Three years ago, plans for a downtown project helped Lake Havasu City secure a $2 million prize in a nationwide contest. Now, Lake Havasu City Council members appear to be rethinking whether it should be a priority.
The Downtown Catalyst Project was identified in the city’s Vision 2020 plan as one of three initiatives for the city to pursue using prize money from the 2017 America’s Communities Contest. Lake Havasu City purchased Springberg McAndrew Park on McCulloch Boulevard as a base for the project, but now private investors are needed to make it a reality. At a planning session last week, members of the Lake Havasu City Council discussed the project at length. While some expressed interest, others expressed doubt as to the project’s viability.
Lake Havasu City Councilman Gordon Groat remained in favor of the project, but said its future would rely on private investors. Originally, the Vision 2020 plan called for both a public and private investment in the project. Private investors would create restaurants, businesses and shops surrounding the area of what is now Springberg McAndrew Park. In turn, the city would create a community gathering space to draw attention and further business to downtown Havasu.
“We kind of have to see how things unfold,” Groat said. “It’s been on the drawing board for five years. I look at it objectively … I’ve seen a lot of ideas, but nothing concrete at the moment.”
Councilwoman Michele Lin agreed.
“I’m curious to see who the investors are going to be,” she said. “That’s been my concern from the very beginning. The city has a lot of other problems – we have issues like clean water, problems with revenue and police staffing … there are a lot of other issues.”
The Downtown Catalyst Project was guided by the Havasu community through a series of town halls, where residents voiced their opinions on what projects Havasu should adopt within the foreseeable future. Planning for the project has been led by the Lake Havasu Partnership for Economic Development, and according to PED officials, the Catalyst project will need more than $5 million in private investments before the public portion of the project can begin.
Former Lake Havasu City Mayor Mark Nexsen, who now resides in Wickenburg, said the project always called for an up-front investment by the city, but he believed it would generate additional revenue.
“That’s the beauty of that kind of project,” Nexsen said. “It takes an up-front investment, but it has a payoff.”
Nexsen says that such projects have already seen success in the area of Flagstaff, and it’s an example Havasu would do well to follow.
“It’s what the Havasu community wanted, not any particular council member,” Nexsen said. “And it will require an investment by the city … it’s just a matter of where the city’s priorities will be placed. You have to have a vision for the future, and not just maintain the status quo. It’s a credit to the community members who said this is what they wanted this city to be.”
According to Lake Havasu City Mayor Cal Sheehy, the City Council could receive an update on the project as soon as May, prior to the city’s annual budget session.
Sheehy said the city has set aside $3.2 million for Vision 2020 projects, including the Downtown Catalyst and the environmental learning center.
“The PED is taking the lead on this project, and working with interested investors to solidify the private investment in the Catalyst project,” Sheehy said this week. “Then we can solidify public investment in the project.”
The Downtown Catalyst Project was determined a priority for Havasu’s growth by members of the Havasu community, and Sheehy says he shares their desire to see it through.
“I believe the City Council represents the citizens,” Sheehy said. “We’re moving in the same direction as the community’s wishes during the competition. We want to ensure the right project is built for downtown, and that it is truly a catalyst project.”
Today’s News-Herald reporter Michael Zogg contributed to this story.