FLORENCE — Strategies for drawing more residents, visitors and businesses to the downtown area are part of Florence’s pending Redevelopment Plan update.

The draft plan includes four main priorities, with associated goals, strategies and land use goals to promote a vibrant and resilient Redevelopment Area. It updates the town’s 2009 Redevelopment Plan. The Town Council could consider approval in early spring.

The plan’s four key priorities are:

  • History — Encouraging new and redevelopment of existing historic assets for their preservation and conservation.
  • Identity — Establishing the Redevelopment Area with a recognizable streetscape and design that results in quality development and consistent design, and provides a setting for events and activities that attract visitors and enrich the downtown economy.
  • Economy — Attracting diverse economic activities appropriate to the character of the area.
  • Community — Connecting residents and businesses who advocate for the Redevelopment Area.

The Redevelopment Area includes a wide area on both sides of North and South Main Street, plus 170 or so acres south of the Gila River in the town’s North End Framework Vision Plan. An area just south of the Redevelopment Area along State Route 287 is included in the plan as a “Gateway District.”

“We think destination tourism is a real opportunity for the Redevelopment Area. Florence is one of the few really historic Western downtowns,” consultant Leslie Dornfeld told Florence’s Historic District Advisory Commission on Dec. 30. She suggested the town look for ways to collaborate with other authentic Western towns such as Wickenburg and Tombstone to promote Arizona as a Southwest historical resource, and “the kinds of things people want to come to see, which are cowboys.

“We think it’s important that the downtown gets branded, creating a logo for it. You need street signs, and you have done some of this.” There must also be signs on Interstate 10 and nearby state highways touting the historic downtown Florence business district.

“People just need to know it’s there, and even if they know it’s there, they need to be reminded,” Dornfeld said.

As workers are drawn to the future Lucid and Nikola auto plants and other employers, some could choose to live in Florence if the town has housing options that are competitively priced and hard to find in the surrounding area, the plan says.

“We want to make sure that all new development is appropriate to its context, that’s why we have the design guidelines, and you also have the historic townsite guidelines,” Dornfeld told the historic commission.

Revitalizing the town’s historic buildings and conserving the historic character of Main Street is a key plan component, according to the written plan. To read the plan, visit the town website at florenceaz.gov and click on “Redevelopment Plan Update” in the middle of the home page.

Among the findings in the written plan:

  • The Redevelopment Area accounts for 6% of the town’s non-prison population. Overall town population increased 42% between 2000 and 2019, while population in the Redevelopment Area declined very slightly over the same period.
  • The town and the Redevelopment Area have a larger share of population without a high school diploma or college degree as compared to Pinal County and the “trade area” (surrounding area up to 45 minutes away by car). Florence has a high percentage of Millennial-aged residents (ages 20-39) compared to the county and the trade area. Florence’s median age is 37.1.
  • Florence experiences retail “leakage” (residents spending money out-of-town) in all categories except for food and beverage and restaurants/bars. At an average of $300 sales per square foot, the leakage categories reflect demand for approximately 100,000 additional square feet of retail uses within Florence. Some of this demand could be met in the Redevelopment Area, including sporting goods (connected to the Gila River and bicycling), and Western-themed hobby, book and music stores.
  • Home values in the Redevelopment Area are low relative to the town, Pinal County and the trade area. The 2019 Redevelopment Area median home value is $86,170, which is 59% lower than Florence at $208,546. The median home value in Florence is 4% higher than in Pinal County ($199,633), but 26% lower than the median home value in the trade area ($280,871). Mobile homes account for nearly 30% of the housing stock in Florence, compared to 19% in Pinal County and 17.5% in the trade area.
  • About 72% of the land in the Redevelopment Area is owned by government and public entities. Of the 101 acres of non-publicly owned parcels, 33% are residential, 42% are commercial/religious and 13% are vacant.
  • Casa Grande Ruins National Monument attracts over 65,000 visitors annually. In 2018, over 100,000 people visited Biosphere 2 in Oracle. The Windmill Winery is busy most weekends hosting weddings and large events. Country Thunder, which is held 5 miles outside the Redevelopment Area, attracts a daily attendance totaling 140,000 people over four days.

Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.