Revival in progress in English Village
The English Village is making a comeback, according to area business owners.
The English Village was once the closest thing in Arizona to a boardwalk atmosphere. Home to a carousel, a wide variety of shops, a shooting gallery, a movie theater, grassy fields and restaurants, the Lake Havasu City landmark was once even host to a hedge maze. The venue fell into disrepair more than a decade ago, but after the arrival of new property owners and recent renovations, the English Village is once again beginning to see an increasing number of visitors.
Lake Havasu Visitors Center Director Jan Kassies began as a volunteer at the location in 2004, shortly after moving to Havasu. Back then, the Visitors Center comprised a shack of less than 150 square feet, which now rests on the edge of the current center’s property. Kassies remembered watching the English Village beginning to wither around him.
“There were trees and grass back then,” Kassies said. “You could see the English Village was a little dated, but it looked nice. They had irrigation until one of the lines broke, and there was a leak. The property owners said they would fix it, but they never did. The trees and the grass died. Two years later, everything was closed – the Visitors Center was the only thing that remained open.”
By 2006, many of the venue’s business-renters left, and rental costs increased. According to Kassies, visitors were known to throw their garbage into the fountain at the mouth of the English Village, which had long since run dry. Lake Havasu City officials moved to purchase the English Village in 2006, but a ballot initiative to do so was struck down by Havasu voters.
When former English Village owners Reid Homes went bankrupt in 2012, the property was foreclosed upon by St. Louis-based Virtual Realty Enterprises.
“Virtual Realty Enterprises wanted to do something with the property,” Kassies said. “Everything looked bad. A few years ago VRE decided to try and keep everything up. They added all new pavers, they painted all of the buildings, built new street lights … the parking lot construction isn’t finished, but when the new hotel is built, the parking lot can be completed.”
Havasu’s newest hotel project, Holiday Inn Express, is a pilot project by VRE to ascertain the marketability of a hotel in the English Village Area. If the Holiday Inn is successful, VRE officials have said, other hotels may come to the area as well.
“They’ve done a great job,” Kassies said. “They’ve put a lot of money into making this place perfect again. It doesn’t look like it did in the 1980s, but there are trees again. I think it looks better than ever, and I’ve seen a lot of improvement through the years.”
Cinda Anderton has owned her English Village business, Havasoap, for five years. A sign next to her door reads, “Soap Shop” in languages including French, Spanish, Deutsch and Chinese, accommodating a growing number of the English Village’s international visitors. According to Anderton, the English Village is an ideal place in which to do business.
“It’s a dream,” Anderton said. “Look at my view! No shop in town has a better view of the London Bridge. There’s a lot of visitors, a lot of foot traffic … it’s gone from a really sad state of disrepair to just … a lot of money has gone into it. VRE has been very responsive about helping renters, and a lot of customers say they’re amazed at how the English Village has come alive. The renovations really boosted my business – I would have gone under, and those renovations are part of the reason my business survived.”
Megan Neal worked in a booth at Sunset Charter & Tour Company. From her vantage point, she can see nearly to the mouth of the Village, and a row of businesses throughout.
“I’ve watched them redo all of it,” Neal said. “It’s beautiful again. People are coming down here again. Everything’s repainted, the pavers are in … I see walkers every morning, and I hear them say they’re really impressed with how everything’s looking beautiful again. I still see the locals come down, taking graduation photos at a local landmark. I’m excited to see it.”