Study Says Main Street Acreage A Money Pit

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The American Gulch Plan -- what many consider a key component of Main Street -- suffered a setback at the town council meeting Thursday evening.

According to a fiscal impact study presented to the council by Paul Tischler of Tischler and Associates, the American Gulch Plan is not economically feasible for the private sector and too costly and uncertain for the town to subsidize.

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The concept of developing American Gulch created a great image for the Main Street area of Payson, but the costs could make the reality less attractive.

The 44-acre area known as American Gulch is west of Sawmill Crossing Shopping Center and runs behind the properties that face the south side of Main Street. Its southern boundary is Aero Drive and its western boundary is Green Valley Park.

Currently, most of American Gulch, about 38 acres, sits on a flood plain. About 75 percent is privately owned and vacant, but much of it could be reclaimed for development if engineered flood control solutions are implemented.

The proposed American Gulch Plan would do just that, create a 200-foot-wide channel running from Sawmill Crossing to Green Valley Park. The channel would utilize just 12 acres from the flood plain, effectively freeing 26 acres for new development.

But while the channel is the backbone of the plan, it is considered a "multi-objective project."

The plan envisions private retail, office and condominium development, with pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths alongside the channel.

"It would really create a people place," former Green Valley Redevelopment Committee Chairperson Blair Meggitt said.

"We want to see shops, restaurants, artisans' galleries, nightlife, park activities, cycling, walking, street parties," Meggitt added. "It's to extend that pride that we have with Green Valley Park all the way to Sawmill Crossing."

A cross-section of the proposed channel depicts an irregular V shape with a smaller channel in the center that would accommodate storms like those that hit the Rim country this winter. The walkways and paths with sloped sides ending at ground level are located on either side of this smaller channel.

In the event of a 100-year storm, the walkways would be incorporated into a larger channel to accommodate heavy runoff.

Total cost of the project, including necessary land acquisition and channel construction was estimated at $4.8 million. It was this price tag that led to the feasibility study.

But the new study raised the estimated cost to $5.9 million, added $2.8 million in interest, and concluded that the numbers just don't add up.

"Development of the American Gulch site without public financing of the infrastructure is not feasible because the land has no value due to the extraordinary site development costs," according to the study.

And if the town did take on the project, it would not realize "positive annual fiscal flows until the year 2542," Tischler told the council.

If the council still wants to pursue the plan, the next step is an engineering study, he said.

"It would be difficult to make a hard decision to proceed further until there is a more definitive engineering study with what-ifs in terms of how you might develop it," Tischler concluded.

Former Town Councilor Dick Wolfe, chairman of the Green Valley Redevelopment Committee and a major proponent of the plan, took exception to the study.

Wolfe addressed the council after Tischler delivered his company's findings.

"I was pretty frustrated because I think they were using some faulty statistics, and the result is that it's a very pessimistic study," Wolfe said. "I think it was in error."

What Tischler missed, according to Wolfe, was that public improvement projects are rarely economically feasible.

"The reason he claimed it's not viable is that he was looking at it purely from a private investment (perspective)," he said.

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