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Changing times

PRESCOTT ­ Once upon a time in Prescott, the downtown area was not just a place to go for an evening out or a shopping excursion; it also was home to scores of business owners, families and laborers.

As the frontier town developed at the turn of the 20th century, historians say the upper levels of the many of the buildings around the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza included living quarters.

Now ­ well into the 21st century ­ the downtown appears to be returning to its roots. With the advent of several new projects, downtown is once again becoming a place to live, as well as a place for business and recreation.

One new building that mixes residential and business uses is already complete in the downtown area, and two more are on the way. Another project will use a historic building to combine residential units with businesses.

Nancy Burgess, the city's historic preservation specialist, says the trend is emulating the dynamics of Prescott's early history.

"A lot of proprietors of businesses lived upstairs ­ really all around the plaza," Burgess said of Prescott's formative years. In

addition, she said, the downtown also included a number of "residence hotels," that area railroad workers called home.

As changes occurred in the United States in the mid-1900s, however, the downtown became less and less popular as a place to live. During the late 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s, Burgess said, residents abandoned their old living quarters above their businesses in droves.

"After World War II, the population of Prescott actually went down," Burgess said. "For the first time, people had money to spend, and suburbia became the place they wanted to be."

Especially after weathering the hard times of the Great Depression, residents "wanted something new," Burgess said. "That was a national trend. People didn't want to live the way they had to live during the Depression."

Orin Anderson, co-owner of the historic Knights of Pythias Hall/Hawkins building on Cortez Street, sees the trend as an example of people wanting what they don't have.

"The downtown was once where people had to live, and they wanted to move away," he said. Now, downtowns across the country have a new cachet, and people want to be back where the action is.

Anderson and his business partner Mike Weeks have seen it happen in Phoenix and in other major cities. When they recently bought the Knights of Pythias Hall, which previously housed the Stewards Shoe store, they saw enormous potential in the top floor that once served as the meeting place for the Knights of Pythias fraternal organization.

"As we began to look at the upper level, we realized it's a loft," Anderson said. "You can't find those anywhere anymore."

With its high ceilings, open floor plan, and views of the plaza and Thumb Butte, the space seemed the perfect spot for a condominium, with a rooftop garden area, said Anderson and Weeks. They have since been meeting with city officials to work on the replat that would be

necessary to allow for the mixed uses.

Two other new buildings will add more resi-

dential units to the downtown area ­ both along historic Montezuma Street.

One of the buildings will occupy the space next to the Prescott Chamber of Commerce building on Goodwin Street.

The other is just across the street, at the Montezuma/Goodwin corner that previously served as the Enterprise car rental business.

Architect Bill Otwell, who earlier worked on the design of the McCormick Place building, the downtown's first recent example of mixed uses, is designing the new building next to the Chamber of Commerce for the owners, local ranch owners Steve and Joan Pierce.

Like the McCormick Place, the Pierce building will combine commercial uses on the lower levels with condominiums on the upper level.

With four corner

condos on the top floor, the building also could combine residential and office space on the second floor, Otwell said.

"I've always thought downtown residential was great, and there seems to be a real in-

terest in it," Otwell said, adding that the Pierces plan to keep one of

the condos for their

own use.

Brad Christensen, developer of the building on the other corner of Montezuma and Goodwin, agrees that demand appears to exist for residential space in the downtown.

"It is highly desirable for the community to have a return of residential to the downtown," Christensen said. "It will make for a much more robust area."

His building will

combine retail space on the bottom level with

12 condos on the upper levels, which include three stories at the front of the building and four in the rear.

While the trend toward a return to residential in the downtown is just now taking hold in Prescott, the experts agree that it is nothing new in other areas.

"Prescott is just kind of inching its way along," Burgess said, noting that similar movements have already occurred in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. "We're always a little behind the times."

Added Christensen: "The trend is going on all over the country, and it is now coming to Prescott."

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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