Peek into the history of Flagstaff’s Fourth Street and you’ll find that it was the city’s commercial corridor long before the environs of San Francisco and Front Streets became respectably chic. In its halcyon days, K-Mart was the thriving and prosperous anchor for the area and its businesses. Now, K-Mart is gone, leaving a “huge gaping hole in retail on Fourth Street,” said Steve Saville over a mug of latte at White Dove Café. Saville is manager of Enhanced Service Districts for downtown and east Flagstaff. “Fourth Street was the retail district 30 years ago,” he said. But, with several recent city-approved projects, the former business corridor is well positioned for a comeback as the “premier geographical location for retail.” Walgreens has purchased one tract of land and Evergreen Development will add an additional 20,000-square-foot retail pad – both on the south side of Route 66 at Fourth Street. The now-empty K-Mart will be Flagstaff’s home for the Idaho-based Cal Ranch Store, which, according to Saville, will have “anything you need for a gentleman rancher.” It is “the biggest boon in the last ten years for this area,” he added. Part of Saville’s mandate is development of an enhanced service district that includes creating a private 501 (c) 3 with its own board of directors who can negotiate with the city for special services that might include everything from extra trash pick-ups, snow clean-up, graffiti removal, and Christmas decorations. Special services require tax assessments on businesses within the special district. Another part of Saville’s job is to educate Sunnyside business owners about the advantages of increased taxes for their own bottom line. The desires of the Fourth Street district “are different than those of downtown,” Saville said. “The city is not capable of responding to these needs efficiently.”
Steve Dohse, manager of the White Dove, believes that an enhanced district “will have nothing but a positive impact” on his business. “Our main challenge has been exposure, as we are off the beaten track,” he said. “We benefit by being one of the only Fourth Street coffee shops.” But, he is certain that redevelopment will be an improvement.
Michele Roberts, owner of Purl in the Pines, also located on Fourth Street, agreed. “I’m a destination business,” she said. “So people would probably go wherever I was located.” Roberts considers her yarn store a boutique where customers gather for classes, workshops, and special events. Her customers have told her “they’re really happy I’m located here. It’s hard to find parking downtown.” Her aspirations for Fourth Street include beautifying the area and “making it quainter,” with sidewalk benches and streetlamps. “All of the businesses here would do better if they cleaned it up and made it safer.”
In addition to businesses like Roberts’s, the area around Fourth Street is home to its share of empty storefronts and transitory housing. “You can’t just push the problems off to your neighbors,” said Saville, but making Fourth Street a destination road instead of a pass-through corridor will have a positive impact if the various entities involved – city, developers, as well as private property and individual business owners – can overcome barriers that predate most Flagstaff residents.
Saville has a long history in the city – he was the original owner of Flagstaff Live and Mountain News. He is as well versed in Fourth Street’s past as he is enthusiastic about its future, despite a set of challenges stemming from some of the city’s earliest citizens. The Greenlaw Brothers came to Flagstaff in the late 1800s – the same era as the Riordans and the Babbits. They established a lumber mill, built the first hotel, transported water to Flagstaff’s new developments, and homesteaded 160 acres that included present day Fourth Street and some surrounding areas in Sunnyside. Generations later, the original homestead, which includes the eastern half of Fourth Street, is held in trust by descendants of the Greenlaws – the Beamers and the Knowles families. A challenge for comprehensive redevelopment of the corridor, according to Saville, is that “complicated land title issues are holding it back.”
Ed Gussio is the owner of Benefit Logic, Inc. located on Fourth Street’s western side where, according to Saville, traditional business owner rights prevail. On the day a reporter called him to chat about the future of Fourth Street, Gussio had been in his new office for just two days. He and his wife “had a goal to own our own building for a long time,” he said about the decision to relocate from Cedar Avenue. “It’s an ideal location,” he said. “We have people coming into our office all the time, so accessibility was very important.” Gussio finds promise in his new location, but, like Saville, sees a challenge in defining its future. “The dirt is owned by one person and the building by another,” he said about some of the thorny issues making owners reluctant to upgrade buildings they lease to small business owners lining the eastern side of the road. “As they get that resolved,” Gussio said, “I think things will get better.”
Getting better will include pedestrian walkways, landscaping, bus stops with benches, “real traffic lights, crosswalks,” and many other improvements if Saville has his way. He envisions a $20-25 million project that is currently just in the dream stage. “There’s no funding yet,” he admitted. Realizing the vision means that businesses and residents have to come together to decide what they really want. And, resolving the complicated land ownership issues in order to “find the best way to go forward.” FBN