Payson Old Town development for Main Street proposed by Robert Hershberger

A sketch by Robert Hershberger of an Old Town Western Square that he proposes be built in a now empty lot on Main Street that backs the American Gulch.

Imagine Main Street busy with people shopping, eating and enjoying a new western-themed town square.

Architect Bob Hershberger shared his vision for the square with the Main Street Merchants Guild last week. The message: Payson as Arizona’s Old West Rodeo Town, can be a vibrant tourist destination.

Hershberger, former dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Arizona, helped develop Tempe’s downtown Mill Avenue. He said they faced economic and infrastructure challenges not unlike Payson, albeit on a larger scale. Mill Avenue is now an economic driver for the city and continues to expand.

Hershberger believes Payson could offer something that no other town in Arizona can match.

He believes the town should capitalize on the fact that it is a western town, hosting Arizona’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo. He envisions transforming a section of Main Street into an Old Town Western Square.

The proposal, dependent upon acquiring three vacant lots on the south side of Main Street near McLane, would transform them into an Old Town Square similar to Prescott. It would be surrounded by attractions like an old-fashioned theater featuring western-themed melodramas and an adjoining western-themed bar, a variety of restaurants, bars, an ice cream parlor, coffee shop, fountains and a splash pad for kids. Small western shops would also be included.

Public parking would be added along the north side of the American Gulch park. The plan proposes linking the square to the Payson Event Center with stagecoach rides and other shuttle options.

There would be a streamside park running from Westerly to Green Valley Park.

There would be a recreational path for walking, horseback riding and bicycling and a play pond with a beach for kids. The American Gulch would be stocked with trout.

Hershberger said that Payson is missing out on the revenue that tourist buses bring. With the plan in place, he said Payson would be on the map for bus tours.

Hershberger has already shared his vision with Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey and reported Morrissey said, “It’s the difference between playing chess or checkers. Chess looks at many moves down the way, while checkers looks only at the next immediate move.”

Main Street has a long history of micro projects, yet has lacked a comprehensive vision with adequate funding sources and third party buy in.


Hershberger believes the project can be funded with a combination of grant and private sector funding.

Buses filled with tourists would bring a steady source of revenue on their way to Sedona, the Grand Canyon and parks in southern Utah. Payson would no longer be a financially challenged pass-through community, he said.

Besides the mayor and the Main Street Guild, Hershberger presented his idea to Councilor Jim Ferris and received positive feedback from all.

Minette Hart, guild president, said the group supports the vision, and hopes it moves forward. “That’s how these things begin. Sometimes dreams do come true,” she said.

Hershberger is working to present his idea at a council meeting.

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