Originally Published: March 5, 2014 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT, Arizona - The wood pedestrian walkway will come down soon, and a new wrought-iron fence will go up at the site of the May 2012 Whiskey Row fire.
Overturning a previous decision by the Prescott Preservation Commission, the Prescott City Council unanimously approved plans this week for installation of a new fence and landscaping at the site of three former Whiskey Row businesses.
That sets the stage for the removal of the temporary wood walkway that has straddled the Whiskey Row sidewalk for more that a year.
After fire destroyed the old Bird Cage Saloon, Pearl's Place Café, and the Prescott Food Store nearly two years ago, property owners Howard and Nancy Hinson were left to deal with not only the burned out lot, but also the restoration of the smoke-damaged building next door.
Initially, the Hinsons planned an in-fill project that would have included new storefronts, an elevator, and upper story patio space to serve both the new building and the hotel next door.
But Howard Hinson told the City Council on Tuesday that the extensive restoration necessary in the building next door - the Grand Highland Hotel/Jenny Longhorn space - went well beyond what was anticipated.
Comparing the restoration to pulling a thread in a knitted sweater, Hinson said the initial work uncovered the need for replacement of many of the 1903 building's basics - the plumbing, electrical, and sewer systems.
After completely restoring and renovating the building, Hinson said, "We simply used all of our resources. We're not sitting on any insurance money. We're trying to do something we can afford."
The result: A plan featuring a wrought iron fence along Whiskey Row, landscaping with trees and decomposed granite in the interior, and a concrete walkway running from the rear alley to the front sidewalk.
Prescott Historic Preservation Specialist Cat Moody explained that the Preservation Commission based its Feb. 14 rejection of the plan on criteria in the city's historic preservation master plan. Commission Chairman Mike Todd attended the meeting to explain that unanimous vote. (Applicants have the right to appeal Preservation Commission decisions to the City Council).
Noting that the commission had unanimously approved the Hinsons' earlier plans, Todd said the latest version elicited some concerns, including the fact that the plan was termed a temporary measure, but included no date for proposed removal.
Calling the Whiskey Row block "one of the most historically significant blocks of real estate in the state of Arizona," Todd said the commission had decided that "this configuration is inappropriate."
City Attorney Jon Paladini said that while the city can require that the property be safe, it does not have the power to require owners to rebuild after their property is demolished.
Several council members said they had heard concerns from other Whiskey Row merchants about the design, as well as the Hinsons' plans for temporary vendors on the lot.
"Some people have a problem with how it's going to look. They say it's going to look like a cemetery," Councilman Chris Kuknyo said, referring to the proposed "Holiday Court" banner sign above the gate.
The council ultimately approved the plans with changes in the placement of the Holiday Court sign and the position of the landscaping.
After the meeting, Nancy Hinson said she hoped that the pedestrian walkway would be removed before the Whiskey Off-Road event on
April 25 to 27. The walkway must remain in place while the installation work is being done on the new fence, she said.
The in-fill project is still the long-term goal for the property, the Hinsons say.
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