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3/4/2014 9:51:00 AM
Zipline gets second chance in Williams
Williams Council approves special use permit for no more than two years at current location
The Route 66 Zipline in downtown Williams will stay at its existing location after the Williams City Council approved a special use permit for no more than two years. Ryan Williams/WGCN
The Route 66 Zipline in downtown Williams will stay at its existing location after the Williams City Council approved a special use permit for no more than two years. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - The Route 66 Zipline will stay in its current location downtown for no more than two years, after the Williams City Council reached a compromise with the owner of the attraction at its Feb. 27 meeting.

After hearing comments from the public in front of a standing room only crowd, council members asked zipline owner Logan Checketts several questions before reaching their decision.

Councilman Frank McNelly asked if the zipline company would be willing to obtain a surety bond to pay for removing the zipline equipment and repairing the parking lot in case the company were to become insolvent. Checketts said he was willing to look into it.

Checketts told the council he believed the company could bring in $100,000 next year, even with relocating one of the rides, which he said was necessary after misjudging the demand in Williams.

"It'd be like a business that needs one office building but instead of just having one $300,000 office building, they've purchased another that they might need for two or three days out of the year," he said. "So rather than spending $300,000 on it they've spent $600,000 on it. And obviously it makes business sense to do the one building and it's the same for the zipline for us."

Councilman Don Dent said the ride didn't belong in the historic district and that the city never intended to lease the parking lot.

"A lot of the businesses that are here tonight to support you wouldn't be successful if that historic district hadn't been preserved the way it has been," he said. "The city spent 20 years getting those parking lots so that we had enough parking when we did get crowds we had a place where they could park."

Checketts said that while his current location at Grand Canyon Boulevard and Railroad Avenue is the best one for the zipline, he would be willing to look at other locations.

Councilman Lee Payne said the attraction needed to have a time limit for staying in its current location.

"At what point are we taking advantage, in my mind, of a special use permit where we're just kind of fudging it to become long term?" he said.

Payne said while he had voted against the zipline twice, he was willing to consider a compromise if the permit included a time limit. With the high price of rent in the historic downtown area, Payne added that he didn't think $25,000 was enough of a minimum payment to the city.

"I'd like to see us have maybe a number like $50,000 for the rent for the year and not to exceed two years," he said. "I think that's plenty of time to look for another spot."

Payne added that he wanted the white lettering to be removed from the high poles and the surety bond to be in place.

City Attorney Kellie Peterson said the council could only approve the time limit for the special use permit at the meeting.

"You're crossing over here between the lease that's negotiated with the city and the special use permit," she said. "The special use permit is, can it be there? The terms of the lease are something that need to be negotiated as a separate matter, because you're acting here both as the city approving a special use permit and the landowner."

The renegotiated lease, which could potentially include the rest of Payne's terms if Checketts accepts them, will come before the council March 6.

The unanimous approval of the two-year special use permit elicited applause from the audience.

Public hearing

Before the vote, Checketts told the council in the past two days, he had received two calls from out of state tourists planning to visit the attraction.

"I think that's typical of a lot of people that are coming to the Grand Canyon, coming to Route 66," he said. "I think the zipline's a great attraction for them that really adds to their vacations."

Checketts added that he had a marketing plan for the zipline going forward.

"I just want to express to you that we put a lot of dedication into Williams and we're dedicated to making the business go well and work," he said.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, seven people spoke-four in favor of allowing the zipline to stay and three who opposed the zipline in its current location.

Daniel Watt, an owner of South Rims Wine and Beer Garage, said businesses like the zipline bring in money to the city.

"It's a new business, his non-recurring costs are done, it's behind him, his operating costs are going to be much lower, hopefully a marketing plan is in place," he said. "I know how difficult it is to do business in this town."

Watt added that his grandchildren loved riding the zipline.

Dennis Nelson said he knew how much time and effort was put into the construction of the Babbitt-Polson Stage in the Visitor Center parking lot because he was involved in the project.

"...That was a mere pittance compared to what a lot of other well-intentioned business people had done around town in the historic district with the understanding that they were complying with the rules and doing the right thing to maintain the historic look of downtown Williams," he said. "Having said that, I don't think there's anything you can do with the zipline to make it consistent with the look of what a historic district should be."

Nelson said the council's decision would affect the appearance of downtown Williams years into the future.

He added that the city should take steps to make sure the zipline company would be responsible for removing the equipment and repairing the parking lot when the attraction moves.

Dan La Paglia, one of the owners of Canyon View Realty located across the street from the attraction, agreed that the zipline did not belong in the historic district.

"We dotted every 'I' and we crossed every 'T' down to the very last in order to comply with what this community and the founders of this community state a historical district should look like," he said. "I don't think (the zipline) at all complies with what the intentions of that are."

La Paglia also said that the zipline reduced the amount of available parking downtown, played loud music that was disruptive to his business, distracted drivers and was a liability during thunderstorms. He added that the zipline owners were cooperative in addressing his concerns.

Sean Casey, the CEO of Bearizona, said historically attractions were what saved Williams and what draw people to stay in town.

"I don't like booting a new attraction that put a half million or more in here in one year," he said. "They took a huge chance. ...I actually see them as a 100,000 person a year business."

Casey said the council's vote would be a pivotal decision.

"We just need to all work together, we need to be visionaries, we need to make our own decisions and do what's right."

John Holst, owner of the Red Garter Bed and Bakery across the street from the zipline, said the historic district is what drew attractions like the Grand Canyon Railway into town, and that the zipline did not belong there.

"It is definitely an impact on the image, on the scene, on the character of the historic downtown," he said, adding that he has worked for 30 years to preserve the district.

Holst said he thought the Historic Preservation Commission made the right decision in voting against the zipline.

"If you're going to have standards, you need to keep to them as best you can," he said.

Holst proposed compromising to allow the zipline to stay in its current location for a fixed amount of time to allow the company to recover some of its costs before moving it to another location.

Thomas Ross, owner of I-40 Fleet Services, said the Planning and Zoning commission, as well as many community members, supported the zipline.

He added that more attractions would benefit the town by making people stay longer and walk around a larger area of town.

"We have one attraction that's come into this town and now we're showing them the door," he said. "I just think it's the wrong thing to do."

Bobby Patricca, a former train car attendant on the Grand Canyon Railway, said Williams does not have a lot for children to do. However, when the zipline started going up, Patricca said he saw kids' eyes light up.

"I saw enthusiasm in the younger visitors to this town that I didn't see before, because there wasn't really anything there that younger people-kids, teenagers-would look at and go, 'Wow, that looks like fun,'" he said, adding that the kids probably went home and told their friends about the attraction.

After the meeting, Checketts expressed his thanks to the city of Williams in an email.

"The community support has been out of this world amazing," he said. "With all the opinions in this world, to have over 90 percent of people in favor of the business and then to have the city council's unanimous vote is just unreal. It's near impossible to get any better support than that."

Related Stories:
• Williams zipline gives 23,000 rides in 2014

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, April 4, 2014
Article comment by: Williams Resident

Personally I think it is ugly and why over a parking lot... But it is bringing in some money and we need all the help we can get for our water situation. The roads can wait but the water cannot.
Why do the residents always blame the city council and the chamber?? At least somebody tried with this zipline.
Who elects these people serving in these positions?? Surprise!! the residents do So all the residents that don't like the way things are done by the council and chamber, put on your big boy pants and run for these positions...problem solved.
Too bad it isn't that simple. Wake up Williams residents, we need to work together.

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014
Article comment by: Rita Martinez-Hughes

I think it has nothing to do with Williams and the residence. It has everything to do with the council and the chamber. Have you taken a close look at the roads lately?

Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Article comment by: Ron Pauly

The town looks pretty dead. Im glad they get to stay. Make the ride longer.

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Article comment by: J S

as a recent addition to this town I find it obsurd how out of touch so many people (business owners) are here. Good luck

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Article comment by: John Conner

It looks like some palms have been greased on this one.

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Article comment by: Bud Smith

Well, I think it stink? The whole thing is an eyesore and has nothing to do with with a western town. Who wants to look at a parking lot for 12 dollars anyway? Take it away!

Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Article comment by: Keith's Wilmot

I have to admit that some of the comments have been silly. 90% of the town is not supportive of the zip line and to say that is crazy. It is not an attraction for kids - not at 12 bucks a shot. This is a one time deal for a limited number of tourists. Let's really see if this outfit makes any money and will actually repair the damage they made to the parking areas. Let's also see how the council uses the lease income. Lots of ifs about this whole ugly deal.

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