Building Communities

Springerville, Arizona—
Making a Good Town Great

—Ted Natt, Community Success Journalist

Set against a backdrop of forested mountains and grazing lands, Springerville, Arizona, is the kind of place where children can still walk from their homes to get an ice cream cone or a Coke because the streets are so safe. “That’s pretty much unheard of these days,” Town Manager Steve West says. “We’re a tight-knit community of 2,000 people who know one another and care for each other. Everybody seems to help everybody out.”

That was never more evident than when stakeholders in Springerville worked with Building Communities, an economic development strategic planning firm, to develop a plan to simultaneously advance 14 community and economic development strategies. “Building Communities helped us realize what could happen,” West says. “Their process showed us the direction we need to go in order to succeed. Our plan is deeper and wider than any other we’ve done before.”

Brian Cole, president of Building Communities, says Springerville selected more strategies – on a per-capita basis – than any community he has worked with over the past two decades. “They bit off a lot,” Cole says. “On one hand, that could be a concern. On the other hand, it underscores the broad variety of opportunities the community has before it. “I think the key for Springerville is going to be the community’s ability to harness its civic capacity to move forward.”

West agrees. “We actually chose more than we can probably accomplish,” he says, “but we know there are certain things that we need to get done.” Cole adds that anyone who doubts the community’s vision and drive simply needs to visit its relocated Rene Cushman Museum. “The museum is superior to virtually any hometown museum in the West,” he says. “If Springerville can extend that level of energy and focus communitywide, they will be successful implementing their strategic plan.”

The most immediate opportunity for Springerville is to leverage the planned work by the Arizona Department of Transportation to redevelop Main Street. “The museum is on that route, as are the hotels,” Cole says. “Springerville has an opportunity to present itself as a very desirable small-town destination.”

West says the work on Main Street will enable Springerville to enhance two of the strategies it selected – downtown development and tourism. “Even though we’d always talked about downtown development, we had trouble getting our hands around it until working with Building Communities,” he says. “The problem was getting the businesses to buy into it. I don’t know that they were ever asked to come on board. “The Building Communities process drew out a lot of people’s thoughts. It leveled the playing field so everyone could comment. It was the first time in 22 years that everyone had come together.”

As a result, Springerville is already seeing small businesses make investments in the town despite challenging economic times. “New opportunities are emerging,” West says. “I anticipate that the developer that comes in here and builds a hotel with a conference center will clean up.” And he believes there will be a positive ripple effect, especially for the tourism industry. “We want to become a destination for people looking for an authentic small-town experience instead of a place you just pass-through,” West says.

Springerville is 20 minutes from Sunrise Park Resort, which is one of Arizona’s premier skiing destinations. The town is also close to Casa Malpais, a nationally recognized archaeological site that includes the ruins of an ancient astronomical observatory. In addition, there are ample hunting and fishing opportunities, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, horseback riding, ATV riding and camping, among others. “There’s a lot to do recreationally here. There’s just a little bit of everything,” West says. “In the summer, it’s a great place to get out of the heat. This is a perfect destination for people from Phoenix and Tucson.”

Springerville pays tribute to its past – members of the Clanton Gang and Billy the Kid once passed through – by hosting the Outlaw Trail Riders festival in the fall. “People dress up like different outlaws that were around here – the good, the bad and the ugly,” West says.

West’s vision for the future includes developments in mining, energy, forest products, agriculture and several emerging industries. “Building Communities did an excellent job of gathering enough information to help us develop a great strategic plan,” he says. “I think we have a better chance with this plan to get a lot of good out of it.”
West says he was especially impressed with the remote control devices given to stakeholders to rank potential strategies. “That was a fast way to get through a lot of material,” he says. “You get immediate feedback and that makes a real difference when you’re trying to hold people’s attention for several hours. “Building Communities never stopped engaging the audience. They did a pretty dynamic job of pulling us into meaningful conversations. They also showed us different routes to get things done beyond conventional means.”

West, a fourth-generation citizen of Springerville, says the plan represents an ambitious commitment to the town’s future. “But we know we can succeed because we have the dedication to match the fortitude of those who settled our community,” he says. “Springerville is a one-of-a-kind place in the Southwest. Now was the right time to come together and begin to move forward.”


©2017 Building Communities, Inc.