Payson may make lemonade out of lemons — by turning the flood-prone American Gulch (or Old Town Waterway as some want to call it) into an amenity.
At least, that’s what three property owners hope they’ll accomplish by donating land in the flood plain to the town for both flood control and a walking path between Main Street and West Aero Drive.
“It sounded really good ... a win-win,” said Jim Young, one of the property owners.
This project has been a long time coming.
“The exciting thing now is that we have momentum with Main Street in general,” said Trever Fleetham, Payson’s economic development director. “Everybody is on board — the council supports it, the Main Street merchants, and the community — staff has all these plans.”
The proposed development could kick-start economic development on Main Street, just as similar developments have spurred economic growth in other towns and cities across the country.
In Atlanta, an abandoned railroad right of way near downtown has turned into the Beltline. All along the walking path, restaurants and shops have popped up with apartments on the upper levels.
Greenville, N.C. revitalized its downtown with walking paths.
The original River Walk in San Antonio runs along the river of the same name. Visitors spend hours strolling and enjoying the river, then stop for a bite to eat or drink.
And in the Valley, the Highline Canal, a 3.5-mile multi-use path connects Tempe to Chandler and Guadalupe. The project has transformed a sterile concrete canal into an amenity, with a 10-foot-wide path on one side with lighting, landscaping and public art. Chandler is covering the cost with grants and a transit tax.
The three gulch owners recently had an on-site meeting with town staff and the engineer drawing up plans for the current channelization work at the Sawmill Crossing.
The three owners, Young, Paul Messinger and Olive Henry Matus have tentatively agreed to donate enough land to continue the channel work already in progress west of the Sawmill complex. The proposed donation would continue the channel down to McLane. A bridge is needed at McLane, similar to the bridge spanning Westerly.
“We have about 10 acres all total,” said Young. “What the town needs is 2.75 acres — 125 feet wide, for the full length from Westerly down to McLane.”
There is one piece of property not included in the project. Hallie Overman-Jackman owns the property between McLane and Green Valley Park. A decade ago, she had proposed a similar project on her property, but the recession destroyed those plans.
She’s not sure this newest idea will work for her property.
“Unfortunately, my part of the American Gulch is the entrance to a 40-acre parcel and is very valuable as an entrance to the property,” said Overman-Jackman. “Their property is in front of the American Gulch and backs up their property, so is of little value and would not interfere with their business plans.”
She was happy to hear the gulch would be improved east of her property.
“In the past, the Town of Payson stood in the way of the development of Main Street and the American Gulch, for whatever reasons.”
The proposed channel will include walk/bike paths on either side, plus a small lake on what is now Matus’ property. Property owners could then build mixed-use housing with commercial development along the path.
“The engineer is not just a flood plain guy,” said Young. “He showed us what we’d need to do if we want a stream with fishing and/or the rocks and plants that would attract the birds.”
So why did the three property owners finally come together?
“I think it was mostly that the economy is good now,” said Young.
Without the recession, however, Young would not have ended up with his property, which was in foreclosure.
“It was collateral with a local developer and we ended up stuck with it,” he said.
And unless the property owners joined up, none of them could fix the flooding problem on their properties.
“It would just continue to flood,” said Young.
The group is hoping to secure funding to help pay for the gulch improvements.
“Trever thinks with the economy going well, there might be more grants,” said Young.
In fact, a grant is helping pay for the work being done on the Sawmill portion of the channel project.
“The one that we got to do the construction is from the Arizona Water Protection Fund,” said Fleetham. “They issue grants with no matching fund needed.”
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