It’s no secret that the first impression is often the one that leaves the lasting impression. For Tucson, scenery around the airport has left many worried about the first impression the town is giving visitors who are coming to the region for business and pleasure.

And, with Southern Arizona still struggling to come back from the 2010 recession, having incoming professionals lose interest only because of the bad first impression hasn’t helped.

To address those concerns, the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce partnered with AAA Landscape and several local companies and organizations to improve the aesthetics of the gateway to and from Tucson International Airport (TIA).

“As a community, we only get once chance to make a positive first impression on visitors,” said Mike Varney, president/CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce. “The Tucson Metro Chamber’s First Impressions Project has successfully transformed the six-tenths of a mile of Tucson Boulevard from Valencia Road to the airport terminal into beautiful Sonoran landscaping and inspiring symbols of our local community and culture. We hope that the completion of this project helps to promote more projects to beautify our community”

The “First Impressions” project transformed six-tenths of a mile of a mile on Tucson Boulevard between TIA and Valencia Road. The goal of the transformation is to change the landscape to become more positive with sculptures created by local artists, and provide a cultural experience that will leave visitors with a good first impression and allow them to part ways with a positive lasting impression.

First Impressions is a public/private partnership – besides the Tucson Chamber and AAA Landscape, sponsors include Jim Click Automotive, Crest Insurance, Desert Diamond Casino, Vantage West Credit Union and the tourism organization, Visit Tucson.

Each sponsor invested up to $70,000 for the art.

Jim Click, owner of the local Jim Click Automotive Dealership since 1971, said when he was first approached about the project he thought it had promise.

“You only get one chance to make people love the city of Tucson, so I said OK,” Click said. “I have to say I was blown away with the results because of the enthusiasm and sponsors that came out for this project. Anytime you improve that first look, you improve our town. We have a long way to go, but this project around the airport is a great place to start.”

Dan Gibson, a spokesman for Visit Tucson, said it was important for the organization to participate in transforming Tucson’s main access point.

Gibson said Visit Tucson was happy to be a part of it and was happy that local artists were used.

Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce hosted the ceremony to celebrate the completion of the First Impressions project on Jan. 9. Besides chamber CEO/president Mike Varney in attendance, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Jim Click and a representative of TIA were also on hand to tour the new art that’s been placed.

David Hatfield, the senior director of business development of marketing of TIA, said what has transpired in this project is “remarkable.”

“Between the artwork and the landscaping, it’s really resort-worthy,” Hatfield said. “It is going to achieve the goal and create a great first impression and a lasting impression.”

Hatfield also stressed that besides the artwork, the landscaping that has taken place is also noteworthy. Once the landscape grows and takes shape in the coming years, it will become even better.

While the celebration ceremony was held, more artwork is expected to be placed in the near future.

On a regional level, Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath said this project not only helps businesses around the airport and helps Tucson make the first and last good impression, it helps all of Southern Arizona.

“It’s human nature, you want to put your best foot forward,” he said. “It’s a big step with a public/private partnership. It’s very important for the community to rally together and address something as simple as this. If it’s good for Tucson – it’s good for Oro Valley. If it’s good for Marana – it’s good for Oro Valley."


Local artists participating in the project include:  

Casino Del Sol Resort/Pascua Yaqui Tribe

Artist – Fransisco Baltazar, Carlos Valenzuela and Michael Lee


Crest Insurance Group

Artist – Bob Kuhlmann of Sign Magic

Fabricated by – Doug Walker of Sign Magic


Desert Diamond Casino & Entertainment

Artist – Margaret Joplin of Design Collaborations


Jim Click

Automotive Team

Artist – Paul Miller

Design Direction –

Sarah Miller

Jude Cook and Cook & Company Signmakers


Vantage West 

Credit Union

Artist – Al Glan


Visit Tucson 

Artist – Susan Gamble, Santa Theresa Tile Works