By Alex Markels, US News & World Report
Sepetember 20, 2007
Wilson and her husband, Jack, 66, had been plotting their escape from Chicago for years, hoping to avoid its frigid winters and hot, humid summers. “I didn’t want to deal with extreme weather anymore,” says Elizabeth, 68.
Of course, when the Wilsons first arrived at the Phoenix airport, the weather was extreme, about 120 degrees extreme. But as Jack made the two-hour drive north to Prescott, the temperature soon dropped into the 80s as the Sonoran Desert gave way to scrubby chaparral, then to the cool ponderosa-pine-scented forests that surround the town at an elevation of 5,400 feet. After a day wandering along streets filled with boutiques, open-air bistros, and hundreds of Victorian-era buildings, there was no doubt. “Prescott [sounds like ‘press kit’] was exactly what we were looking for,” Jack says.
Set in a high valley smack in the middle of the 1.25 million-acre Prescott National Forest, the once sleepy outpost’s popularity among both retirees and younger Californians in search of less pricey digs has more than tripled the town’s population to about 40,000 over the past decade.
Of course, Prescott isn’t for everyone. Despite the clean mountain air, its mile-high elevation doesn’t agree with those with serious heart or lung conditions. And those who need quick access to an airport have just three daily flights from Prescott’s tiny Love Field on a 19-seat prop plane.
And while longtime residents are thankful for the economic boost retirees like the Wilsons have added—especially a doubling of the median home price to about $317,500 since 1997—Jack grumbles about a growth spurt that has brought new housing developments and a 500,000-square-foot mall to the area.
So two years ago, he and Elizabeth helped organize a group pushing sustainable growth. And after winning a landslide vote to change the city’s charter and rein in development, Jack decided to run for mayor. “I guess I’m an unsuccessful retiree,” he says of his election last week.
Not that Prescott is a bad place to be a working stiff. The digital economy has brought so many lone-wolf types to town that the downtown coffee shops are packed with folks plugging away on their laptops and BlackBerrys. Two thirds of residents are college educated, and with a median age of 46, “there’s a lot of people who plan to retire here but are still active in their careers,” says Jack of the influx of new residents. Lucky for him, “because I don’t plan on working [as mayor] forever,” he adds.