By BARRY BARBE, Across the Street Columnist

Rather than a tale of two cities, this is actually the tale of two different visions for downtown Prescott and how each may affect us all.

The first is the NoCo District, a collection of buildings located on North Cortez Street that has grown to include the Old Post Office on Goodwin Street and the Old County Bank Building at the corner of Willis and North Cortez. Additionally, the project includes the Raven Café, and the Arizona Historical Society on Marina Street. All are part of an organically growing project.

The other consists of two proposed hotels – one in the center of Whiskey Row, and the other that is planned for the corner of Goodwin and Cortez streets, an area previously occupied by City Hall.

The proposed project on Whiskey Row has been denied permits from the Prescott Historical Preservation Committee, and the latter is going through its round of review by the same committee.

I like aspects of all projects and feel that with some modifications on those located south of Gurley Street, all would be successful.

The question is, what is the most respectful approach when it comes to the long history of Prescott and responsible when it comes to being “Everybody’s Hometown.”

I have operated restaurants within a one-mile radius of my home for the past 26 years in downtown. I have never taken that opportunity for granted, nor the community we are a part of. I arrived early enough to witness the end of the Fourth of July Water Wars, converse with Sam Stieger, survive a couple recessions, the installation of the controversial planter boxes around the plaza, 9/11, the Indian Fire, and 2020.

Through it all, downtown has persevered. Gone is Soltz, the Plaza Café, the Penguin Bookstore, and the New Stand, along with the changing of multiple tavern signs.

While not “Mayberry” as it once was, downtown Prescott has remained largely unaffected by the growth that has taken place in other areas of Prescott.

But there have been changes, and the upcoming changes that are about to take place will alter the feel of downtown for generations.

The NoCo District has taken a responsible approach to rejuvenating an area of town, and their efforts deserve attention and appreciation as they strive to build a neighborhood offering services and experiences that locals will embrace and support.

The store fronts have remained the same, but inside, members of our community are connecting.

The major difference in the projects regardless of their size, height or facade is how they will alter our view of downtown.

One neighborhood looks to create opportunities for locals to network and meet, while the other is driven by our reputation as a convenient tourist destination.

One looks to offer opportunities to those that look to be part of our community allowing more of each dollar spent locally to remain in our community further fostering growth.

I am well aware as to the benefit derived from the influx of tourists that flock to Prescott year-round. My businesses have been a benefactor of this, and yet we have always maintained a strong commitment to our local community.

With our most recent projects we are directly focusing on those in our community. I believe we have reached the point where we miss the familiarity that comes from the local tavern, café or park.

There is a certain relaxation that comes over us when we walk into a restaurant, store or down the street, and we are recognized or cross paths with someone we know.

The City of Prescott is a business and, as such, it depends on tourists to spend their dollars and help fill the city coffers. The bed tax, sales tax and direct revenue created by visitors can not be denied and it is seemingly essential.

But is it? Here lies the conundrum and are there other means to maintaining the downtown experience?

We rely on tax revenue derived from outside sources. And we continue to spend money attracting that outside revenue. Along the way, perhaps, we missed opportunities that would have allowed the downtown experience to remain.

When the initial round of RFPs for the City Hall property was offered, I came out in support of a group of local developers with a long history in Prescott.

Their vision was a true multi-use community property that offered a modest amount of hotel rooms operated as a local boutique hotel in addition to long-term apartments. The concept also included locally operated restaurants and retail space that would allow for local entrepreneurs to set up shop. The concept would have allowed more of the revenue derived from this corner to remain local.

The current project will most certainly meet approval to proceed, and it will forever change the dynamics of downtown.

However, moving forward, there is opportunity to create spaces that Prescottonians, locals, will support.

The ‘Tis Art Gallery, The Burmeister Building, and the Elks Theatre are all perfect examples of local buildings that have been refurbished and revitalized while maintaining an element of history that have been embraced by locals. Beyond the plaza, there is The Founding Fathers Collective, Lazy G Brewery, and multiple other properties that are locally owned, locally operated, and undeniably local hangouts.

The entertainment district, which reaches well beyond Whiskey Row, offers an eclectic mix of opportunities for locals to frequent, support and, in turn, raise tax revenue. More dollars spent by locals staying local and supporting our community.

I recall attending a City Council meeting years ago where the late Elisabeth Ruffner implored the council members to actually read and act upon the multi-year General Plan that her committee had worked on for over a year, rather than leave it sit on a shelf collecting dust.

At this moment, I feel Elisabeth would be asking the City Council and the community to consider the decisions that are currently being made when it comes to the vision for downtown.

Are we being respectful of the past and history of Prescott? Are we being responsible when planning for future generations?

Barry Barbe owns the El Gato Azul and Torme restaurants in Prescott, and is the energy and insight behind the Prescott Palette. He also has a radio show, the Prescott Palette, on KQNA 1130 AM, Saturdays at noon. Email:

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