Marcel, Dabdoub Investments LLC, bought The Arizona Hotel property for $1.3 million.
“We’re going to be renovating it, but we’re going to be abiding by historical guidelines,” Marcel Dabdoub told me Thursday.
The upstairs will be offices, while the downstairs will be retail space, he said.
“We invest mostly in Nogales, Mexico, which is our principal place of business and where we have our roots,” Marcel Dabdoub told me via email. “But we like to diversify somewhat by investing on the other side of the border.”
That’s good for Tucson — we need more investors and businesspeople who know how to work both sides of the border while appreciating Tucson’s unique character.