with Ralph Swain, writer for The Loop
I have seen a lot of change…ups and downs…over the years while
living most of my life in Coolidge. Now in my third non-consecutive term as
mayor of the City of Coolidge, I can report that I am optimistic about the
economic future of this small community.
I use the term “small” lightly because Coolidge is at its highest
population since it was incorporated in 1945, just short of 12,000 residents.
Yet, the city has seen more prosperous times back in the 1950s and ‘60s
when the town’s population was around five-thousand. Things were still
buzzing when it held steady at around 8,000 persons for the two decades
between 1980 and 2000. Most of the storefronts along Main Street, Coolidge and Central Avenues, and
Arizona Boulevard were filled. There were two movie theaters, a drive-in
theater, and we had an over-the-air popular music radio station, KCKY. Back
then the station had a couple of hosts, Lee Hazelwood and Waylon Jennings,
who soon after went on to successful singing and producing careers. On
Saturday nights, Hazelwood featured local guitarist Duane Eddy and a house
1and. KCKY continues to broadcast today primarily Spanish-language
Christian programming on 1150 AM.
Back then, Highway 87 was the main road between Tucson and
greater Phoenix. When the I-10 freeway caused north-south traffic to bypass
Coolidge in the 1970s, local businesses began to wane, while Casa Grande
reaped the benefits of both I-10 and I-8. Additionally, the mechanization of
agriculture here in the valley helped reduce the population of those working
in the cotton fields.
I came to Coolidge when I was four years old and followed my
grandparents who built a grocery store in 1952. After high school I attended
ASU and returned to Coolidge in 1970. From 1973 to 1976 I served on the
school board and had the pleasure of participating in the approval of the
construction of the Coolidge Performing Arts Center on the campus of our
high school. I was elected to the Coolidge City Council in 1986 and opened
the IGA supermarket two years later, the same year I was appointed mayor
for my first term.
At the height of the recent Great Recession, our unemployment rate
shot upwards of 18% but that has moderated to around 13 or 14 percent.
That’s still too high but my optimism about the economic future of Coolidge
rests with some recent developments. Stinger Welding, manufacturers of
fabricated structural metal products for buildings and bridges worldwide, is
undergoing a large expansion project just off U.S. 87 across from their main
facility. In our own industrial park in Coolidge, Bright International is also
expanding operations. Bright manufactures hair care products for the
national and world market.
Our membership in the Central Arizona Regional Economic
Development Foundation (CAREDF), along with the cities of Eloy and Casa
Grande is a big plus. The purpose of this non-profit corporation is to
improve and promote the economies of Casa Grande, Coolidge, Eloy and
Pinal County through job creation and is heavily involved in the development
of the Phoenix Mart.
In the public sector, Coolidge’s Public Library and the city Recreation
Department are flourishing with heavy participation by patrons. It is my
hope that we can also attract area residents to our impressive 930-seat
Performing Arts Center. This beautiful facility, which includes an orchestra
pit, a full fly system and dual catwalks, was built in 1977 by the same
architectural firm that built the Herberger Theatre in Phoenix. It remained
unused for several decades but, fortunately, the Coolidge Unified School
District judiciously maintained the building until it re-opened two years ago.
It has to become a destination venue in order for it to flourish and many
wonderful performances by local, regional, and national artists have been
and continue to be scheduled.
Our housing rehabilitation program was re-started in 2005 and since
then, with the financial assistance of HUD and the Arizona Department of
Housing, we have completed major reconstruction of 40 homes and
substantial renovation to 36 more. Our Growth Management department
continues to utilize volunteers from the schools and the community to
rehabilitate the frontages of property along Arizona Boulevard, our busiest
Finally, the latest promising news affecting Coolidge is the recently
announced land sale of 11,400 acres by the City of Mesa to an investment
group in Scottsdale. The reason this sale is vitally significant for Coolidge is
the fact that among the 86 parcels are properties along Coolidge’s south
side, currently being used for agriculture. This land runs along the proposed
corridor for a north-south artery that would connect Mesa/Apache Junction to
I-10 near Eloy. Our Growth Development office is currently working on a
master plan for the property with the buyers.
So, all the above is why I remain optimistic about the economic future
of Coolidge. On occasion it takes going through some hard times and a little
pain in order to make adjustments to the volatile periods a community
experiences. With good blessings, careful planning, hard work and a dash of
luck we will find economic success.
Editor's Note: Mayor Shope has decided not to seek re-election to the Coolidge City Council but will be one the fall ballot for Justice of the Peace for the Coolidge/Florence District.