The view outside my office window in the Library and Community Center faces north by northeast. I see where Main Street travels north from Town Hall until it winds into an eastern bent, ending at Pinal Parkway.
Along this route, Main Street borders a large, empty lot that piqued my imagination. What an ideal location for gift shops, restaurants, a sports bar and perhaps even a movie theater and motel.
I’ve lived my entire 65 years in Arizona and vividly remember what Chandler, Gilbert, Queen Creek and Higley resembled not long ago. Desert, dirt and tumbleweeds dominated those landscapes. Now, those places have endless dining, shopping, entertainment outlets and increased job opportunities. I don’t know how that development occurred. I know how it started, though. Someone dreamed or shared a vision of what the community could look like.
I moved to Prescott Valley in 1991 from Chandler. While I cherished the move north, my family and I traveled into Prescott or north Phoenix for new clothes, nice restaurants or movie theaters. Eventually, Prescott Valley began economic growth and now boasts an entertainment district and the Findlay Toyota Center, home of the Northern Arizona Suns, a minor league team for the Phoenix Suns. The arena hosts numerous concerts, state high school athletic events and trade shows. It is located where barren land and gophers lived not long ago.
When I became parks and recreation director in 2001, several improvements began to shape the town. However, our parks were woefully behind. One popular outdoor basketball court sat in a parking lot. Whoever shot baskets had to watch for vehicles leaving or entering the lot. There were no lighted ballfields. Before I left Prescott Valley Parks and Recreation, I was able to light four ballfields, build a skate park, build a lighted basketball court within a park and saw the beginning of a new park that our parks supervisor and I designed. Vision, dreams and beliefs of what could be started those items on the road to completion.
I recall my early days in Chandler when the population was about 20,000 in 1978. When I left in 1991, that grew to 95,000 people. Our department did its best to keep pace with the growing population and its demands for improved and new facilities. However, I credit one individual who shaped a new look and future for Chandler: Mayor Jerry Brooks. Mayor Brooks served on the council from 1982 to ’84 and mayor from 1984 to ’88. Mayor Brooks was a man of vision with great dreams and plans for Chandler. He was criticized by many citizens, though, who bemoaned the money to build wide streets with bike lanes, new park development and arts and culture facilities.
Today’s Chandler leaders quickly credit Mayor Brooks for the existence of the Chandler Center for the Arts. What I admired about Mayor Brooks was his determination and foresight to believe what Chandler could be. Those wide, paved streets initially led to nowhere. If you’ve been in Chandler, picture an unpaved Ray Road west of Alma School, as far as one could see. Some folks thought the mayor went off the deep end with tax dollars, paving roads to “nowhere.” How wrong they were.
Of course, Mayor Brooks wasn’t the only reason for Chandler’s economic growth and improved entertainment and leisure opportunities. The construction of the Intel facility on Williams Field Road, now called Chandler Boulevard, was a catalyst to change and improvements.
Back to Florence: This is a fine community with passionate residents and dedicated employees. I predict within five years, if not sooner, Florence will see the beginning of facilities commonly seen in neighboring communities.