SPANISH FORK -- One Utah County city is planning to put some heart back into its downtown.
Spanish Fork city officials are moving forward in hopes of reinvigorating “historic downtown” — meaning the area from 100 South to 400 North, and 100 East to 100 West — to become a regional destination and to bring back business to the area.
The area has lost some of its nostalgia, Spanish Fork's director of community development Dave Anderson said. And the rapid population growth in the southern half of the county means many newcomers to the city don’t remember the old center of town as a bustling center of activity.
That’s why city planners, including Bruce Fallon, who sits on the planning commission, applied for an award from the American Planning Association (APA). The APA chose Spanish Fork to receive a Community Planning Assistance Team, making it one of six towns throughout the country and the first city in Utah to receive the CPAT.
The CPAT offers Spanish Fork expert planners from throughout the country who specialize in historic downtown revitalization. The planners visited Spanish Fork earlier this month to get a feel for the town, and will return in the spring to make a plan for the city to implement new regulations and incentives to revitalize the historic downtown.
The expert advice the city will get comes pro bono, and Spanish Fork will pay only for travel expenses, Anderson said.
The application calls some parts of the area “blighted,” and other developments are not integrated into older buildings. Planners say the trends “have generated great loss for the community both economically and culturally.”
“While several businesses continue to operate successfully in this area, the historic downtown is a shadow of its previous self,” the application says.
Plus, the area has a lagging customer base, partly due to the development of big-box stores on the outskirts of town.
“Some of us really believe that a community central business district is the heart of the community and we want to preserve that,” Anderson said. “We need to get some new life downtown."
He said the Main Street area of Spanish Fork was the center of activity 40 years ago.
Jennifer Graeff, who oversees the technical assistance program for the APA, said Spanish Fork’s application was one of the best she has seen.
“It was very thorough, detailed and had a clear analysis of defining what the challenges would be,” she said.
Some business owners welcome the change. One of them is Aaron Stern, who owns four properties on Main Street, including his wife’s clothing boutique, My Sister’s Closet.
“I think it would bring additional business to those on Main Street and promote Spanish Fork as a destination for shopping,” he said.
Stern also said the community perspective is significant for a project like this.
“I think it’s important if you’re going to have a plan to revitalize Main Street, you’re going to need buy-in from the business holders and customers from the community,” Stern said.
Stern sits on a committee of stakeholders for the revitalization, one of the ways Graeff and her team assure the community has ownership over the project.
He said he has seen properties on Main Street go through a cycle between full and vacant.
But others in the business community aren’t as excited.
“I don’t know if I agree turning Main Street into a historic place,” said Larry Christensen, a barber who has owned Chris’ Barber Shop on Main Street for 40 years. “I don’t think we want the city to delve into our business more than they already have.”
Christensen said he has mixed feelings about the idea of revitalizing downtown.
When Costco opened in the city in 2012, he said city officials “bent over backwards” to get it. He thinks it would be better to put that kind of money and incentives toward Main Street.
Amy McDonald is the Politics and South County Reporter for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (801) 344-2549 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @amymcdonald89
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