Sierra Vista City Council member Mark Rodriguez said the “B” word and to our knowledge hasn’t been tarred, feathered and sent packing out of town.
Just a few years ago if a city official mentioned the “B” word, we could not have promised the same fate. It was the word that set emotions ablaze, triggered passion over common sense and put an end to hopes that Sierra Vista’s West End would ever be anything more than the oldest and most decrepit part of the community.
The statement by Rodriguez at last week’s council meeting is evidence that the “B” word has been replaced by the “H” word, that being hope.
Last week our city representatives voted unanimously to allow expansion of the redevelopment area for the West End project, boosting the number of properties that are part of the effort to 162 and increasing the amount of acreage in which public investment will make significant improvements to 111.
We don’t blame Matt McLachlan, city development director, if he is smiling. Five years ago McLachlan’s ambitious plan to capture available state funding and funnel it into the redevelopment project almost cost him his head in the court of public opinion. McLachlan gathered “stakeholders,” landlords, property owners and anyone with an interest in the future of Sierra Vista’s West End together for a grand presentation of what was possible.
Then he mentioned the “B” word.
It sparked outrage among prideful “West Enders” and prompted a local real estate agent to proclaim that designation of the properties — necessary to qualify for state funding — would have catastrophic, long term, economic ramifications. It would lower property values, create a stigma among potential buyers and ruin the city’s future.
We could almost hear the Red Queen in “Through the Looking-Glass” screaming “Off with his head!”
When the dust settled and a few faithful followers who shared McLachlan’s vision remained, the work began.
First, 23 acres were designated for public investment. The next year, another 29 acres. Today, the project is well on its way to a success story, with federal funding paying most of the costs for the renovation of Fry Boulevard west of Carmichael and other improvements contributing to the overall uplifting of neighborhoods and properties in this area of town.
It wasn’t long ago that Sierra Vista police and the Sheriff’s Department were continuously being called out for serious situations, often involving gun play, on the city’s West End. It wasn’t long ago that fires, often sparked by the criminally-minded homeless, erupted in abandoned trailers and threatened lives and property in the neighborhood.
Gradually, that narrative is changing.
We now have an historic, well-kept cemetery marking the burial plots of the city’s forefathers on the West End. We have Len Roberts Park, a beautiful, grassy venue where children play free of concerns. We have Cyr Center Park where youth soccer teams enjoy competitive adventures on state-of-the-art artificial grass, under bright lights in the evening hours.
And that’s just the beginning.
As Councilman Rodriguez said last week, there remain a few “blighted” areas and there is still work to be done. Overall, as he noted, the West End is a great place, and it’s getting better.