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Observations on a Vision for Wickenburg

Maria’s recent article “Two More Businesses Close Their Doors” provided excellent and thoughtful observations about some of the factors that lead to business closures as well as the historically anemic record of economic growth in Wickenburg. Whether you are a full-time resident or seasonal visitor, I hope you will read it and the numerous comments posted by readers. It prompted me to engage in some reflection about why we chose to move here seven years ago. More importantly her article made me think about the underlying issues, possible solutions and consequences of healthy and sustainable growth for our town. My conclusions may not be perfectly aligned with those stated by Maria and they are probably even less aligned with the Town Council and Chamber of Commerce; but I think we all share a common desire for Wickenburg. That is:

  • The preservation and enhancement of Wickenburg’s unique “identity,” which necessarily includes our history and scenic habitat.
  • The growth of local businesses that can more completely serve the needs of residents and visitors on a year-round basis.
  • The retention of retail and tax revenue that otherwise ends up in metro-Phoenix or Prescott.
  • The development of jobs that produce significantly higher income and employment than is presently found in Wickenburg.

I doubt that anyone could argue with those objectives. Achieving and maintaining a balance between them will not be easy; but I do not think it is impossible. It is however quite impossible to turn an unstated vision into an actionable plan that contains concrete, achievable and measurable goals. That is precisely what we have in Wickenburg today — unarticulated goals and visions. There are times when I wonder if the vision has even been thought out.

What Does Wickenburg Mean to You?

If you were given thirty seconds to describe your vision for the future of Wickenburg, what would you say? If you had to describe another town or city that you would like to see Wickenburg emulate, which one would it be?

Phoenix: With its blanket of smog and intolerable traffic congestion?
Surprise: With its postage-stamp sized retirement lots, but with abundant shopping?
Prescott: With its scenic beauty and a well developed sense of its place in Western history — but with unsustainable water consumption and ugly growth?
Quartzsite: With its thousands of motor homes that pull up stakes as soon as the temperature reaches 85 degrees?

Or would you say “none of the above, I want Wickenburg to remain as it is?”

The sad but inevitable fact is that Wickenburg will not remain as it is today; but it has every real possibility of becoming like any one of the cities or towns listed above. Growth is headed our way and you can’t stop it. The question is: How do you want to shape the future of Wickenburg in a way that provides and maintains the life style and qualities that you desire?

What Makes Wickenburg a “Destination” Location?

When I think of destination locations in Arizona, the first things that come to mind are places like the Grand Canyon, Sedona’s Red Rock country, Whiskey Row in Old Prescott, and Old Town Tempe. These are tourism destinations that capitalize upon and, in some cases, garishly exploit the natural beauty of the land, the history of the area or that capitalize upon high populations such as ASU football fans and local students. There are many others that you could name, of course. Metropolitan Phoenix has many bedroom communities primarily because it has jobs. Prescott has scenic beauty and history, but it also has jobs and a younger population than Wickenburg. Quartzsite essentially evaporates by the middle of May — right on schedule with Wickenburg.

Other than marketing our town as a desirable part-time location for retirees or as an ephemeral destination for snowbirds, I have never heard anyone articulate a vision of why people should come to (and remain in) Wickenburg. Thousands of people pass through town every week on their way between metro-Phoenix and Las Vegas. For these speeding travelers, Wickenburg serves as a “potty break” destination and little more. This traffic supports a few minimum wage jobs at McDonalds and Burger King. Smart travelers will have filled their gas tanks before passing through town because they know that the Mobil Station on U.S. 93 will gouge up to 30 cents more per gallon than Phoenix.

Here are my interpretations of what makes Wickenburg a destination location today:

Seasonal Weather: The six or seven months of debatably mild temperatures motivate retirees to live here, but this general group is predominantly seasonal in nature. Based upon the statistics provided in Maria’s article, 26% of our “resident” population is retired. Although these folks may have a sizable investment in their property, they typically have little or no investment in the economic future of the community. Their presence helps to sustain low paying jobs at Bashas’ and Safeway, but little else. They get their medical treatment in metro-Phoenix and their generic prescriptions for $4.00 at the Wal-Mart in Surprise. Motor Home Snowbirds round out this category. You’ve seen these folks – they are parked out in the desert between October and April and come into town occasionally to buy groceries. They are why the liquor department at Safeway is roughly four times as large as the bread aisle. They have no investment in the future of Wickenburg – all of the seasonal retirees are here because it is either snowing in Minnesota or raining in Oregon.

Behavior Disorder Treatment Facilities: This is the largest employment sector for Wickenburg, but it cannot be characterized as a growth industry (at least – I hope not). In any case, it does not generate many high income jobs. It does, however, dominate the available real estate in downtown Wickenburg.

Horse Trails, Riders and Rodeos: You may be surprised to learn that horse riders from outside of Wickenburg bring $13 – 16 million in annual revenue. I have not seen the statistical breakdown of where and how this revenue is generated, but common sense tells me this doesn’t produce any high paying jobs in town. Riders come here to enjoy the relative isolation, excellent terrain and clean air. Unfortunately, the persistent destruction of horse trails by developers and ATVs could eventually force these riders to abandon our area.

Seasonal and Weekend Outing Visitors: You’ve seen these folks too. They are the weekend thrill seekers that create the huge dust clouds east of Wickenburg while driving their ATVs or dirt bikes. Other than refilling their beer chests and topping off their gas tanks, they produce little economic value to Wickenburg. They are, however, destroying the habitat with illegal trails and litter. This will eventually make Wickenburg a less desirable destination.

Desert Caballeros Western Museum: This is a well regarded destination point for tourists. It is not a reason why someone would move to Wickenburg, but it is a very bright spot in the culture and history of our town.

Hassayampa River Preserve: A unique riparian habitat that attracts many seasonal visitors that do not live here. This private organization has the most far-sighted vision of any group in the Wickenburg area, but it is confined to an ecological niche.

Wickenburg Gold rush Days: Three days of chaos and traffic congestion that produces a spike in sales tax revenue from people that do not live here. That leaves 362 other days to be concerned about.

If you can think of other factors that make Wickenburg a “destination” rather than an irritating narrow spot in the highway for motorists, I would certainly like to hear your nominations.

Growth: What Type and Where?

I listed four bullet points at the beginning that reasonably qualify as objectives for Wickenburg’s future. You may have other objectives that are equally valid. Notice that I did not include “population growth” among them. Population growth results from the proximity of jobs, affordable housing and factors that pertain to “quality of life,” such as shopping, schools, etc. Metropolitan areas like Queen Creek, in the extreme southeast area of metro-Phoenix, have seen phenomenal population growth; but the jobs are not in Queen Creek and the quality of life issues are seriously degraded by long commutes to work, horrific traffic congestion, pollution and more. If you were looking for a model of what Wickenburg should not become, I can’t think of a better example than Queen Creek. But, if you want to see a “melt down” of the housing market in Wickenburg, copy the economic model of Queen Creek. The area is almost exclusively characterized by high density, cheap (but still unaffordable,) housing that is probably destined to become a major crime area within five years.

Wickenburg’s leaders seem to be hell-bent on growth through annexation of land to keep from being overrun by Surprise, Peoria and Buckeye. This seems to be a reactive, defensive posture that has the peculiar smell of panic. In the meantime, developers in town have a free hand to destroy the very things that have given Wickenburg its unique identity – a place with clean air, star-filled skies, panoramic vistas and rich history. Without a vision and thoughtful planning we are at risk of becoming another Queen Creek, but with the added risk of loosing our current identity and quality of life.

Meanwhile, after the sun goes down, so does Wickenburg’s downtown area. If you desire the historic district of Wickenburg (from the Hassayampa Bridge to North Tegner) to become a major destination point for residents and visitors, there isn’t a lot of area to work with; however, the potential exists to turn it into a restaurant, cultural and entertainment magnet. I believe this can only happen if some of the businesses in the “downtown” area can be persuaded to relocate. And, if you REALLY want to think “out of the box,” some long time business anchors should be relocated to provide additional space for this type of development. If you are at all familiar with Old Town Tempe, then visualize a comparable area in “downtown” Wickenburg. We have just about the same amount of space to work with. This could be a place where residents and visitors alike could dine, shop and linger. As it is today, the only attractions to the downtown area after dark are our theater, three or four restaurants and a couple of bars. Spatial growth – the development of available land – is very tightly constrained. There is no place for it to go or grow unless we look at its use in a different way.

So, where are the areas that will lead to an increase in the geographic size of Wickenburg? Land developers already know the answer: North along U.S. 93 and AZ 89 toward Congress; west along U.S. 60 toward Aguila; south along U.S. 60 toward Morristown; and south along Vulture Mine Road toward the eventual border with Buckeye. Development is already underway in the northern, western and southern U.S. 60 directions. It is a horse race to see what happens on the southern stretches of Vulture Mine Road.

In any case, I submit that two things will happen regarding growth in and around Wickenburg unless we can develop a clearly articulated vision and plan:

First, the cities of Peoria, Surprise and Buckeye will grow in our direction much more quickly than we will be able to push our borders in their direction. As that happens, the distance to the closest Wal-Mart or Home Depot will no longer be 35 miles – it will become only ten. If you think we have a problem with “retail leakage” today, imagine what it will happen when people can make a round trip to one of these stores on less than a gallon of gas.

Second, the growth of Wickenburg will continue to be residential in nature (primarily oriented toward retirement) and there will be no development of jobs other than retail sales clerk positions in ugly strip malls.

More to Come

In the next segment of this article I will attempt to address the factors that could contribute to a healthy growth of our town. In the meantime, you are most welcome to submit your comments. I would be delighted to include your observations.

Last 5 posts by Allan Hall

12 comments to Observations on a Vision for Wickenburg

  • Daryl

    Allan,

    I find your article to be generally well thought out, but I must raise a couple questions concerning some apparent bias and prejudice.

    “Motor Home Snowbirds round out this category…They are why the liquor department at Safeway is roughly four times as large as the bread aisle.”
    Do you really think motor home retirees are heavy consumers of alcoholic beverages? This appears to be a “straw man” arguement.

    “Unfortunately, the persistent destruction of horse trails by developers and ATVs could eventually force these riders to abandon our area.”
    Please provide evidence of such destruction by these seemingly unlike groups, one being human and the other mechanical. Are you implying that ALL developers are bad and that some groups of mechanical parts are “of the Devil?”

    “Seasonal and Weekend Outing Visitors: … They are the weekend thrill seekers that create the huge dust clouds east of Wickenburg while driving their ATVs or dirt bikes. Other than refilling their beer chests and topping off their gas tanks, they produce little economic value to Wickenburg. They are, however, destroying the habitat with illegal trails and litter.”
    This appears to be another prejudical assumption and attack with little or no basis in fact. Can you back up the claims therein?

    I don’t have an ATV or dirtbike, but a surprising number of my Wickenburg neighbors do, including LEOs. Some may have chosen the area due to their avocation. I do know of at least one “Weekend Warrior” that has come to appreciate the town as well as its surroundings and is now looking at real estate.

    “Queen Creek. The area is almost exclusively characterized by high density, cheap (but still unaffordable,) housing that is probably destined to become a major crime area within five years.”
    Seems a bit “classist” to me? In the interest of full disclousure, I will tell you I know a nice, non-criminal Queen Creek family.

    Finally, on your list of “destination draws,” you left out the motorcycle/ATV and off-road racing events that well predate your arrival in Wickenburg. At least three different promoters have held events around Wickenburg for at least 25 years. These attract particapants from across the state and beyond, almost all of which contribute something to our local economy.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment, looking forward to your reponses.

  • Daryl

    Allan,

    I find your article to be generally well thought out, but I must raise a couple questions concerning some apparent bias and prejudice.

    “Motor Home Snowbirds round out this category…They are why the liquor department at Safeway is roughly four times as large as the bread aisle.”
    Do you really think motor home retirees are heavy consumers of alcoholic beverages? This appears to be a “straw man” arguement.

    “Unfortunately, the persistent destruction of horse trails by developers and ATVs could eventually force these riders to abandon our area.”
    Please provide evidence of such destruction by these seemingly unlike groups, one being human and the other mechanical. Are you implying that ALL developers are bad and that some groups of mechanical parts are “of the Devil?” One would seem to take that inference from your words.

    “Seasonal and Weekend Outing Visitors: … They are the weekend thrill seekers that create the huge dust clouds east of Wickenburg while driving their ATVs or dirt bikes. Other than refilling their beer chests and topping off their gas tanks, they produce little economic value to Wickenburg. They are, however, destroying the habitat with illegal trails and litter.”
    This appears to be another prejudical assumption and attack with little or no basis in fact. Can you back up the claims therein?

    I don’t have an ATV or dirtbike, but a surprising number of my Wickenburg neighbors do, including LEOs. Some may have chosen the area due to their avocation. I do know of at least one “Weekend Warrior” that has come to appreciate the town as well as its surroundings and is now looking at real estate.

    “Queen Creek. The area is almost exclusively characterized by high density, cheap (but still unaffordable,) housing that is probably destined to become a major crime area within five years.”
    Seems a bit “classist” to me? In the interest of full disclousure, I will tell you I know a nice, non-criminal Queen Creek family.

    BTW, I lived in Tempe when I-10 bypassed Wickenburg and remember the old seedy downtown Tempe, it was worse than we should hope downtown Wickenberg would ever become, but Tempe became landlocked as surrounding cities did exactly that, and had to build up to increase tax revenues. It also has lots of neighbors as potential customers and lots of well-heeled youth. Yet it still went ahead in reclaiming a landfill for the latest mall. I think we may be comparing apples to oranges here.

    Finally, on your list of “destination draws,” you left out the motorcycle/ATV and off-road racing events that well predate your arrival in Wickenburg. At least three different promoters have held events around Wickenburg for at least 25 years. These attract participants and spectators from across the state and beyond, almost all of which contribute something to our local economy.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment, looking forward to your reponses.

  • Allan Hall

    Daryl:
    Thanks for your comments.
    Although not scientific proof, I base the comments about the beverage section of Safeway (and other stores) upon two things: Anecdotal comments from sales clerks who observe the volume and season of products sold, and the simple fact that Safeway greatly expanded the size of this department at the expense of other food products.

    Regarding the destruction of horse and hiking trails (and habitat), this is not an assumption. You might consider talking to any horseman in the area. There is a “Trails Committee” of local volunteers in town that is trying to map and protect horse and hiking trails. As a hiker, I witness the degradation of the habitat east of Wickenburg on a week to week basis. I am proud to know several responsible ATV users, but they don’t cut trails where none existed, and they don’t drive wheelies around cattle (which I have witnessed.)

    I have no idea what value the off-road racing events provide to Wickenburg. My experience with dirt bikes and ATVs is far less positive than yours appears to be. How much habitat destruction results from these events?

    Regarding your question about litter, this is not an assumption. I and several hiking friends have picked up 459 cans and bottles along Constellation Road in the past few weeks. Two-thirds of this litter is alcoholic. This does not count the litter that others folks remove, of course.

    Regarding my reference to Queen Creek, no one said they were criminals. The area does a very high rate of unoccuppied homes and homes in foreclosure. Considering market conditions, I doubt anyone would dispute that it is in trouble; property and other types of crimes could become a serious problem in this area.

    I also once lived in Tempe, so I know very well what what you mean. The point is, Tempe had a vision and took bold action to reinvent the downtown. It is a profound success. As Wickenburg grows (and as population grows toward us), we have an opportunity to make downtown Wickenburg a year-round destination point. All I am trying to say is, Wickenburg needs a vision too.
    Best regards, Allan

  • Daryl

    Thanks for the clarifications. I think your arguements will carry more weight when you don’t lump all members of a group together. Because then it’s like saying all Mexicans, All Swedes, all Republicans…and comes close to the defintion of bigotry.

    I fail to see how anecdotal “evidence” of beverage sales leads to a conclusion that it is due to an inlux of motorhome dwellers and not winter visitors in general.

    Destruction of trails and cutting of new trails violates both state and federal law, as does littering, but again I don’t see how the acts of a criminal extrapolate to a blanket condemnation of a group.

    I often find a lot of trash along Sols Wash, I can put my pickup in low gear at idle and use it as a rolling dumpster. Most Sols Wash users are from Wickenburg, there’s litter, ipso facto: all Wickenburgers are litterers? I think not. And you have offered no evidence that littering is any more prevalent among ATV users than any other group.

    The racing events attract hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators, many of whom stay in local lodging, eat at restaurants, shop at stores, etc. The OHV events are run under permit from the BLM, using existing roads and washes and cause little or no habitat destruction. I would defy you to find any evidence of the “Hassayampa Hop,” for instance, which took place north of Patton Road several years ago. I sense a certain bias in your question in its assumption of destruction.

    I do look forward to seeing your thoughts about Wickenburg and only offer these observations in an attempt to make your arguements clearer and more on point and remove any percieved bias and discrimination.

    Best back at you,
    Daryl

  • Allan Hall

    Daryl:
    It would be pretty difficult to be biased toward something that I know nothing about or have ever even heard of (as in the case of the “Hassayampa Hop.” I base my comments upon direct observation of trail behaviour east of Wickenburg.

    When you encounter sixteen ATVs in three hours (with no other vehicles) on Constellation Road and collect a pile of litter where there was none before, what logical conclusion would you arrive at?
    Best regards,
    Allan

  • Daryl

    Allan,

    “How much habitat destruction results from these events?” The bias I perceive is in the question itself with its assumption of habitat destruction. The reality is that the permitted events held in the area for the past quarter century are so low impact, few Wickenburgers even notice.

    “When you encounter sixteen ATVs in three hours (with no other vehicles) on Constellation Road and collect a pile of litter where there was none before, what logical conclusion would you arrive at?” Logical, perhaps but not necessarily factual. Circumstantial evidence at best. Would you be willing to testify that the group was directly responsible for the litter you found? If not, why not? In any case, the actions of a few should not be held against the many.

    Now, let’s hear your vision.

    Sincerely,
    Daryl

  • Allan Hall

    A good friend recently commented that I had omitted two important destinations in Wickenburg – the Del Webb Center and the annual Bluegrass Festival. Although my first article did not name the Del Webb Center, my intention has been to reference this cultural icon in the final article segment (Part 4.) This organization brings outstanding events to town but I have tended to view the Del Webb Center as more of a series of events for Wickenburg residents than as a purely tourist destination.

    I confess that the Bluegrass Festival was completely below my radar. To rectify my ignorance, I went out to the Rodeo Grounds today to see what it was all about. Attendance at Saturday’s event was quite impressive and very well managed to accommodate traffic. There were many out of state and even Canadian license plates, indicating this is a well publicized and popular attraction. The Bluegrass Festival certainly deserves its rating as a quality destination event for our town.
    Best regards,
    Allan

  • Allan Hall

    This article (Part 1 of Observations on a Vision for Wickenburg) made a specific reference to the city of Queen Creek as a growth model that should be avoided by Wickenburg. One of my comments stated that Queen Creek is “probably destined to become a major crime area within five years.”

    There is an Associated Press article that appeared in the Arizona Republic Business section today (Nov. 15th) titled “Foreclosures increase suburban crime” that you will find interesting. A study by two academic institutes showed that when the foreclosure rate increases by 1% in a neighborhood, the violent crime rate in the area increases by 2.33% The AP article also reported that higher foreclosure rates lead to gang activity, drugs, theft and grafitti. Arizona now ranks sixth among all states in foreclosure rates. I stand by my original observation in Part 1 of my article, and welcome your continued comments!
    Best regards,
    Allan

  • Daryl

    Allan:

    Are you sure that higher forclosure rates CAUSE
    violent crime or that the statistics can be CORRELATED? Headline writers are succinct but not always accurate. Think about it! Thanks!

  • Allan Hall

    Daryl,
    If you do not subscribe to the Arizona Republic, go to http://www.azcentral.com and do a word search on the article title.
    Or, you can search for it on the Associated Press web site.

  • Daryl

    Allan:

    From the Arizona Repugnant, 11/15/07 article in question:
    “…according to a recent study by Dan Immergluck of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and Geoff Smith of Woodstock Institute in Chicago.
    That study showed that when the foreclosure rate increases 1 percentage point, neighborhood violent crime rises 2.33 percent.”

    This reports that the study DID NOT FIND what the headline claimed.

    A correlation, yes, but no statement of causation.

    I forget what my Logic 101 called such in Latin, but I do remember my father telling me to believe little that I hear and half of what I see.

    I enjoy reading your articles but am troubled by the recent incidents of apparent prejudice, sensationalism, and the repeating of others’ mistatements of facts. It takes away credence from your other work when such are published without examination and verification.

    I haven’t subscribed to Gannett’s USA/SW Lite
    since Jim Cook was employed there under Gene Pulliam. I’m embarassed it’s our state’s “paper of record.”

    I guess I could be like Sam Steiger, who said he subscribed so he could make fun of it.

    I’m sorry to dwell on these issues rather than your Vision for Wickenburg, but feel they must be addressed.

    Thanks!

  • Daryl

    My son remembered the latin name for the fallacy I cited above: “post hoc ergo propter hoc” – after this, therefore, because of this.

    He also pointed out that as pirate numbers have gone down in the Caribean, CO2 emissions have skyrocketed worldwide, and has a graph that shows correlation, but not, causation.

    Thanks!