In the past half century, downtowns have changed drastically.
By the late 1960s, most downtowns in the U.S. were 70 to 80 percent vacant as shoppers dwindled and businesses moved to malls. In Arizona, rural communities like Payson were hardest hit.
When other efforts to revitalize Main Streets failed, a group of concerned citizens turned to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for help. The National Trust developed the Main Street concept as a comprehensive model to assist communities in their revitalization efforts.
The concept is based on a four-point approach that is the most widely used and accepted management program for central business districts, commercial cores and urban centers in the United States today. A fundamental tenet of the program is a public/private partnership that extends beyond financial commitments to include such things as project sharing, communication, leadership, planning, advocacy, staffing and implementation.
Arizona Main Streets
In 1986, the Arizona Legislature adopted the Main Street approach to assist rural communities to retain and expand their tax base. The state Main Street Program provides communication and assistance to qualified cities and towns with populations under 50,000.
Since its inception, the state program has facilitated 8,186 new jobs, 1,529 new businesses, 3,774 building projects, and $1.4 billion in local reinvestment in the downtowns of participating communities.
Payson is the newest of the 23 communities that have participated in the Arizona Main Street program since its inception in 1986. Other communities currently active in the program include Apache Junction, Buckeye, Casa Grande, Cottonwood, Florence, Globe, Holbrook, Lake Havasu, Nogales, Page, Parker, Pinetop-Lakeside, Prescott, Sedona, Show Low, Willcox and Yuma.
Like the others, Payson's Main Street program is organized in a "vertical" manner, whereby projects are identified and implemented under one of four committees, rather than a "horizontal" organization where a new committee is formed for each identified project. Operating under a board of directors, the four committees are responsible for organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring.
Because Main Street programs use volunteers who are managed and facilitated by a full-time director, projects are often accomplished in a relatively short time.
Main Street programs also often do more with less administrative costs. In fact, for every dollar invested in the administration of a Main Street program, $39 of a project is completed. In Payson and the other Arizona Main Street communities, private investment plays a major role.
During the 2001-2002 fiscal year, private investment in Payson's Main Street reached $1.75 million. Taxpayers only spent $45,000 on Main Street during the same period.
"You have to contrast this with what happened the prior 10 years, which was basically nothing," former mayor and Main Street supporter Ray Schum said. "So this is really a major, major move forward. It shows we've got some momentum started."
The private investment total includes property acquisitions, improvements to existing properties and new construction.
The largest acquisition was the purchase of the Ox Bow Inn last year by Roy and Beverly Nethken. The Nethkens plan to renovate the historic structure in three phases, beginning with the recent reopening of the Ox Bow Saloon -- including the main bar, a more intimate piano bar, and an open courtyard for music, dancing and weddings.
Phase two includes a Texas-style barbecue restaurant with occasional dinner theater events. It will also include the restoration of the upstairs "Rodeo Room" for meetings and events.
A third phase will include seven gift shops in the old hotel rooms.
The Ox Bow has been declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the nation's official list of properties considered worthy of preservation. It will join the lodge at the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park as the only structures in the Rim country on that list.
Five other parcels of land were purchased during the 2001-2002 fiscal year for an average price of $160,000.
In addition, the town spent $45,000 to acquire a 5,434-square-foot parcel at the northwest corner of Main Street and McLane Road for an eventual historic park.
The town has applied for a grant from Arizona State Parks Heritage Funds to build the park on the site in 2003, and hopes also to recoup 50 percent of the land cost back. The site was once occupied by Boardman's General Store, the first wood structure in town and home of its official clock.
The plan includes a replica of this store.
The Ox Bow also topped the list of private improvements, with the Nethkens spending a total of $78,000 on renovation during the past fiscal year.
Next on the list, with $45,000 in improvements, was the former dentist's office at 404 West Main Street, which was acquired by the Nethkens for $360,000.
Also on the list was the Museum of Rim Country Archaeology. The Northern Gila County Historical Society spent $28,500 renovating the Payson Womans Club building, former site of the public library.
The new museum, home to relics of the Rim country's original prehistoric inhabitants, is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $2 for adults, $1.50 for seniors and $1 for students.
The remainder of private improvement monies was spent in conjunction with eight of the 10 facade, landscape and streetscape grants awarded to Main Street businesses last year.
Leading the way with $20,000 of his own money was J.D. Bell, owner of Payson Auto Classics. Bell built a combination classic car memorabilia shop and '50s diner that currently operates as Mad Dawg's and Mel's.
Other recipients who more than matched their grants included Highline Engineering ($12,697), Cuts & Stuf ($11,676) and Colorado Communications ($11,088).
Other businesses receiving the $10,000 grants included Byrne Auto, Somewhere in Time Antiques (located in the old Zane Grey Museum building), Natural Wellness (formerly known as Sunrise Chiropractic), Ray's Automotive, and Rustix Furnishings.
Four facade grants, each for $20,000, were recently awarded for the 2002-2003 fiscal year. Body Elegance Day Spa, the Ox Bow Saloon, Rim Country Printery, and Wicks Automotive were the recipients.
The only new construction during the 2001-2002 fiscal year was the Winchester property valued at $265,000. The three story log structure is home to PCW Guns. Owners Mike and Marta Pollack moved their business from St. John's.
Complimentary log structures will eventually be built on adjoining lots with a cowboy-type covered wooden sidewalk running along the front of all the buildings.
Construction projects completed during the current fiscal year include Pine Country Animal Clinic, a 3,200-square-foot structure with separate retail space occupied by Homespun Memories scrapbook store, and High Desert Dentistry, which is under construction across the street from its current location.
Main Street Awards
Two Payson Main Street projects -- the Main Street/APS Electric Light Parade and Payson Auto Classics -- earned top honors in the 2002 Main Street Awards competition.
Payson Auto Classics took top honors for Best Facade Renovation Under $25,000 over T&T Blinds & Remodeling of Casa Grande and Payson's Cuts & Stuf.
Owner J. D. Bell used a 1950s retro theme including a vintage soda fountain to revitalize the building that formerly housed Payson Auto Repair and sat vacant on Main Street for several years. The building is now occupied by Mad Dawg's and Mel's restaurant.
Signs of the Times
Two new signs, costing $10,000, will mark the entrance to "Historic Main Street" at its intersection with Highway 87.
The 16-foot-long curved stucco signs are framed on the ends by Ponderosa pine logs and topped by a black metal cowboy atop a bucking horse. They are located on both sides of Main Street at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce office and Whiting Brothers gas station.
The cowboy represents the Main Street origin of Payson's August Doin's rodeo, the logs represent the logging industry and Sawmill Crossing, and a peak at the center of the sign represents the Rim country, according to Main Street manager Karen Greenspoon. The signs were designed and built by McIntyre Construction, with one half the funding coming from private donation and the other half from a grant written by the Main Street Program from its state technical assistance funds.
Early this year, the town council gave the Main Street Program a renewed vote of confidence. "As part of the Corporate Strategic Plan, the council has already established Main Street as one of its priorities -- in the top 10," Greenspoon said.