About 75 percent of those in attend-ance at the April 22 Williams town hall meeting regard Arizona Territory raise their hands in approval of the park — even with allowing 200 hotel rooms in its first phase of construction. At a regular city council meeting immediately following the town hall, council approved both the latest draft of the park’s preliminary development master plan, and re-zoning for the project’s 157.9-acre site.
At the April 22 city council meeting, which followed the city’s town hall session, council approved both the latest version of the park’s preliminary development master plan, and granted zoning changes for the 157.9 acre site from rural residential to commercial business district.
Though only the first in what promises to be a long line of council decisions on the project, the above items were of paramount importance because once approved, ATCHP’s investors will release funds to begin engineering studies and — eventually — construction.
Arizona Territory will be an interactive wild-west theme park set in the 1890s on a 157.9-acre parcel east of the Arizona Department of Transportation yard at the east end of Williams. The preliminary development master plan stipulates that the park be constructed in three phases, with each subsequent phase depending on the success of the one preceding it. Phase one will be the actual theme park grounds, covering one-third of the property, and will include 200 hotel rooms. Phase two will include larger-scale building of hotels, cabins, condominiums, and an RV park. Phase three will expand visitor experience by containing an entertainment complex, Iwerks theater, retail space, a museum and restaurants.
The council’s decision came after a 90-minute town hall public question/comment forum held at the Williams Elementary-Middle School auditorium. ATCHP developer Jim Fisher, with investment banker/future chief executive officer, Richard Henderson, were present as about 70 Williams residents, business owners, and non-residents filed in at 5:30 p.m. to ask questions of the two in front of council members and city officials.
Of those, 17 chose to speak, most of who were ultimately in favor of the project. Over half of the speakers simply announced their enthusiasm, citing the bringing in of people, jobs, and revenue as reasons, along with community growth and making Williams an even bigger tourist destination. Almost every positive remark made was followed by a round of applause.
Others voiced questions many had already asked or answered, such as water issues — Fisher and his partners have agreed from the start to provide their own; the effect the park will have on existing business — which most feel could only be positive; and what jobs/wages the park will provide.
Only a few others at the town hall still feared that the park might take business away from Williams, but many that spoke disagreed with that idea. One such person was former Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce Director Eric Eikenberry, who recalled the tough times following construction of the Interstate 40 bypass and the success of bringing in the Grand Canyon Railway a few years after.
“We finally got the railway up and running, and it has made a difference — there’s no question about it,” Eikenberry remembered. “This is another tremendous opportunity. Can you imagine … we would’ve done back-flips if these folks had shown up just a few years back with this opportunity before us. I’m really at a loss to understand why we’re even having this discussion. I’ve watched and waited for this town to expand and get its footing.”
Eikenberry revealed he is currently involved with the proposed Iron Horse Crossing development near WEMS and said he and his partners fully support the park.
“There’s a saying that I used a lot at the chamber of commerce — when the tide comes in, all the boats rise,” said Eikenberry.
One stinging thought on the minds of many — even for some in favor of the project — is the integrity of the park’s leaders and executives. This mainly comes about because of Fisher’s February request of 600 hotel rooms in phase one of the construction process after Fisher had already agreed in January that no rooms would be included in that phase.
In what Fisher and his partners call a “misunderstanding,” the original development plan was agreed to without the input of the actual investors. Once the investors had seen the plan, they felt rooms would indeed be necessary in the first phase to ensure visitors have a “quality experience.” As Henderson explained, the amount of 600 rooms was thrown in as a “bogey.” Rightfully concerned, council members forwarded the investors’ math to Ron Evans, Dean of Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, who did his own study. He concluded that the investors were half-right, suggesting that only 200-300 rooms would be reasonable.
Since then, Fisher and his partners have indicated that they would accept whatever hotel limitations the council deemed necessary, pursuant to the NAU study. The limitation will be 200 rooms.
“I believe these guys are trying to do the right thing,” said Mark Worden of Williams Mountain Nursery and AAA Flowers and Gifts. “My only concern is that the developers shoot straight with us. Don’t be changing any of the requirements. Okay, maybe there was a mistake made about the motels — let’s get past that mistake. If you guys do approve the project, fine, but let’s not count two months from now and have another stipulation come up.”
Toward the conclusion of the town hall session, city councilman-elect John Moore suggested a show of hands for or against to signify where participants stood.
Williams Mayor Ken Edes agreed, and asked two questions similar to those in an ATCHP chamber survey sent out earlier this month. About 75 percent raised their hands in favor of the park, both overall and with the added hotel rooms in phase one. Only a scant few indicated they were against the park’s construction with plans the way they are.
After a short recess, council convened for their regular semimonthly meeting. The first order of businesswas a discussion and decision regarding the modified draft of the park’s Preliminary Master Development Plan.
Changes to the plan were made to accommodate the addition of hotel rooms in phase one and are as follows:
• Only upon 100 percent completion of the theme park and commencement of public operations will Fisher and his partners be allowed to open and operate 200 hotel/motel/bed-and-board rooms.
• To begin construction of phase two, visitorship must reach at least 400,000 within 12 consecutive months.
• If the park reaches 500,000 annual visitors, another 224 rooms will be allowed.
• Additional 200-room segments will be allotted with each additional 100,000 annual visitors up to but not exceeding 824 rooms total.
Council approved the agreement, received a final large round of applause as most of the audience left, then discussed and approved the zoning change for the project.