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Sun, Oct. 13

Cantlon: How to keep Prescott, Prescott

I went to the event on Jan. 29 where lots of locals engaged in a “visioning” session to develop a picture of what locals would want Prescott, particularly downtown, to be like in the future.

First, locals are great at participating and being involved. I’ve been part of similar earlier efforts, the “Prescott 2050” plan a decade ago that had hundreds of locals’ input, took months, and was detailed, and also an effort a few years ago to rebrand the city for tourism. Yet another project tried to coordinate social service and civic groups, and an outside consultant said the main problem was that we had an over-abundance of eager groups for the area’s size, making it harder to coordinate.

Second, we’re close to a vision, and within reach. The consultant hired to facilitate the group noted that many towns he’s tried to help are far from having their desired goal. We, on the other hand, already have a nice downtown, and most of what people want in improvements are not pipe dreams but entirely doable.

The Jan. 29 event showed that people of diverse politics want a lot of the same things, and they have to do with quality of life downtown. Things like making it more pedestrian focused, having greater diversity of theater and entertainment and kinds of food, more use of greenways and bike lanes, more outdoor dining, more local shops of all sorts, more downtown apartments, and finding ways to do it that both preserve our history and values, yet broaden our diversity.

Let me add a couple of guiding ideas that can help focus the direction of changes.

First, don’t focus on commercial tourism. Rather, make it nice for us. Grow it, change it, and maintain it in ways that we like. A: It would make it nice for us. B: It will still attract plenty of visitors who want a nice experience. C: It will help determine what kinds of visitors we get, that is, ones that appreciate a Prescott experience, not ones looking for just another tourism experience.

Second, we might be able to make it easy for people to move here, by having lots of cheap, cookie-cutter houses, or maybe getting some giant warehouse operation to locate here with lots of low-skill jobs, but that’s not who has been moving here to date, not what has made Prescott, Prescott. The people who move here during their working years are not the faint of heart. They are determined, resourceful, willing to do the hard work of making it here because being here is worth it to them, creative, and even beyond creative types, they’re mostly, in their own way, independent souls. They’re not likely to want, or settle for, a cookie-cutter house or a low-skilled job, so why develop the area like that’s what we’re looking for?

There are lots of things we could do to market specifically to groups likely to fit those categories, and then let them know we’d be glad to have them here, and make a real effort to help them make the move and succeed. After all, those kinds of people aren’t just bringing themselves. They’re bringing their existing independent businesses, their determination to create a business, their creativity and energy, their likely involvement in the community.

Want to keep Prescott, Prescott? It starts with who we build the place for, and who we try to attract. Give yourself a pat on the back because that probably means, people like you.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.

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