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Kip Culver: Caring for Downtown

Cities outgrew them long ago and towns have over looked them in a rush to attract box stores and strip malls. Yet memories of a time when the main streets of our childhood literally held the lifeblood in the community is one reason why nearly 30 years ago the National Trust for Historic Preservation developed a program to put the emphasis back on main street.

The Main Street Program was designed to retain that elusive quality lost in suburbia – community character – and bring back an economic framework which would reinstate main streets everywhere as a valuable player in a community’s future.

The Globe Main Street program began in 1986 when its’ eight-block commercial district was designated a historic district.

Today, Globes’ Main Street Program is one of just fifteen Main Street communities in Arizona.

Nationally, there are twelve thousand programs and their success in reviving local downtown districts can be seen in the numbers. Since 1980 there have been 199,519 buildings rehabilitated, 82,909 businesses added to aging downtown districts, and over $40-billion dollars invested in physical improvements through private and public sources.

Caring for Main Street

In the last four years, the local program has begun to rack up so many small successes that even to the uninitiated the Big Picture is taking shape and making itself felt by locals and visitors.

The force behind many of these improvements is a man with a quick smile and a knack for getting things done; native son, Kip Culver who took over the position as Main Street Director  in 2005, and today heads up both Main Street and the Center for the Arts. While his titles are grand, his compensation is not. Yet, that doesn’t stop him from pushing on with the work of preserving and promoting Globe’s downtown district.

Culver was born and raised in the area, attending both Globe and Miami schools. His grandfather was an engineer for the Southern Pacific railroad, and although college and work took him out of the area, he was never at odds with his home town.

“I never was one of those kids who just wanted to get out,” says Culver.

 In fact he kept trying to return to Globe.

The Cobre Valley Center for the Arts serves as an anchor to Globe's Historic District and the 8-block downtown business district. Globe, Arizona
The Cobre Valley Center for the Arts serves as an anchor to Globe’s Historic District and the 8-block downtown business district. Globe, Arizona

After getting a degree in broadcast journalism management, he landed a job in Los Angeles, where he interned for network giant, Entertainment Tonight and a worked in promotions for a local film company producing short films.  After finding it hard to eek out a living in LA, he returned to Phoenix where he eventually became a property manager and personal assistant for a family who had properties here and in Washington DC. He traveled with the family and it was during these cross country jaunts that he would discover many small communities and think of Globe.

“I’d see the potential in what they had done, and think of Globe,” he says.

Culver would go on to manage properties in Globe and Phoenix and oversee spec homes in Pine, Arizona. When his father’s health started to fail, Kip stepped in as principal caretaker and began spending more time in Globe while continuing to shuttle between three communities.

During this time he was asked to be co-director of the Arts Center by Frank Balaam, an artist who had held that position for several years. The position, which paid just $6-dollars an hour, was hardly a job anyone would clamor for; it required a passion for the mission – not the paycheck.  Culver agreed.

When Balaam left later that year to open an art gallery, Culver became full time director, with full time responsibilities. The position meant giving up his other jobs and his ‘real’ income while falling short of paying a living wage. It was a local downtown attorney, Tommy Thompson, who shared a passion for the downtown district and knew of Culver’s talents, who stepped in and gave him enough side work at his law firm to supplement what he received for running the arts center. Had it not been for this early assist in keeping Culver in town, the creative genius of this hometown boy may have been forced to find greener pastures.

As fortune would have it, another local program with more potential than paycheck – the Globe Main Street program- was in need of leadership. The program, which had been around since 1986, was struggling and the current director was stepping down from the part time position to pursue a career in nursing. The position – never well funded – had become a stop over for those needing a part time job before going on to real jobs. The meager budget provided by the city, left little room for doing much more than hosting the annual light parade and Halloween candy-night, or assisting local merchants in filling out paperwork for matching-grant funding available through the program. There was talk of closing the program in 2005 – but first they approached Culver and asked him if he would take the job.

Again, he said yes, but it meant giving up his side job with the law firm. Now he was a director of both the Arts Center and Main Street whose combined stipend amounts barely constituted a living wage. And it certainly didn’t include monies for making improvements or launching campaigns. None of that stopped Culver from doing just that.

He enlisted friends and volunteers to help him paint over graffiti and spruce up abandoned store fronts. He began to host the first of many fund raisers to support the Arts Center and he reached out to Arizona Eastern railroad executives to inquire about the old depot at the end of town. That conversation led to a meeting which led to a trial run with a passenger rail car in 2006. The railroad agreed to bring in a single engine rail car for a short line excursion, in exchange for having the Culver renovate the freight office which was located on railroad property. The idea was to use it as a ticket office, and if nothing came of the rail excursion, they would at least have an improved property.

With little outside funding, Culver enlisted a small (but passionate) group of volunteers to both renovate the freight office as well as operate the trial run that year.

Kip, on a lift, replacing/repairing the cornices on the old Freight Depot
Kip, on a lift, replacing/repairing the cornices on the old Freight Depot

By 2007, Culver’s work was paying off and visible for all to see. The trial run had evolved into a full-blown season with rolling stock. The Copper Spike Excursion Train took hold and put Globe on the map of tourist destinations. Culver’s talents also caught the eye of Miami officials by then, who wanted to hire Culver for double the salary he was making running the two programs for Globe.

It would take local historian, Donna Anderson, and others, to make the case to Globe city leaders that they should make Culver “a better offer – and soon” – to keep him working for Globe. The city leaders agreed and bettered Miami’s offer by five thousand dollars.  It was three times more than what Culver had been paid to date.

Under Culvers’ leadership the downtown district is buzzing with a renewed energy. He is proving what can be done with the resources at hand and a little imagination. In doing so, he has earned the respect of many and attracted a cadre of local volunteers who are willing to help him repaint store fronts, strip windows and floors, repair cornices, cover over graffiti, muck out old buildings and host fundraisers.

Renovations of the Art Center included painting the walls and ceiling

Just look at the buildings which he has taken under his care. After twenty-five years, the  old Gila County courthouse which has been home to the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts since the mid ’80s has a fresh coat of paint on the cornices which ring the building, except for the south side where rain and lack of equipment ran them off, and fresh paint job on the interior complete with a trompe le oile sky in the entryway, graphite ceilings and copper detailing to enhance the artwork of local artists which line the walls of the Center.

There is new electrical service to the building thanks to a grant from the Heritage Fund and many fund raising events put on by Kip and his loyal volunteer army. Their fundraising efforts managed to raise the $14,000 needed in matching grant monies.

The new electrical upgrade will allow the Center to add central heating and cooling to the third floor which houses the theater, and creates opportunities to put the upper floors into better use. Even an elevator is now a realistic goal for the Center. An important element when you consider how many senior citizens we have and how many community events take place on the third floor of the courthouse.

One of Globe’s founding churches, St. John’s Episcopal has a new roof thanks to a grant which Kip secured through the Heritage fund.  The church, whose coffers from a small, but loyal congregation was no match for the money it would take to repair a roof and save an icon of the community, is now is in a position to serve the community for another hundred years.

The freight office, and train depot serving Arizona Eastern, once aging buildings on their way to obsolescence, have become anchors to Globe’s downtown district and a vibrant hub of activity for both tourism and local gatherings. (See the TRAIN story for the full story on how these buildings were saved from obscurity on a wing and a prayer and lots of volunteer hours!)

The train depot, built in 1916 by Trost and Trost architects was later used as a laundromat for nearly 30 years, until Culver was able to take possession and restore it to historic grandeur.
The train depot, built in 1916 by Trost and Trost architects was later used as a laundromat for nearly 30 years, until Culver was able to take possession and restore it to historic grandeur.

The Globe Cafe, once on the verge of demolition was not only saved but restored to a multi-use building for the 21st century while retaining his historical charm. It is back on the tax roles, and is now an anchor for other development on the block, instead of being a liability.

The work done in the Old Jail, which now houses the Main Street office includes researching and showcasing famous local stories and memorabilia which continue to fascinate both locals and travelers when they stop. In fact, the jail has been converted from a hulking old building to one rich with history, ghosts and local lore which make it a favorite stop for visitors of all ages!


Culver says he remembers taking a ‘walk-about’ in June of 2005, when it was decided that yes, the Main Street program would remain. At the time there were some new faces in the group, including the Rooney family who is busy restoring the 12-bedroom boarding house on Sycamore.

“We did a walking tour of downtown to assess the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. And from that, it was a very home grown grassroots effort,” says Culver. “Since resources were still virtually non-existent, the question we asked ourselves is what CAN be done.”

Remember this was before the Pioneer Fire (July 2005) and so the group identified The Globe Cafe as an opportunity,  The Depot as worth asking about since up to that time it had been in tied up in a logger-jam of personal and professional interests involving an unmotivated user and long distance owner.

There was the center block of Main Street on the East side in which building fronts had been sheared off in the 50’s when ADOT widened the road. These buildings , unfortunately would forever more be considered by the State Historic Preservation Office to be too compromised for any matching grant monies for restoration – even though each contain punched tin ceilings and interior wood work reminiscent of the early 1900’s when they were all constructed.

Other buildings were crossed off the ‘Can Do’ list because of unmotivated property owners. These were areas where it was believed nothing was could be done. Instead members of the group continued to ask themselves where could they put energy and resources which would make a difference.

Culver says, the Globe Cafe was one area they felt that, with the right elements, could be saved.

The Freight Depot was once a rat infested storage facility - before being transformed into a ticket office for the fledgling Copper Spike Railway by Kip Culver and a small cadre of volunteers,
The Freight Depot was once a rat infested storage facility – before being transformed into a ticket office for the fledgling Copper Spike Railway by Kip Culver and a small cadre of volunteers,

The building at that time was set to be demolished. It was hanging on with only a prayer, with a large structural crack which ran through the entire back wall and threatened total destruction. Culver went to his friend and former employer, Tommy Thompson to see what could be done to save the building. The city of Globe was set to condemn the building and with demolition looming on the horizon, the out-of-town-owner was motivated to drop the price dramatically to get out of any further obligation on the building.  Thompson stepped in to rescue it from becoming another parking-lot-where-once-a-historic-building-stood, and contracted to have the back wall repaired.  Next, an investor was found who was interested in completely renovating it for a multi-use purpose. James Dowly and Jim Ohl recently completed this project and the building is now home to traveling medical personnel working in the area, and a future cafe.

As Kip admits, it was a combination of the right timing, a bit of serendipity, and of course a motivated seller and buyer.

But it helped that Culver was stirring the pot and making all the right connections.

Was the Globe Cafe a master plan for that block. No.

However, within a year the block had two other motivated new owners working on their own improvement project. Tracy Quick, purchased the old neighborhood bar, The Huddle. She stripped off the old smoke stained paneling, put in big flat screen tvs, added a patio out back, and new signage out front, and the place is now a hopping place to catch a beer with friends and watch the latest sports event.

Just a few blocks down, Sarah Bernstein opened a ‘signature women’s spoils store,’known as  Simply Sarahs. Located in the old Cubitto building, it transformed from an abandoned ‘old business’ into a bustling women’s shop attracting both local residents and travelers alike. This summer the store will be  featured in an Arizona Highways special on the area.

The challenge of Culver and other Main Street directors is finding a way to foster the kind of synergy involving motivated property owners, political leadership, funding sources and volunteer efforts required to make both immediate and long-lasting improvements to downtown districts.  When even one of these elements is missing, making real progress is almost impossible.

That is why is Culver’s accomplishments are noteworthy.  He consistently manages to put together the magic combination of people, resources and vision which enables progress to be made on several fronts.

Culver says he approaches projects by looking at whether or not it will create the hometown he would want to live in.

“It is not so much about attracting tourism and economic development,” he says, “but creating community and -you might say… hometown curb appeal.”

Turns out, those are also the things that bring tourism and economic development to town.

In the Nov 4th edition of the local  SilverBelt, there was an article on Main Street Director Kip Culver and what he has meant to the downtown district. It included nearly 20 testimonials from community leaders, residents and visitors who acknowledge Culver’s contribution to the on-going development/revitalization of our Historic Downtown District. This article is a re-print of one done last year in GlobeMiamiTimes and is posted here in order to include it in an archive with all posts on the revitalization of our Downtown District.

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