Shuttle service gives Gem & Mineral show big lift

Shuttle service gives Gem & Mineral show big lift

Hop on the GemRide shuttle. That’s the message that Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase promoters are pushing. Hard.

This year’s gem show from Jan. 26 to Feb. 11 will burst Tucson at the seams with a record 49 shows – 11 more than last year’s 38 shows.

Parking at individual shows may be tough, but, conversely, promoters say it will be easier than ever to go from show to show because of GemRide – a free shuttle service provided by the city ParkWise program, which operates the city-owned parking garages and lots.

GemRide has eight color-coded routes with at least one route stopping at every gem show (except for the Swarovski show at the Omni Tucson).

GemRide partly is designed to lure Tucsonans who’ve avoided the gem show because of the road/parking madhouse, said Kimberly Schmitz, spokeswoman at the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“GemRide will assist people to widen their horizons and see shows they haven’t seen before,” Schmitz said.

The idea is to park for $5 at one of three city parking lots that act as hubs for all eight shuttle routes:

â— Congress Street: the dirt lot on the south side of the street just west on Interstate 10. â— The Tucson Expo Center, 3750 E. Irvington Road. â— 22nd Street and Interstate 10, on the northeast side.

“22nd and freeway is probably the easiest lot to access,” said Chris Leighton, ParkWise’s program coordinator.

The shuttle is improved from last year. The 15-seat vans are gone in favor of 30-seat semi-coaches with TV screens that will display visitor information.

Drivers will be fluent about basic information on each show as well as restaurants and other things visitors might want to know, Leighton said.

GemRide also proved popular last year with tourism groups. GemRide, which debuted last year, played a role in adding 10 new gem shows this year.

“Because we’re an upstart show, being on the shuttle route is instrumental,” said Peter Tescione, coordinator of the Spectrum of Stones Show, a new show at the EconoLodge, 3020 S. Sixth Ave. at I-10.

This is a show of independent dealers that is not promoter driven. For Tescione, GemRide plays a marketing function for his show.

“They ensure that buyers can get to all the venues,” he said.

The shuttle also spawned an informal “gem corridor” or “mineral and fossil district” in the Oracle Road-Drachman Street area, where 11 gem shows are launching a year-round operation. Tucson Gem Center, 234 W. Plata St. off Oracle, is putting on its first show because GemRide relieves the challenges of sparse parking.

“Hopefully, we can lock on to some clients that weren’t able to get here with their vehicles,” said Dave Vukmanovich, a partner at Tucson Gem Center. “This allows us to see a whole different group of people.”

Next year, Leighton anticipates gem show owners will pay some of the $500,000 cost for GemRide. This year the $5 parking fee is expected to cover ParkWise’s $250,000 share. The balance will be covered with $100,000 from the Arizona Department of Transportation, $125,000 from the visitors bureau, $50,000 from Rio Nuevo and $75,000 from Sun Tran’s Bus Wrap advertising.

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