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Will selling land in a polygamous town create more business?

First Published      Last Updated Feb 15 2014 09:31 pm

Will the sale of a city block in a polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border spur economic development, or kill it?

Friday's hearing on the United Effort Plan Trust mostly dealt with Guy Timpson and whether he would be kicked out of the house he currently occupies. But a curious secondary question — and one that remains unanswered — is if the sale in Colorado City, Ariz., would drive more business away than it creates.

The idea is to sell the city block to Al Yarrish, who plans to open a hardware business in a long-vacant grocery store building. Yarrish told me after Friday's hearing that opening the store is a gamble because he doesn't know how the community will receive it; the town is mostly populated by members of the FLDS Church who tend to interact exclusively with members of their own faith.

Yarrish lives just down the road, but isn't FLDS and runs the risk of being rejected by the community. Still, he told me, he thinks the store will work out.

Bruce Wisan — who was appointed by a judge to manage the land in the area — agrees. In court documents, Wisan and his team argue that Yarrish's investment will bring in new commerce and be a positive addition to the community.

Which makes sense; since I've been covering this beat I've only seen a handful of other shops in Short Creek. The addition of a single store would therefore be a major injection of economic activity.

But not everyone thinks that's exactly what will happen.

Timpson argued Friday that when Yarrish buys the property the handful of other stores on the same block will leave. Those shops include a take-out pizza restaurant and a health food store, among other things.

Incidentally, last year I bought a giant bottle of fantastic Mexican Vanilla at one of these stores for only $8. Judging from the appearance of the employees, the stores are clearly run by members of a polygamous community. However, no one — Timpson, Yarrish or anyone else — seems to know for certain if the owners are actually FLDS.

In any case, Timpson said that having these stores close their doors would be a net loss to the community, even if a hardware store opens up.

For Yarrish's part, he went door to door asking the businesses to stick around and offering to work with them as their new landlord. Unfortunately, his efforts were rebuffed and they all plan to leave when he buys the land.

So it seems pretty clear what is going to happen; the only question is if that will result in a net economic gain or loss for the community.

One other relevant thing stood out from Friday's hearing: Judge Denise Lindberg is apparently unaware of these other businesses' existence. When Timpson mentioned them, Lindberg countered that they weren't actually operational. Her impression seemed to be that the buildings were entirely vacant. Timpson then replied that, no, actually, they aren't.

Based on everything I've seen and heard, Timpson is correct; there are several operational businesses in the block that's slated for sale.

— Jim Dalrymple II

Twitter: @jimmycdii