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Florence's Payton commits to play for IUPUI
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FLORENCE — Gophers standout Malik Payton has decided to continue his basketball career at a Division-I school in Indianapolis.

“I’ve been a kid with a dream of playing DI basketball for awhile now, and them giving me the opportunity, with a lot of other great opportunities, it was just a great spot for me,” Payton told PinalCentral.

After putting up some 1,400 career points for the Florence Gophers, Payton is looking forward to contributing to the Jaguars of Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, better known as IUPUI.

“They’ve had some shaky seasons. That’s due to obviously they’re going through a rebuilding process, getting new coaches and everything,” Payton said of the current status of the school’s men’s basketball program. “But I just feel like I can come in, I can work hard, and I can earn everything that I deserve.”

How well he fits in “depends on how hard I go in practice,” Payton said. “Obviously I talked to the coach and they said the harder I go in practice, the more minutes I’ll get. The harder I work and the more it shows, that’s how much playing time I’ll get, so we’ll see.”

What impressed him about the coaches was “pretty much just the straight-up honesty, telling me how it is and telling me that everything that I work for is what I’ll get, and that’s just something that really stood out to me.” Payton has also been in contact with a couple of Jaguars players.

Gophers coach David Silvas said, “I’m just very proud of Malik, he’s been working for this probably his whole life. I know his dad has been instrumental in helping him develop as a player. I know that he worked hard his senior year and after his basketball season at Florence High School ended, he’s working extremely hard competing.”

Payton, the 3A South Central region boys player of the year and PinalCentral’s boys county player of the year, now plays for Team Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a club team in Phoenix.

“From where I saw him as a freshman four years ago to where he became as a senior … just the quality of basketball that he puts out, the talent that he has, the hard work and determination that he has, I just couldn’t be more proud of him,” Silvas said.

Payton said he owes a lot to his father, Jerome, who’s supported him by “being on top of everything I’m doing, making sure that my grades are good, or making sure I’m getting into the gym to work. He’s definitely been a big motivator, and a lot of the things I do are for him.”

It will be Payton’s first time living in the Midwest.

“It’ll definitely be something new. A big change for sure,” he said. “But I mean, going to college is a time of growing up, and you have to accept that change sometimes.”

He plans to be a communications major.

He said he’ll also miss the Gophers.

“Probably all my friends and family, being able to see everybody every day, going to school with them all, just making those memories every day,” he said of what he’ll miss the most.

Freedom Fest 2021
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Forum highlights lagging amenities in San Tan Valley
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SAN TAN VALLEY — Residents here spend $900 million each year in other places, primarily Maricopa County where 80% of them work, Pinal County Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, told an audience of about 30 people with more watching online.

This community has grown over the last 20 years to an estimated 120,000 people, but the jobs, goods and services to make it sustainable continue to lag, attendees at an economic development town hall were told on June 29.

An attendee asked why no one is requiring developers to provide small retail areas. Danny Court, senior economist with Elliott D. Pollack & Company, said developers view San Tan Valley positively, but it’s “sort of a two-edged sword” with neighbor Queen Creek. Retail is finally coming to Queen Creek, but businesses see San Tan Valley as part of the same customer base.

Also, traditional brick-and-mortar retail is “a tough industry right now,” Court said. Rather than new store locations, retailers are investing in technology and distribution for online sales. For Pinal County that’s good because sales tax is collected on the home address, and online sales continue to grow.

But because of Queen Creek’s success, retailers are asking “Where else can we do this?” Court said. “I know they’re looking at San Tan Valley.” But the question is “Where is the site?” he said. Site selectors are under pressure to make every location “a stand-alone success,” and locations without high traffic and visibility won’t be chosen.

When San Tan Valley was the fastest-growing place in the country, the county’s retail impact fees were the highest in the state, attorney Jordan Rose said. At the time, retailers sought lower fees in Queen Creek. Then the market crashed and very little was built for 10 years, she said.

The Pinal Board of Supervisors approved lower impact fees a couple of years ago, but then the pandemic arrived. Goodman said The Home Depot was “ready to pull the trigger” and come to Hunt Highway and Gary Road before the pandemic.

More for youth

A woman said she has to take her grandchildren to Chandler or Gilbert for entertainment and asked “What are our teenagers doing?”

Goodman said San Tan Valley has a nonprofit youth sports organization with 4,000 children enrolled, but they have to play on Queen Creek fields. The county is working with a developer on a park system, he added.

The county is also working with school districts to improve their sports fields. “We see the need here, so we can make sure that the youth are taken care of,” Goodman said. He said he has five high schools in his supervisor district, but students are continuing their studies elsewhere. “We have a community college right here that is not being utilized to the fullest extent that it should be.”

Economist Jim Rounds added that education is essential to train workers to attract business. Continuing at the current pace, instead of improving it, will result in hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue every year, he said.

“If you don’t strengthen the ability to provide workforce, you’re not going to get retail, no matter what the developers say or anything else. Because you’re not going to have the jobs,” Rounds said.

“You’ll have low-cost housing because people are going to have to drive a long way to get jobs. You’re not going to have the amenities you want. You’re going to have to look at all of these things in a more holistic way. … But your policy-makers are all over this, and I think it’s going to improve,” Rounds said.


An attendee asked how much the community’s inability to incorporate a city government “is holding us back” from economic development. He also asked how much developers are responsible for thwarting incorporation. “We’ve been chasing our tails for the longest time and nothing happens.”

Rose said she didn’t know of any developers who are necessarily opposed to incorporation. She recommended that future incorporation efforts focus on the key parties needed for approval and be prepared for a time-consuming process.

“Forget all the noise, and get to the target. Who do you need? Period,” Rose said. Recent incorporation successes such as the town of Tusayan, and older examples like the city of Maricopa, can be good sources for advice, she said.

Goodman said the county is limited in the incentives it can offer for development, while a municipality has more flexibility. “Yes, it makes sense for this area to be incorporated,” he said.

Another attendee said the roads haven’t kept up with growth.

“Those issues are being addressed right now,” Goodman replied, including a forthcoming stoplight at Schnepf and Combs roads, and developers also have responsibilities to make improvements. “We’re spending almost $144 million on roads by the end of 2022.”

About 20,000 new homes have already been platted from Germann Road down to Arizona Farms Road, Goodman said.

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Florence council hears changes to upcoming grant program
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FLORENCE — Town staff have made several changes to help owners of old buildings take advantage of a proposed downtown commercial rehabilitation grant, the Town Council was told.

The council met July 1 to discuss the program, which will provide reimbursements of up to 75% for work that corrects life safety code violations and makes more buildings eligible for certificates of occupancy. The meeting was a non-voting work session and the council took no action.

John Wells, owner of a future coffee shop, asked if the program will help with more than just code violations and if projects already underway could qualify.

Florence Economic Development Director Elan Vallender said the town has expanded the eligible list of items, including air conditioning. Someone in the midst of repairs could also qualify for a grant, as long as they meet the program’s other requirements and they have an open building permit.

In response to public feedback, other changes include: only one bid required from a licensed contractor; new owners may reapply when building ownership changes during the grant process; and having a clearer grant process with a flowchart, timelines, sample documents and pre-application meetings.

Budget for the entire program is $250,000, using funds previously earmarked for downtown revitalization plus $50,000 from the town’s fire sprinkler program. The fire sprinkler program wouldn’t be funded for this fiscal year, but such work, if required by code, would be eligible under the new program.

The town will continue to offer a separate façade grant program. An applicant may apply for a façade grant from the Florence Industrial Development Authority concurrently with a commercial rehab grant through the Chamber of Commerce.

With a limit of $50,000 per building, if every applicant qualifies for the maximum grant, just five buildings will deplete the fund, some speakers noted. “There’s so many more,” Cindy Sills said. Town staff will make a list of traditional and non-traditional lending institutions to share with applicants who may have further funding needs.

Some on the council asked if reimbursing expenses 30 days after receipts are submitted is too long. Vallender said various complications can affect how quickly payment can be made, and the town is trying to “under-promise and over-deliver.”

Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes said 30 days is too long for someone who needs the money to pay a contractor. She said the contractor will move on to another job that will pay faster.

She also said the committee that will be deciding grant awards needs to have a majority of people that understand construction, construction costs and historic properties. Cordes said she’s looking for a level of expertise, “so we don’t mislead somebody.”

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce will administer the program, to get around restrictions on the town related to spending government funds on private properties and will earn 5% of the grant amount.

Mayor Tara Walter said new funding in the Arizona Heritage Fund “could be another blessing for our community.” Bonnie Bariola, secretary of the Florence Preservation Foundation, said Florence will be competing with others around the state for $1.5 million in Heritage Fund grants for historic preservation.

Cordes said business people can be justifiably suspicious of Florence’s new grant.

“If I had a business on Main Street, I would not call you to come into my building, because I would not want you to start dinging me with code violations. So how are we going to encourage a current building owner, a current business, to come in?”

Despite the program’s shortcomings, “As a community, this is one of the first times we felt that our concerns are being heard,” downtown business owner Michael Baca told the council. He thanked the council for making a start, and as he’s said many times before, “Florence can be the premier downtown in the state of Arizona, period.”