The Phoenix Trolley Museum is facing relocation to a different city that could spell the end of the Grand Avenue Rail Project.
The goal of GARP is to restore a trolley line, both as a useable form of transportation and as a public attraction, in Phoenix and make it a “Point of Pride,” according to the project’s website. It aims to revitalize the downtown area as a whole and diversify public transportation.
The community members and activists behind GARP have been pushing to be included in the city’s plans to create a retail hub on Grand Avenue for years. Now, the Phoenix Trolley Museum has been offered the chance to relocate to a different city, which doesn’t bode well for the future of the project.
“It would be a shame to move the museum from the city where it has operated for so many years,” said Ernest Workman, president of the Phoenix Trolley Museum. “This new area is looking to provide a home for the two trolleys we have, and from what we know, they have a nice location and a good rapport with the city of Phoenix.”
Workman said the museum’s current location, Hance Park, hasn’t been good for business.
“It would make more sense to move it to Lower Grand, where it could serve a purpose,” he said.
Ken Clark, a Phoenix real-estate agent, said the project is necessary to improve the entire Phoenix area.
“Home values will increase because they will become a target for renovation and resale,” Clark said. “With this entire project, we will revitalize that community and increase business.”
The trolley also holds a special significance to property owners on Grand Avenue, Workman said.
“The Grand Avenue Merchants Association sees the museum and accompanying streetcar track as an economic-development and retail-growth magnet,” he said.
Bob Graham, an architect and the owner of Motley Design Group, has been involved with GARP since day one. He said the project is essentially an economic tool and a way to bring urban vibrancy to downtown.
GARP needs $10 million in funding to move the museum to Grand Avenue and begin the process of restoring the trolley, Clark said.
Although the $10 million may seem like a steep price tag, Workman said the cost could be absorbed by the project itself through the trolley’s fares and the rebuilding of retail space.
Clark said the project needs backing from the city and funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA selected Phoenix, specifically the Lower Grand Avenue area, as part of its Greening America’s Capitals project in 2011.
“The city asked for assistance to improve the Lower Grand Avenue streetscape, making it more environmentally, pedestrian-, and bicycle-friendly while also maintaining the neighborhood’s artistic character,” the EPA project’s website says.
Clark and Workman said GARP made a presentation to the city in hopes that it could be included in the final development plans for the EPA grant.
According to Workman, the response from the city was relatively positive. However, the most recent development plans do not show GARP as part of the Lower Grand Avenue revitalization.
“If we knew where the resistance was coming from, we could apply some solutions and figure out why it is not supported,” Workman said.
Although Workman would not disclose the name of the city that could become the museum’s new home, he said he hopes for the best.
“I see someday a modern streetcar that could run up and down the Grand Avenue line,” he said.
Lyssa Hall, a landscape architect with the city of Phoenix, said the city is still analyzing options for the final development plans to effectively utilize grant money while taking public input into account.
“Neighbors can stop by and let us know what their needs are,” she said. “About 100 Phoenix residents have participated in these workshop sessions we provided and given us their input on the plans.”
By the end of the summer, the final project will be brought in front of the City Council and then released to the public, Hall said.
If GARP is not included in these final plans, it will have all but sealed the fate for both GARP and the museum, Workman said.
“At this time and because of the complexity of GARP, it is best to keep it as a project separate from the EPA’s efforts,” Hall said. “It could be accommodated in the future, but we still see it as a separate project.”
Clark said the prospect of restoring the trolley line is an opportunity too good for the city to pass up.
“If they don’t have the museum, then Grand cannot be revitalized,” he said. “We have this opportunity to operate it with very little cost. If they go somewhere else, the project will not get done, and Grand will stay largely the way it is today.”
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