Whiskey Row in Prescott, Arizona is an integral part of marketing the town as a destination for visitors as well as new residents. ©Jim Hinckley’s America

“Prescott is a Wonderful Tourist Destination – Go hiking or mountain biking on our peaceful and beautiful Northern Arizona trails, visit our downtown antique shops, or enjoy shopping and dining on Prescott’s downtown square. There’s so much to do in Prescott, Arizona!.”

Prescott Downtown Partnership, Inc. was established in 1999 as a “merchant’s association formed to provide a voice for the stakeholders in historic downtown Prescott. Our Members include retail, hospitality & professional businesses, as well as property owners & residents, representatives of government & other non-profit entities that share and interest in a vibrant town center. We also coordinate all downtown events that happen on our beautiful Courthouse Plaza.”

In Prescott and numerous communities tourism is a major source of income. Tourism, however, is only one facet of how communities can profit from the development of vibrant historic districts.

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, heritage tourism is “traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes cultural, historic, and natural resources.” A recent study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation determined that heritage travelers spend more money, stay longer, and visit more places than other types of travelers. This study also found that heritage tourism generates $171 billion in annual spending and supports 2.5 million jobs in the U.S.

By investing in infrastructure projects that improve the conditions in, and attractiveness of, historic districts, cities can reap multiple benefits such as increased tourism revenues and enhanced property values. As an added benefit historic district revitalization also enhances the overall quality of life within a community and that translates into new residents as well as business owners. Tourism is more than just heads in beds. It is also an opportunity to showcase a community in a manner similar to what a realtor does with an open house.

The Prescott Downtown Partnership illustrates another key component in utilizing a vibrant historic district as a component in overall economic development – the buidling of supprotive cooperative partnerhsips. These partnerships are key to building a sense of community and community purpose.

A proposal for downtown infrastructure project in Kingman, Arizona Courtesy City of Kingman.

Our recent visit to Prescott was an opportunity to make a comparative study. The historic business district in my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona has much in common with the one in Prescott. And as a bonus, Route 66 is one of two main streets in this district. And yet Kingman is eclipsed as a destination city by neighboring Lake Havasu City, and by Williams.

There are glimmers that, perhaps, Kingman will transformed soon. The city recently funded a study that led to creation of a Downtown Infrastructure Design Project. Now it needs to be moved from concept to reality. In addition to transforming the historic heart of the city, it would support the investment currently being made by entrepreneurs. When linked with development of events in the district, and coordinated promotion, Kingman would become a destination much like Prescott.

The components are in place for the envisioned transformation but they are not being developed or implemented in a coordinated manner. As an example, Chillin’ on Beale, held on the third Saturday of each month, April through October, has become a major event that attracts crowds to downtown Kingman.

And yet a Route 66 Fest developed by the city is held in a park miles from downtown Kingman with its award winning microbreweries, wine bar, historic saloon, eclectic shops, murals, and narrated historic district walking tour. Even worse the Route 66 Fest is often developed in a manner that is in direct competition to Chillin on Beale. What makes this even more surprising is the fact that thre are two parks in downtown Kingman and they are located adjacent to the Powerhouse Visitor Center.

This is the first in a series of posts from Jim Hinckley’s America about community development, historic district revitalization, and toruism as a component of economic development. I will often illustrate points with stories of success and failures from Kingman as it is the community that I know best. Meanwhile, here are some points to ponder.

Historic districts attract tourists and visitors

One of the most obvious benefits of historic districts is that they attract tourists and visitors who are interested in learning about the history and culture of a place. By investing in infrastructure projects that enhance the accessibility, safety, and attractiveness of historic districts, cities can increase their tourism revenues and create more jobs in the hospitality and service sectors. For example, improving sidewalks, lighting, signage, landscaping, and parking facilities can make historic districts more pedestrian-friendly and inviting for visitors. Restoring and rehabilitating historic buildings can also create more opportunities for adaptive reuse, such as hotels, restaurants, museums, galleries, and shops.

Historic districts stimulate local businesses and entrepreneurship

Another benefit of historic districts is that they stimulate local businesses and entrepreneurship. Historic districts often have a high density and diversity of small businesses that cater to the needs and preferences of residents and visitors alike. These businesses contribute to the vitality and character of historic districts and create a sense of place and community.

By investing in infrastructure projects that support and promote local businesses, cities can foster economic development and innovation in historic districts. For example, providing grants, loans, tax credits, or incentives for business owners to renovate or improve their properties can help them maintain or increase their competitiveness and profitability. Creating or expanding business improvement districts (BIDs) or other organizations that coordinate marketing, promotion, events, security, and maintenance can also help boost the visibility and attractiveness of historic districts.

Historic districts enhance property values and tax revenues

A third benefit of historic districts is that they enhance property values and tax revenues. Historic districts often have a positive effect on the real estate market because they offer a unique and distinctive living environment that appeals to many buyers. Studies have shown that historic district designation can increase property values by 5% to 20% compared to similar properties outside historic districts. Historic district designation can also protect property values from fluctuations or declines caused by external factors such as economic downturns or natural disasters.

By investing in infrastructure projects that improve the quality and appearance of historic districts, cities can increase their property tax revenues and generate more funds for public services and amenities. For example, installing underground utilities, upgrading sewer and water systems, or adding green spaces can improve the functionality and aesthetics of historic districts. Preserving and enhancing the architectural integrity and authenticity of historic buildings can also increase their marketability and desirability.



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