Plan Critiques Main Street Clutter

Consultant’s bold design replaces ‘scorched earth’ landscaping, but town lacks money to realize vision

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Payson’s Main Street alternates between “scorched earth” landscaping and clusters of signs so thick “you can’t see what’s going on,” said Angela Dye, the town’s landscape and design consultant.

Dye last week delivered her long-awaited plan to turn Main Street into Rim Country’s retail showcase to a town council more in a mood to slash spending than to embrace visions.

Still, Dye offered a variety of striking designs to take advantage of the chance to use a wide street and an often barren 50-foot right-of-way to create a distinctive, pine shaded, western accented retail district.

The willowy, soft-spoken, spike-haired designer urged the council to adopt a consistent set of standards that would narrow the street, slow traffic, rationalize signage, plant ponderosas, enforce building codes and embrace sidewalks, plantings and street front activities.

The changes would create a sense of “arrival” for out-of-town visitors, accent a “cool mountain town” theme, lure visitors in off the highway and focus the clutter of signs.

The town has plenty of space to develop innovative streetscapes with the existing wide street, plus a 50-foot strip between the sidewalk and the right-of-way Arizona Department of Transportation had ceded to the town.

However, despite a presentation with alluring streetscapes and eye-catching designs, the council accepted the report without a word of comment.

In fact, the council is still wrestling whether it can come up with even $17,000 to attract a $300,000 state grant to implement a sliver of Dye’s vision on the short stretch of Main Street between the offset intersection with McLane Road.

The town nearly gave back the already awarded grant a month ago due to a budget for next year so tight councilors weren’t sure they could come up with the $17,000. Since then, the budget picture has gotten even worse — with an unanticipated drop in sales tax and a million-dollar increase in employee benefit costs.

But Dye plunged bravely on, articulating a view of the mile-long straggle of shops, galleries, gun dealers, shuttered restaurants, automotive shops and offices that now run from the highway all the way to Green Valley Park.

The street’s showpiece restaurant, the Main Street Grille, has shut down and is about to go into foreclosure.

A luxury condo development with an artificial stream and waterfall just off the street has stalled awaiting federal approval of plans to provide flood control in the American Gulch.

Main Street hosts the town’s award-winning First Friday event, with bands, snacks, shops open late and usually sparse crowds. It has also served as the route for parades and the connection between the highway and Green Valley Park, which hosts many major events.

The town years ago established both a redevelopment and an historical district to revitalize Main Street. However, the town never did follow through and set up a taxing district that would have allowed Payson to fund improvements by capturing all the increase in taxes within the district.

As a result, ambitious plans for a Main Street makeover have come and gone without easing the deep worry lines in the street’s visage.

Dye offered a tough-minded critique of the visual flaws a decade of fitful starts and inconsistent standards has yielded.

For instance, although Payson styles itself as that “cool mountain town,” the street has only a scattering of struggling ponderosa pines. Many of those that survive have parking lots and sidewalks covering their root systems.

“Pavement is a death sentence” for a ponderosa, observed Dye.

She said the street has a chaotic hodge podge of designs and frontages, with some of the sidewalks barely four feet wide — hardly room enough for a wheelchair — and cars often parked “all over the sporadic and inconsistent landscaping.”

She offered a succession of different treatments for the sidewalk and the landscaping, to provide a visual separation from the sometimes meandering sidewalk, street and storefronts.

She also offered a variety of sign treatments, including a sign to draw people off the highway, signs to set a theme and showcase the mountain town image and even signs to identify community groups.

She said the signs should have a consistent, quality tone and size that promotes that mountain theme, with big, eye-catching banners to advertise special events.

“We have a plethora of these pole signs,” she said, flashing one image of commercial clutter after another, “so there’s just an awful lot going on” visually.

The council listened attentively to the report more that two years in the making, the moved on to the next item of business without comment.

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