Page: From landlocked island to state treasure
The City of Page is essentially a remote, landlocked island. The Colorado River, Glenn Canyon, Lake Powell and the otherworldly landscapes make Page a world-class vacation destination for those in the know.
Until recently, even fellow Arizonans had never heard of Page. For political movers and shakers in Phoenix, Page is an asterisk, some little town barely within Arizona’s borders. That is, unless these movers and shakers have experienced Page. Then the city of roughly 7,500 people becomes much more than a small, inconsequential dot on a map.
Thanks to continued efforts by city officials, council members and the city’s Chamber of Commerce, that’s changing. While increased marketing has contributed a Page’s lifeblood – tourism – perhaps more important for long-term stability is networking and word-of-mouth.
The Chronicle spoke to three participants at last week’s League of Arizona Cities and Towns (LACT) Annual Conference, each with a different perspective and focus related to their roles in the Page community. Page Mayor Bill Diak’s has the broadest role, covering all aspects of maintaining and improving his city. Judy Franz, executive director of Page Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce, is chiefly concerned with helping local businesses prosper. Page Economic Development Coordinator Gregg Martinez focused on increased tourism. The common thread for all three is the benefit of networking and enticing other city leaders to visit Page, which, in turn, increases word-of-mouth activity.
“Arizona League of Cities and Towns is an organization that is made up of all the communities within the state,” Diak said. “All 91 cities and towns in the state belong to the organization. And it's a networking organization that allows us an opportunity to communicate with one another and look at best practices, what's going on in other cities. You can be as involved as you want. We've become more involved over the years because we’re so isolated that if we’re not connected to the rest of the state and learn what's going on, we're missing the boat. So we've been very proactive in League of Cities and Towns [for] many, many years.”
Diak said Page has always belonged to LACT, but participation ebbs and flows depending on presiding mayor, council and city manager priorities.
“We've been very involved for probably the last, I'm going to say, 10-12 years,” Diak said.
This year, Tucson hosted the annual LACT conference. In addition to Diak, Franz and Martinez, attendees included Vice Mayor John Kocjan, Counselor David Auge, City Manager Darren Coldwell, City Clerk Kim Larson, Deputy City Clerk Sue Kennedy, and Information Technology Director Kane Scott. The four-day event held dozens of concurrent information sessions covering a wide variety of topics, everything from affordable housing to Arizona’s energy and water future. Each participant could choose the curricular path most relevant to their jobs and interests.
Anyone who attends Page City Council meetings knows Diak’s regular mayor’s report usually includes state legislation updates if they affect Page. The most significant part of the LACT conference for Diak is the Resolutions Committee meeting. LACT is not only an education and networking organization but also lobbying group working on behalf of Arizona cities at the state capital. Every year, resolutions to present to state legislatures are vetted by policy committees and narrowed down for a final vote, then ratified.
“The mayors of all communities are invited to sit at a table,” Diak said. “Prior to this event, over the last few months, we've had several different subcommittees talking about the issues that are bothersome or of interest to all cities and towns within the state. Those topics are vetted and then they come before the Resolutions Committee, and they vote and discuss those items and whether or not to move them forward. And those are the items that we would take to our state legislators at this next cycle for discussion and possible bills and action on policy.”
This year, three of the eight final resolutions were about short-term rentals and giving cities more control to counter their negative consequences. Another that could be significant for Page is BFED 2: “pursue legislation to allow cities and towns to authorize a temporary property reclassification for redevelopment projects that create new housing units.” The presentation noted that in 2012, 85% of homes in the Phoenix metropolitan area were considered affordable for families with a median income; by 2022, it plummeted to 22%. “This suggests a widening gap between income levels showing how median-income families are increasingly priced out of the housing market.”
Another issue the resolution hopes to address is available property. At some point, cities reach their build-out capacity, meaning there is nowhere left to build affordable housing. As buildable property becomes increasingly scarce, “the focus will have to shift to redeveloping infrastructure in certain locations such as underutilized shopping centers and areas oversaturated with retail uses and chronic vacancies,” according to presenter Micah Miranda, Chandler economic development director. Page is seeing this now with commercial properties repurposed to residential housing. The idea of converting hotels into apartments is also gaining traction in Page. State legislation can reduce some of the hurdles cities face meeting their housing needs.
While the lobbying power of LACT can’t help a city’s unique problems, like Page’s water infrastructure, it can help with shared problems, like housing and more control over short-term rentals.
“We lobby with one another,” Diak said. “So our voice is stronger and louder.”
Tourism keeps Page alive
“A community like Page, it cannot survive without its tourism,” Diak said. “We have no property sales tax in the city of Page. So everything is based on that sales tax revenue. That runs our cities, paves our streets, keeps our lights on, keeps water in the pipes. Something has to pay for that. So it is our sales tax. Well, we're lucky enough, that as a tourism community, we have a lot of extra sales tax revenue that helps us support that because with just the citizens in Page we could not support the type of infrastructure that we need.”
Judy Franz knows the significance of tourism on local businesses. It’s her job as chamber director. She’s proud of Page’s representation at the LACT conference. It was hit with other city representatives.
“So the city had the number one spot; we had the number one swag, and so people were coming through [with] a lot of questions,” Franz said.
“People ask about the town; they want to know more about Page. We had rack cards there; we had a ton of swag that was very popular. Plus, we had the green screen so people could superimpose themselves and be at the Wave, be at Antelope Slot Canyon, be at Horseshoe Bend. So that's always a very popular thing. We have other cities and towns that do the same thing, but the line for us was incredible to get to our booth. It was all wrapped around trying to get up to it.
“Senator Mark Kelly came through, got his picture taken there in the green room. So it was fun. That's one of my fun parts of that. We had a lot of positive about Page, also very positive about Lake Powell.
“I just feel like we need to always make sure that we're heard and that's my goal is to go down, network with people, make sure that people know we're here and also glean off anything I can that's going to help the small businesses. So I listen, I put my ear to the ground for what's going to affect a small business.”
Like Diak, Franz is also interested in state legislation, how it might affect local businesses and what the future might look like.
“So there's always one session that they do called ‘Reading the Tea Leaves,’” Franz said. “And so it’s pundits out there that actually kind of give us an overview of what's happening state, what's happening federally, what's happening with any of our voter stuff, what's coming up for the election, state and federally what they're looking at. And so that was discussed. That's my favorite, I think, because it does kind of tell you what direction the state of Arizona might be going in, and I think that's important.”
Gregg Martinez, like many city employees in a small city, wears a lot of hats. Naturally, as economic development coordinator in a tourist town, the tourism hat is well broken-in.
“It’s a year-round organization that assists cities and towns in questions about land use, legal issues, personnel, all things that have to do with running a city,” Martinez said, speaking of the LACT conference. “So what they do is they'll bring in some experts from different states or even a different country at one point, and they'll talk to us about the things that are most relevant to our communities, which is housing, water, water infrastructure, grants that are coming up. And they give you a full kind of buffet of what you want to choose and learn.”
Page’s networking with other cities and towns is brightening that little dot on the map near the Utah border.
“When I was there in 2019, there were still a lot of Phoenicians or a lot of people from Arizona – they're like, ‘Oh, Page. Where is Page?’ Whereas now, that is definitely not the case,” Martinez said. “I think the continuity that we've had within City Hall has really given us a leg up of being recognizable and approachable, and now we can network with other communities in a way that we haven't before.”
One of the key advantages of networking with other Arizona cities, is borrowing successful ideas to use in Page. Martinez gives an example: “We're trying to start a Youth Advisory Council with City Council, where we're going to ask some of the youth to form a mock city council for themselves. They can learn about Robert's Rules. They can learn about the city’s happenings. And we don't have any of that information. Because we've extended our network, I can call a town like Avondale, who has a good one, and say, ‘Hey, it's Greg from the league. Do you happen to have anything with Youth Advisory Council that you can share with us?’ ‘Of course.’”
Overall, it’s clear those who made the trip to Tucson for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns Annual Conference came back inspired and with more tools to nurture Page’s progress and stability into the future.