Three years ago, the city of Winslow had the air knocked out of its sails.
During a roof-tarring job on Oct. 18, 2004, a fire started and swept through the historic J.C. Penney Rasco Building on Second Street downtown.
The fire collapsed the building, but the east wall still stood, complete with a mural by trompe l'oeil artist John Pugh, which provides the backdrop for the famous Standin' on the Corner park.
The park, visited by thousands of tourists each year, immortalizes the lyrics from the 1970s rock song "Take It Easy," written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey and made famous by the Eagles.
The dedication of the park on Sept. 10, 1999, marked the beginning of a revitalization effort to bring visitors and money to downtown Winslow.
Several years later, The Seattle Grind coffee house and gallery went in, providing a hub for tourist visitation.
"It was very much on an upswing when that building burned," said Allan Affeldt, mayor of Winslow since November 2005. "That hurt everything downtown."
After the fire, the upscale coffee house remained, but the trendy Gallery 107 across the street from the fire scene went under.
"When the corner burned down, it was just an eyesore in the center of town," Affeldt said. "That's our main tourist intersection. The people who used to go stand on the corner, suddenly it was just a big pile of rubble; it sort of lost its appeal."
RISING FROM ASHES
This was not the first time Winslow saw its momentum slowed.
Originally envisioned as the most important town in northern Arizona by Sante Fe railroad magnates, Winslow, located 50 miles east of Flagstaff, became a dying town on the Mother Road when it was bypassed in 1974 by Interstate 40.
"It just went to sleep and lost its way," Affeldt said. "But, now we're bringing it back."
Dan Lutzick, a sculptor and long-time friend of Affeldt, is also working hard to center improve downtown Winslow. His Snowdrift Art Space opened in 2006 on Second Street, which is actually old Route 66.
"Things changed," he said. "Only in the last 10 years, people have started to get off I-40 to come into Winslow. Everyone wanted to find Route 66. People started to drive farther. We studied traffic patterns and found 10,000 cars a day drive down Second Street. They're trying to find this history."
Affeldt and others in the community hope things are changing.
By September, an asbestos-cleanup project was finished in time for the annual festival at the corner: (see related story.)
"We're very pleased about that, and that's certainly how to revitalize downtown," Affeldt said. "It's the same thing Flagstaff went through 15 years ago. We're just a little bit behind."
The mayor said Winslow put in about $250,000 to buy the property at Standin' on the Corner, buttress the east wall and ready the foundation. That amount also paid for the engineering and architectural plans for the new, $1 million plaza projected to rise from the ashes.
Affeldt, 48, knows a thing or two about hopeless causes reborn.
Ten years ago, when he and his wife Tina Mion, a renowned oil painter, moved to Winslow, they bought the fading La Posada, an historic Fred Harvey hotel built in 1929, designed by American architect Mary Colter. They started a full restoration in April 1997 and have spent a reported $11 million.
The 72,000-square-foot main hotel building has since become an international draw for the town, regularly bringing in at least 100,000 people annually.
A WINSLOW RENAISSANCE
Today, all indications point to a Winslow Renaissance.
"Downtown Winslow was a classic Route 66 town. Business and shopping — that was the heart of Winslow," Affeldt said. "When the Interstate came, downtown was abandoned. So, the renaissance is literally the rebirth of downtown Winslow."
In addition to the proposed plaza project, which Affeldt said will need a "funding stream" like a bar and restaurant tax, plans are in the works later in the winter for a Phase 2 "streetscaping" of downtown Second and Third streets — upgrading intersections, curbs, sidewalks, sewer lines, street lamps and signage.
"As long as we're tearing up the roads, we'll repave," Affeldt said. "Until the 1950s, Winslow was bigger than Flagstaff. There's decades of deferred maintenance."
A Phase One project, which built a big park next to the railroad tracks on First Street, has already been completed.
"There are two major historic landmarks in downtown Winslow: La Posada on the east end and the Hubbell Trading Post on the west end, so that part links La Posada and the Hubbell," he said.
The Lorenzo Hubbell Trading Post, which was a satellite to the post in Ganado, is being restored and will house the Winslow Chamber of Commerce and a Native American museum.
Phases 1 and 2 each received $500,000 grants from the Arizona Department of Transportation, matched by "turn-back" money when ADOT paid the city to take over the maintenance of the downtown area.
A Phase 3 project will improve the west entrance to town.
"We're trying to leverage our money to get as much improvement in as short a period of time as possible," hte mayor said. "By next winter, the second and third phases will be done." A proposal for Phase 4 will see improvements to the east entrance to town.
A NEW LOGO
The city of approximately 10,500 people has a new winged logo to dramatize its dreams for the future — "Winslow, Arizona: A city in motion."
"The logo came out about a year ago, at the onset of our grabbing our bootstraps and saying, 'We need to start feeling it here,'" said Bob Hall, director of the Winslow Chamber of Commerce. "What are we? The answer was, a city in motion."
The town also has a new 32-page relocation booklet, in which Hall describes Winslow as, "timeless today, in touch with its past, in tune with its present, and right on target for its future."
The biggest single employer remains the state women's prison, followed by the railroad. Fueling the revitalization is the new Wal-Mart Supercenter on the east side of town and very competitive housing prices.
"People are moving to Winslow because the land is cheap," Hall said. "They're selling homes in California, Phoenix, Flagstaff for $400,000 or $500,00 and coming here and building their dream home, not a tract house, because they can afford the land and the taxes, and it's a great place to raise kids."
The median price of an older home is around $100,000, with newer homes selling for about $200,000, Affeldt said.
A number of multi-unit developments are being planned for outer areas of Winslow, including a 1,000-acre project just to the west of the Wal-Mart.
"These things are going to add several thousand people to Winslow in the next couple of years," the mayor said. "State projections show Winslow will double in size by 2015, because we have water and cheap land and good infrastructure."
Reporter Betsey Bruner can be reached at 556-2255 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.