Payson Shuts Down Redevelopment Effort

Council on Thursday closes up town’s decades-long effort on Main Street

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After nearly 20 years of persistent, frustrating effort, Payson this week will officially shut down the Green Valley Redevelopment Agency.

As it happens, the loss of an agency that was supposed to spur business development coincides with big changes in the town’s economic development strategies, said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.

The council on Thursday during its regular 5:30 council meeting will “sunset” the agency charged with transforming Main Street from a crime-ridden, “blighted” area into a pedestrian-friendly tourist district.

Crime did fall dramatically and many new businesses plunked down while some old businesses remodeled, but on the whole, Main Street remains quiet and gap-toothed, with big dreams and a daily struggle.

In part, that’s because right after the town established the district, the state Legislature cut off its legs — by eliminating the district’s ability to collect extra property taxes from new businesses to use on redevelopment.

Rev. Charles Proudfoot, a member of the redevelopment agency board, at the last council meeting presented a final progress report for the agency, which worked closely with property owners, pushed for special events and tried with mixed success to recruit new businesses.

The agency never had a way to raise money for improvements from capturing sales taxes, thanks to the Legislature’s rewrite of the redevelopment laws. The agency struggled gamely on year after year, making small gains and absorbing setbacks.

On the positive side, the completion of Green Valley Park, with its string of lakes and green public spaces anchored the far end of the street, drawing people off the highway and past rows of shops.

The street has big gaps that discourage strollers, even during signature events like First Friday. But an eclectic mix of stores have survived in clusters, with fewer empty storefronts than even some of the strip mall developments fronting the highway.

But many of the big plans for the street struggled and the recession clobbered key businesses, like the Main Street Grille and a planned luxury condominium development and commercial space, complete with a spectacular artificial waterfall.

The town commissioned a string of expensive studies and master plans, but never had the money to carry them out. The town even ended up returning a $300,000 state gas tax grant to beautify a crucial block in the middle of the street for lack of about $20,000 in local matching funds.

The status of the Green Valley Redevelopment Agency was complicated by the town’s fitful relationship with the Greater Northern Gila County Economic Development Corporation, charged with recruiting new businesses to town.

Former director Ken Volz played a key role on both the county agency and the Green Valley Redevelopment Agency.

Volz resigned recently in the shadow of Payson’s decision not to extend the life of the redevelopment agency.

Evans said the town hopes to forge a new relationship with the Northern Arizona Economic Development Corporation as it steps up its business recruitment efforts.

One proposal involves hiring former councilor Mike Vogel part time to recruit new businesses, a role he played informally during his last year on the council.

In addition, the state recently approved an overhaul of a long-neglected Enterprise Zone that includes much of the town.

The Enterprise Zone can grant a variety of tax breaks to significantly lower the initial costs of starting a new business. The Enterprise Zone gives the town tools to “incentivize”new businesses that the redevelopment agency lacked, said Evans.

Evans said providing tax breaks for new businesses makes a lot more sense than imposing taxes on existing businesses to use to lure to town new business.

“I believe that a historic Main Street like ours will develop when private enterprise sees an opportunity to make a profit. The idea of extorting money from taxpayers, then using their tax dollars to help specific businesses isn’t a very good idea.

“I just don’t believe in extorting money from someone in the Swiss Village to help a business on Main Street. That means Main Street will need to be able to grow up based on good, sound economic principles. Should we help them with an Enterprise Zone? Yes. Should we be paying for it out of our taxpayer dollars? No.”

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