Frontier Character, Historic Neighborhoods and a Gentle Climate are Just a Few Reasons Why Retirees Come to Pretty Prescott, Arizona
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Prescott (population 43,000) got its start as a rowdy, hardscrabble mining camp in the early-1800s and in 1864 was named the territorial capital of Arizona. It has held onto its frontier heritage, giving it an Old West flavor that is alive and well today. Part of a four-city area, along with Prescott Valley, Dewey-Humbolt and Chino Valley, it sits at 5,400 feet above sea level in the Bradshaw Mountains in the central part of the state. Positive word has spread about Prescott, and its population has grown by 4% within the last decade. Many of the newcomers to this once remote vacation getaway are retirees seeking a high quality of life in a pretty region with a mild climate.
In fact, 55% of the population is age 45 or better. The majority of residents are conservative, and 35% of them have at least a four year college degree. The cost of living is 15% above the national average, and the crime rate meets the national average. The city has some racial diversity.
In its early days, Prescott, called "Preskitt" by the locals, brimmed with elegant architecture, including Greek Revival, Octagon and Queen Anne building styles, as lavish homes were built by miners who had become overnight millionaires. Today, more than 800 commercial buildings and residences are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to these historic homes, newer styles include Mediterranean, Craftsman, bungalow, mountain chalets, A-frames and ranch ramblers. Many are mountain properties surrounded by pine trees, scrub oak and chaparral. Condos and town homes are in good supply. The median home price is $375,000. Seasonal rentals, both condos and houses, are plentiful because Prescott attracts large numbers of "snowbirds" and vacationers.
Arizona is somewhat friendly when it comes to retirement. Social Security is not taxed, and military, civil service and Arizona government pensions are exempt up to $2,500. However, IRAs, 401(K)s and private pensions are taxed at the ordinary income rate of 2.5% to 4.5%. Out of state pensions are taxed, too. Some homeowners, depending on age and income, may also have the valuation of their primary residence frozen at its full cash value for three years. The annual taxes on a $375,000 residence are roughly $2,900. Sales taxes are high. The state sales tax is 5.6%; city sales tax is 2.75% and the county sales tax is .75% for a combined total of 9.1% sales tax. Groceries, however, are not taxed.
Several museums, including the open air, living history Sharlot Hall Museum, built around the site of the first territorial governor's mansion, are dedicated to preserving Prescott's frontier heritage. This appreciation of its past and protection of its historic buildings are reasons why many residents love living in Prescott.
The centerpiece of Prescott's fun downtown is Courthouse Plaza, a green, touristy oasis under the shade of giant elms and surrounded by museums, restaurants, antique stores, ice cream shops, the 1905 Elks Opera House and historic accommodations, including the 1927 Hassayampa Inn. Nearby Whiskey Row, an early day saloon neighborhood and a survivor of the 1900 fire, is today a fashionable block with boutiques, cafes and galleries.
Not to be missed is the Palace Restaurant and Saloon, Arizona's oldest bar and eatery, with wooden floors, a tin ceiling and the original quarter sawn oak and cherry bar. This section of town hums with residents and tourists alike and is the site of outdoor concerts.
And while the city does not have a lot of nightlife, it has some casinos, a few dinner theaters and plenty of festivals and events, such as the World's Oldest Rodeo (started in 1888), the Arizona Shakespeare Festival (which travels to various towns), the Cowboy Poets Gathering and the Prescott Bluegrass Festival. Shopping is not world-class, but Prescott Gateway Mall, enclosed and on the way to Prescott Valley, has a good selection of national retailers.
Prescott is also a great place for outdoor lovers. There are six golf courses, and with Prescott National Forest right next door, more than 450 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails are a short drive away. Five nearby lakes provide for an abundance of fishing and boating. The back road trip up to the ghost town of Crown King is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, as is touring Prescott's handful of up and coming wineries.
Non-profit Yavapai Regional Medical Center (135 beds) is the primary health care facility and has high tech imagery services, a 24/7 emergency unit, an ICU unit, wellness programs and inpatient and outpatient surgical services. It is award-winning for excellence in pulmonary care, general surgery, joint replacement and overall patient safety. While it is not accredited by the Joint Commission, it is certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). In Arizona, the Arizona Department of Health Services administers CMS standards. Official surveys show that 76% of patients would recommend Yavapai Regional Medical Center to a friend. For military retirees, Prescott has a VA hospital.
The Adult Center of Prescott is a private, non-profit group that provides a broad range of recreational, educational and social activities for Prescott's older adults. Activities and programs include game groups, a cribbage league, yoga, tai chi, a singles group, fitness classes, dances, vision screenings, Medicare counseling, legal assistance and much more. Annual dues are $65, and there are some additional fees. Volunteers to help with various programs are welcome. Meals on Wheels is based in the same building as the Adult Center.
Thanks to its elevation, Prescott does not suffer through the kind of heat experienced in, say, Yuma or Phoenix. Summer temperatures reach into the low-90s but cool off into the 50s at night. Winters are mild with temperatures in the 40s and 50s, but nights can get chilly, with temperatures dipping into the 20s. On average, the area receives 19 inches of rain and 24 inches of snow each year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Prescott is above the national average. The sun shines 277 days of the year.
Prescott has a lot going for it, but it has some drawbacks, too. It struggles with traffic congestion (there are just a few roads in and out of town), and it can become especially crowded on winter weekends when out-of-state tourists come to visit and on summer weekends when Arizona residents from hotter cities come to cool off. Water is always a concern in this part of the country, but in 2004 Prescott co-purchased land - the Big Chino Water Ranch - on top of one of Arizona's largest aquifers. Water restrictions are in place and if the water supply is properly managed, it should be stable for years to come. Some people consider Prescott overpriced, overbuilt and overdone (and undone by development), while others enjoy it just the way it is.
In some ways, with its mountain setting, mining history and cooler climate, Prescott feels as if it is in Colorado or Utah rather than in Arizona. And although it is not perfect, it is a pleasant, pretty place to live. Its cowboy character, sense of history, gentle climate, dry air, interesting architecture and good senior programs outweigh its drawbacks. Most residents say that Prescott is a great place to retire.
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