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11/19/2013 10:56:00 AM
Ride over for zipline attraction in downtown Williams
Williams city council members vote not to renew contract with Route 66 Zipline owners after one tourist season
Logan Checketts asks the Williams City Council to renew the attraction’s contract with the city for one more year. Marissa Freireich/WGCN
Logan Checketts asks the Williams City Council to renew the attraction’s contract with the city for one more year. Marissa Freireich/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

The Route 66 Zipline's first tourist season in Williams turned out to be its last, after Williams City Council members nixed the company's bid for another season at their Nov. 14 meeting.

The council voted 4-2 to decline the renewal of the lease agreement between the city and Zip Adventures LLC. Vice Mayor Don Dent and councilmen Jim Wurgler, Frank McNelly and Lee Payne voted to decline the renewal. Councilmen Bernie Hiemenz and Craig Fritsinger, in favor of keeping the zipline, voted against declining the renewal.

Council members approved Zip Adventures' original proposal for the installation of two Soaring Eagle zipline rides at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Grand Canyon Boulevard at their April 25 meeting by a 4-3 vote. At that meeting Wurgler voted in favor of the zipline, and Mayor John Moore broke the tie by also supporting the zipline.

The term of the original contract goes through Dec. 31. Zip Adventures requested that the city renew the lease for an additional one tourist season term with the existing conditions.

Under the original agreement, the city received a one-time payment of $25,000, plus 18 percent of gross revenue after the $25,000 share was reached.

Revenues from the zipline's first season "only slightly exceeded the $25,000 deposit," according to City Manager Brandon Buchanan's staff report to the mayor and council.

In its original proposal, Zip Adventures projected the city would make about $271,000 per season.

However, because the zipline generated some revenue, as well as publicity and tourism interest, Buchanan recommended approval of the lease extension, saying "the positives outweigh the perceived negatives."

Before the vote, McNelly asked Logan Checketts of Zip Adventures why he thought the ride did not meet the company's expectations.

With the zipline opening June 12, Checketts said the company missed the beginning of the tourist season. He added that he expected more tourists passing through Williams on their way to the Grand Canyon to ride the zipline.

In addition, Checketts said the monsoon season was a major factor.

"We did not fully appreciate how severe some of those storms are and how consistent it was," he said.

The company planned to improve its marketing for the zipline's second season, including using print media, social media and roadside billboards to attract riders.

"We're not saying we have a total grip on it yet but we've got good plans going forward," Checketts said.

Zip Adventures' lease renewal request to the city presented the possibility of relocating one of the two zipline rides during the next year because one ride had met the existing demand.

Dent said he was concerned about this possibility since one of the ziplines broke down on the Fourth of July, which was a busy weekend. If the city had only had one zipline ride at that time, he said the city would not have made any money.

Checketts responded by saying the zipline was only busy enough to require both rides about four to five days during the season and that the issues that caused the ride to break down had been addressed.

John Holst, the vice chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission and owner of the Red Garter Bed and Bakery on Railroad Avenue, told the council that the possibility of the zipline was never discussed with the community and he found out about it "when it was a done deal."

"I think we're way out of whack here as far as a truly well looked at element that impacts the downtown in our community," Holst said. "I think we need to have a discussion about that first before we talk about renewing this."

At that point, Wurgler, who had made the motion to accept Zip Adventures' proposal in April, made a motion to decline renewal of the lease.

Dent asked, "Is your motion just to not even discuss it anymore and not take it to Planning and Zoning or is your motion to not approve it now and then take it through the process?"

Wurgler responded, "My motion is to not approve it now and to have it removed."

Dent seconded the motion, saying he agreed with Holst.

"I voted against this in the first place because I was concerned about the use of the parking lot, I was concerned about the use that it was in the historic district," he said. "I would not be opposed to at least going through the process and having the discussion with the community about whether we want it there or not."

However the motion passed without calling for any discussion.

After the meeting, Wurgler said his opinion changed from his original vote in April because the zipline was not what he had imagined.

"It turned out to be way more of a carnival ride than I had anticipated and it was in the wrong place," he said. "My concept of a zipline is the ones that you see sort of advertised where you're up in a tree or you're going to be doing a zipline across a canyon or something of that nature and I still could entertain something like that."

Officials with Zip Adventures said after the meeting that the outcome of the vote was unexpected.

"With the effort we put out to make it themed for them and run such a good operation we're a little surprised," said owner Jerry Gregersen.

Mark Andrews, another owner, agreed.

"We spent thousands and thousands of dollars to blend in with the community to be part of the historical theme," he said. "I guess we're just disappointed that we had a great opportunity to bring a huge influx of people into Williams."

Gregersen said the company would move the ride before the tourist season starts.

"We're targeting the Grand Canyon with it," he said. "So if Williams doesn't want it maybe another tourist Grand Canyon town will want it."

In other council news, members postponed the vote on whether to adopt the city's general plan until their Dec. 12 meeting.

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

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, November 30, 2013
Article comment by: Ann Miller

If only they would have listened to the people in the beginning. Zip lines belong in the forest, not a parking lot. Greed is and was a big waste of money, time and effort.

Posted: Friday, November 29, 2013
Article comment by: Sally Smith

Poor location. Who wants to ride a zip line over a parking lot? It could have attracted many more riders if located on a pretty hill or mountain side. Rather than shutting down completely they should consider moving to a more attractive setting on the outskirts of Williams.

Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2013
Article comment by: There R Better Ways

Wurgler is right. The zipline creates a carny town flavor and is an overall negative for the community. It cheapens the town. If you've ever been to the Wisconsin Dells you know what I mean about cheap, carny town.

Posted: Friday, November 22, 2013
Article comment by: Daniel Jacoby

I read the news with great disappointment. What is the message sent to new business prospects? "We will give you 6 months to make us a quarter million, or you'll loose your lease?" Zip Adventures wasn't even given a full tourist season to meet it's goals not to mention an unusually brutal monsoon season. They worked hard and invested considerable amount of money to "blend" in and help the community. They had planned a advertisement campaign that would have benefitted the town. I'm concerned prospective investors will review this case and decide Williams is not a business-friendly town and go elsewhere. Times are tough and we need more activities in this town to attract our beloved visitors. If we fail to attract more business and visitors times will get worse and we will see more empty store fronts. Unless the goal is to become "Williams - Arizona's Newest Ghost Town" we should have given Zip Adventures another FULL season before kicking them out of town.

Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2013
Article comment by: Ron Paully

While it wasn't my cup of tea. The loss of a business and any tax revenue is a bad thing for Williams in my book.

Posted: Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Article comment by: OUTOFTOUCH WILLIAMS

Without the zipline, how much revenue do those two parking lots generate? Bad call city council

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