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THANKS TO BOOM IN DEVELOPMENT, AM.F. FEELING LIKE ECONOMIC HUB

SHARE THANKS TO BOOM IN DEVELOPMENT, AM.F. FEELING LIKE ECONOMIC HUB

Plans are in the works for new places to eat, sleep and shop in American Fork.

An economic development boom is helping the city live up to its slogan as the "hub of north Utah County." City officials recently reviewed site plans for a diner, two hotels with restaurants and a shopping center.Except for the diner, all of the new projects will be built on the city's west side near the I-15 exit at 500 East. While city officials welcome the tax revenue and job opportunities new business creates, some fear that a proposed giant Wal-Mart store will take money from downtown merchants.

"I'm tickled that it's coming to us even with the controversy over Wal-Mart," Mayor Jess Green said.

What's coming?

- Embassy Suites has plans to build a four-story, 160-room hotel west of the new Automall, another of American Fork's economic plums that opened this summer. There are also plans to construct a restaurant next to the hotel.

- Quality Inn & Suites wants to build a 101-room motel and restaurant in the Utah Valley Business Park.

- Wal-Mart unveiled plans last week to build a 109,000-square-foot store in the business park directly behind Ernst Home & Nur-sery.

- Murray-based Slaymaker Restaurant Group is proposing to build a 2,700 square-foot restaurant called Winger's near 645 E. State Road. Slaymaker also is a franchisee for Tony Roma's and Friday's restaurants in three Western states.

Although there were two motels and a hotel in American Fork years ago, travelers started passing them by. And several restaurants have come and gone to the area now dominated by fast-food establishments.

But residents' tastes are changing. Green said the new businesses indicate that the city is "growing up to the point we need those facilities."

American Fork is the county's third-largest collector of sales tax, which provides about one-third of its general fund budget. Even so, city administrator Carl T. Wanlass worried that American Fork's percentage of increase in sales-tax dollars wasn't as great as neighboring cities. More sales tax revenue can spell property tax relief.

Wanlass budgeted money to hire a full-time economic development director to go out and sell American Fork. The latest growth spurt, however, suggests the city can do without one.

"It appears to be happening anyway because we're in a prime location," Green said. "Commercial development seems to feed on itself. The more you get, the more will come."

Wal-Mart is the only project of the four that has drawn criticism. Councilman Kent Walker, who serves on the American Fork Planning Commission, voted against the chain's site plan because he believes it could take business away from locally owned downtown hardware or clothing stores.

American Fork Chamber of Commerce executive director Pennie Hansen said she's excited about the new businesses, but downtown deserves some attention.

"There's nothing there," she said. "We need to get something downtown to compete with the outside edges of the city."

Green said he prefers Wal-Mart in the business park because it's better than the alternative: Lehi. The store had another site picked out just over the city limits, making it convenient for American Fork residents but leaving sales-tax revenue just out of the city's reach.

Because the business park is part of a city redevelopment area, some of the taxes for Wal-Mart and Quality Inn are earmarked for infrastructure. But Green said that helps rather than hurts taxpayers. "What it does is focus money on things needed for the community," he said.