History Park Halted

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Progress on the Rim Country Heritage Park has been stopped by a move to put the project before the voters.

Payson resident Vernon Randall, who has taken out the paperwork to collect signatures to get the measure on the ballot, says he is awaiting a decision from Sam Streichman, town attorney, on whether it is too late to force an initiative on the park. At issue is whether the matter should have been pursued two years ago when the council actually approved the park and authorized the money to build it.

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If it ever gets built, Rim Country Heritage Park will include a facade replica of Boardman's General Store at the back of the site. Home to Payson's first bank and post office and its official clock, the site is one of the more historically significant in Payson.

Randall's initiative was triggered by a council decision on March 13 to accept bids for the first two phases of construction.

"I'm waiting for the town to figure out if I can do that ... or if the referendum had to be done back when they decided to make the park," Randall said.

Streichman said his office is looking into the matter, but will not issue a ruling until Randall returns the paperwork.

"In the meantime we have been researching applicable laws, and as (with) most things of this multi-faceted nature it does not admit of an easy solution," Streichman said.

The Rim Country Heritage Park, also referred to as the history park, will be located on a 5,434-square-foot parcel of land at the northwest corner of Main Street and McLane Road. For the last half-century, the parcel has been home to three railroad box cars, but the site is one of the more historically significant in Payson.

Boardman's Mercantile Store, the first non-wood building in Payson, was built there in 1898. The rock came from a quarry where the Tonto Apache Reservation is now located.

"A lot happened on that site," said Dick Wolfe, a town councilor who has been a leading proponent of the park. "It was Payson's first bank and first post office. It housed the town's official clock."

The Boardman building burned down in 1938 during August Doin's when a lady operating a barbecue stand caught it on fire. Rodeo event winners had to wait a week for their prize money, until the vault inside the store cooled down enough for officials to open it.

Architectural renderings of the park include a facade recreation of Boardman's store with display cases progressively depicting the history of the area. Other features of the park include a 100-seat amphitheater for history and other presentations, garden areas featuring native flora, a western sculpture, clock tower and benches.

Bids came in at a total of $167,000, about $40,000 over budget. At the March 13 council meeting, Public Works Engineer LaRon Garrett recommended that the council proceed with the first two phases of the project while he redid project specifications and rebid the later phases.

The council accepted his recommendation 6-1, with Councilor Robert Henley casting the lone dissenting vote.

"The structural part is being rebid," Wolfe said. "It had some very expensive items in there that really jacked up the price, so LaRon is going to hold off on the flagpole, the clock and the western sculpture and just put the basics in. Then we'll try to get donations for the rest."

Randall thinks the whole park should be built with donations.

"They're putting in an amphitheater that's not much bigger than my family room, and with all the landscaping they're going to have to water," he said. "If they want to build a park, let them get donations. They think if they do it over several years, we won't figure out how much they're spending on it. I just think they need to tone it down it a bit."

Randall also charges that the town wants to take money out of the streets budget to cover the shortfall.

"They want to take that money out of the roads fund," he said. "So not only are they not going to fix our roads, they're going to take money out of the roads fund."

Wolfe and Main Street Project Manager Karen Greenspoon deny that public street money has ever been on the table.

"That was an allegation Henley made, and he was wrong," Wolfe said. "What happened is we earmarked $100,000 for the redevelopment area and we were going to use part of it to provide access to the new low-income housing project, but then (the housing project was) moved to a place where access is not needed. So that is cash money sitting there for the redevelopment area, and it was proposed that we could use some of that for the park development."

"This is part of misleading the public by saying it was something coming out of the street fund," Greenspoon said. "We were not (talking about) taking money out of the street fund or affecting any street."

Wolfe is concerned about the precedent that could be set if Randall is allowed to proceed.

"Think about it," he said. "Anytime anybody doesn't like any decision we make, anything, even if we approve travel money or the purchase of a new fire engine, are we saying they can come in and do a referendum and stop it? You can't do that or the government will basically shut down."

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