As members of the brand new Main Street Merchants' Committee mingled with a mix of town staff, council members and candidates Monday evening, you'd never guess that Main Street's lone full-service restaurant had just been shuttered.
"(MSMC) is just getting on its feet and really starting to move," said Carol McCauley, Main Street project manager. "It's a very good group. It's a very active group. They really want to be part of the town, and they want the town to know they are part of the town."
The mood was upbeat at the first open house held by the recently-formed committee. At a time when Main Street is struggling for public support, the message they wanted to convey was simple. The 68 businesses along the town's historic main drag are united and taking charge of their own future.
"As the different merchants get really involved, they'll be taking over a lot of the program," McCauley said. "It's a positive move forward for Main Street."
Mike Stuart, owner of Gasoline Alley and president of the new merchants' committee, opened the event and welcomed those who came.
"There's no formal program tonight," he said. "It's just a chance for all the businesses to talk to staff."
McCauley, who served on the Oceanside, Calif. Town Council before moving to Payson, said the formula for the merchants' committee is a solid one.
"When I was on the council in Oceanside, I served as kind of a liaison between the council and Main Street, and (Main Street) seemed to evolve out of the merchants association," she said. "Now we are getting the merchants involved and getting them to take over as much of the program as they can. The only way it's going to be successful is if it has (the merchants') buy-in."
Robert Herrera, one of the new owners of the Oxbow, said he was sorry to see Mad Dawg's and Mel's close because of the boost two restaurants would have given to Main Street. Herrera hopes to open a steak house restaurant at the Ox Bow Saloon in May.
"I was hoping (Mad Dawg's) was staying open," he said. "The more things we have on Main Street, the better."
Main Street budget
Mayoral candidate Bob Edwards claims the town is spending $500,000 a year on Main Street. McCauley questions that number.
"The only thing the town puts into Main Street is my (organization's) budget, which is for the entire Green Valley Redevelopment Area," she said. "It's $143,180."
Edwards stands by the figure, noting that the 2005-2006 town budget lists the $143,180 as Main Street operating expenses, but also lists Main Street capital expenses of $360,820, much of which is raised through grant writing.
"If those numbers are wrong, they ought to clue (Chief Fiscal Officer) Glenn (Smith) in because that's where I got them," he said. "It's grant money, but it's still money we're spending."
Main Street model
The National Trust for Historic Preservation developed the Main Street concept as a comprehensive model to assist communities in their revitalization efforts. 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.
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.
Other than Payson, communities participating in the Arizona Main Street 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.
See related story:
Turning vacant lots into social centers