Payson should seek grant money and potential developers to start the transformation of Main Street by nurturing a cluster of shops, stores and perhaps restaurants right where McLane makes an offset jog where it intersects the street, a consultant told the Payson Council at its last meeting.
Consultant Angela Dye is working to come up with an overall design and development plan for the languishing, mile-long stretch of street between Highway 87 and Green Valley Park.
The town has struggled for years to find a way to make Main Street an historic, western-themed lure for tourists. However, the scattering of galleries, shops, garages, historic houses, and vacant lots straggles along a mile of street front, intimidating to a casual stroller.
Dye held a series of workshops and community meetings and studied previous plans for the transformation of the street to make a fresh set of recommendations.
Dye proposed concentrating efforts on a few sections of the street to create the seeds from which commercial development can grow.
She suggested the town concentrate, for instance, on the stretch of street between where the offset halves of McLane Road connect. The town could recruit businesses and use various incentives and redevelopment funds to create of core of businesses in that stretch, which would then anchor the spread of a pedestrian-oriented shopping experience up and down the street.
"McLane to McLane is an anomaly," said Dye at last Thursday's council meeting. "As it turns out, that distance that McLane is offset is about 500 or 600 feet -- which is a three to five minute walk. That's a very walkable distance" that is built into the design of most pedestrian-oriented developments, like malls.
"She said any attempt to change Main Street must start with such clusters. "The mile between the highway and Green Valley Park is a huge street. We want to enhance the pieces you have," rather than tackling the whole street.
She said the move to seek an historic designation and to protect and upgrade certain key historic buildings help give the street an identity. She said 11 buildings are eligible for designation as historically significant, with six more that could be renovated.
The American Gulch, that runs parallel to Main Street for much of its length, provides another opportunity to develop that elusive "sense of place" that has made downtown sections of places like Jerome, Bisbee and Tombstone successful.
As it happens, the council recently approved plans for a 140-luxury-condo project between the American Gulch and the hillside, that would include a major strip of commercial development toward the end of Main Street. The proposed Chilson Ranch Project would also provide flood control, money for a waterfall used to clean the water in the Green Valley Park lakes and a linear, riparian park with a stream feature where the mostly dry, but sometimes flood-prone, American Gulch now runs.
Dye noted that the length of the street, the gaps between stores and the run-down condition of many buildings poses significant challenges that will require planning persistence and years of patience to overcome. She also noted the vacant lots, abandoned storefronts and a right-of-way that varies from 125 to 61 feet pose challenges.
She said the town must put into place a long-range plan that will narrow the street, slow cars, create angled parking, provide shade and landscaping and create the kind of facades, facilities and streetscapes that convince people to park their cars and stroll from business to business.
She noted that the existence of the redevelopment district will enable the town to capture and reinvest taxes generated by new development. Moreover, the town can use historic and other grants to help create that pedestrian-friendly setting.
Trees, landscaping, benches, sidewalk facilities and other changes can provide a buffer from traffic for people wandering along connected, landscaped sidewalks wide enough for pairs of people to pass one another.
Main Street Detractors
- Poor sidewalks
- Inconsistent lighting
- Vacant land
- Little shade and landscaping
- No connection to American Gulch
- Lack of architectural appeal
Main Street Positives
- Main Street history
- Art galleries and antique shops
- Senior Center
- Green Valley Park
- Mature oak trees
- American Gulch
- Main Street Grille
- Restore Oxbow Saloon
- Restore Pieper Mansion and outbuildings
- Restore Deming Park/JW Boardman site
- Develop more restaurants
- Encourage more residential projects and lofts
- Add performance art center at the Sawmill
- Protect and plant cottonwoods and oaks
- Make entrance from Highway 87 more visible
- Strengthen connection to Green Valley Park
- Narrow street, but widen sidewalks and landscaping