Carefree stakeholders not on board with council’s plan

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carefree sundial   By Thomas Baker, 2013 Desert Gardens Photo Contest Winner

CAREFREE – Following Vice Mayor Les Peterson’s presentation during the Sept. 3 council meeting regarding the town’s proposal to build a new council chambers and cultural arts center to encourage economic development, Carefree Town Center stakeholders petitioned council.

The petition, signed by about three dozen merchants and property owners, who have invested several millions, collectively, in real property and inventory, not to mention investment of their time, toward making the town successful, appealed to council to seriously consider funding and supporting what they called true economic development projects.

The group asked council to consider economic development projects and effort that will attract visitors and shoppers into the town center and revive their businesses.

They asked council to negotiate in good faith with Ed Lewis, without further delays, to facilitate construction of his Easy Street mixed use condo/retail project, which they say will bring more people into the town center and act as a catalyst for economic development.

The group is also asking the town to fund and support the building of a cultural center that may include ASU’s art museum, film, media, theater departments and the Heard Museum to attract visitors, shoppers and other businesses.

They note Lewis has offered land to build a cultural center with parking, claiming he can do this in a timely manner instead of years from now.

After the town has spent countless dollars in signage that has gone from so low key it is completely unnoticed to the garish “circus signs,” as Councilman Glenn Miller referred to them, the group asked that the town fund and support architecturally attractive “way-finders,” as recommended by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), to attract visitors, shoppers and other businesses.

They also asked the town to fund ULI’s recommendation for architecturally attractive “connectivity” throughout the town by having the same look to sidewalks, with overhead shade, misters, pots, flowers and a sound system to attract visitors, shoppers and other businesses, while connecting to the town’s disparate shopping areas, such as Carefree Plaza and Mariachi Plaza, which are not located in the town center.

Stating, “Should we be so lucky as to have a parking problem in the future,” they asked the town to have funds available.

They urged council to use monies wisely and for their suggestions first, before thinking about spending or going into debt for town council chambers, nonprofit meeting rooms and a local theater, when those facilities already exist.

 The petition states, “Spending town monies on council chambers, meeting rooms and a local theater does nothing to bring in significant visitors, shoppers or other businesses,” noting it is their understanding the town can continue its lease for much less per square foot than building new facilities.

“Of course we want a cultural center, but one that brings significant visitors and shoppers and is more sustainable,” said the group.

Aware the town has limited funds, the stakeholders pointed out residents realize it is the businesses that help fund town services such as roads, police and fire protection.

And, while residents want a vibrant town center to visit and take their friends and family to visit, without supporting the businesses, which support the services for residents, the group concluded “a property tax is next,” something no one seems to favor.

Councilwoman Melissa Price, who is also a business owner and appears to have signed the petition, was vocally at odds with Peterson’s idea of economic development during the last meeting and may have been a catalyst behind the petition.

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