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13 Mar

Does Havasu need a town square?

City Council will meet today on purchase of downtown park


A town square could be the prescription Lake Havasu City needs to solve its demographic starvation ills, but for some the medicine could be hard to swallow.

An ongoing push to grow Lake Havasu City’s younger population has generated a detailed economic revitalization plan, and now potentially political action. The Lake Havasu City Council will vote on a land purchase of Springberg McAndrew Park that was hand-picked by Havasu’s Vision 20/20 team as a location for a future community gathering spot.

“There is a consensus that we need a better downtown,” said Lucas Still, a Lake Havasu City Planning and Zoning Commission member, owner of LS appraisal and Vision 20/20 member.

 When Lake Havasu City Mayor and Vision 20/20 member Mark Nexsen announced the city would consider purchasing Springberg McAndrew Park at a Vision 20/20 meeting he was met with resounding applause, but some McCulloch Boulevard businesses are leery of the plan.

“To me, I think it’s a lame project. It’s a waste of money, it’s a waste of land and it’s a waste of water,” said Sam Scarmardo, owner of Sam’s Shooters Emporium and former city councilman.

At BJ’s Cabana and Karaoke Bar, manager Gwendolyn Ennis said she’s concerned the public event space could choke out business for nearby bars and restaurants.

“If they’re talking about an amphitheater for music that could compete with our ability to attract bands. If they’re utilizing a liquor license that’s another obvious concern for business. This could be a win-win for everyone if the city’s going to use it for a park and recreation, but it could hurt us if they’re trying to generate a profit,” Ennis said.

Other business owners say they’re excited for the project’s possibilities and the ripple effects it could generate throughout downtown.

“I think any kind of development that’s going to bring people downtown is a great idea,” Havasu Hardware owner Wayne LeGrand said. He said the project could entice other business owners to make improvements to their buildings and help beautify the district.

But what would a community gathering spot look like?

 Still said since the city hasn’t acquired Springberg McAndrew Park, the designs are rough. Nexsen said the initial idea is to incorporate a seating area and leave space for high-density commercial development for businesses that would attract a younger crowd.

One urban design expert who helped set the framework for improvements in Havasu with the 2007 Regional Urban Design Action Team (R/UDAT) study said there’s no limit or size to what a community gathering space can be.

“There’s really no right answer, but it has to draw in local values,” said Wayne Feiden, a R/UDAT team member and planning director for the City of Northampton Massachusetts. “In Havasu, that would probably be shade, for example. It shouldn’t just look nice. We’ve all seen cities that have gorgeous parks, but no one uses them,”

He added, some of the most successful community gathering spaces he’s seen incorporate unique artwork and functional design elements tailored for the area. Also, proximity to food is usually a surefire way to attract people to the spot.

“Years ago downtown was where you’d do your shopping. We all know there’s less and less shopping downtown now that we have more retail and online stores. Downtowns have survived because they’re places where people want to be. When you’re successful in designing, it makes for a really cool place and in the end it’s a fun place where people want to be,” Feiden said. “The worst thing you can do is take a pre-packaged idea and try to bring it in to a new location.”