The English Village: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow
Lake Havasu City was founded in 1963, but this new community built on raw, vacant land in the middle of the California / Arizona desert never really gained traction until the London Bridge was bought and reassembled amidst tremendous international publicity in 1971. To welcome visitors and support the sale of residential lots, McCulloch Properties also built an open-air mall called the “English Village” on a vacant three-acre site on the northeast corner of the bridge, anchored by “Hog in Armor Pub” and “City of London Arms Restaurant.”
The English Village was not constructed as a permanent commercial center. The store fronts were more akin to what a Hollywood studio lot might look like, with ornate facades affixed to clapboard type construction behind them. Nevertheless, the concept won the affections of visitors and residents alike. New construction expanded the English theme to more permanent retail stores and the London Bridge Resort on the southeast corner of the bridge in later years, although the footprint for the English Village has always been north of the bridge.
The English Village was sold by McCulloch Properties after most of its residential lots were sold and the facility was unnecessary. A brief renaissance followed as local investors tried to recreate its atmosphere of family entertainment. The original pub and restaurant were expanded into a microbrewery and then a playhouse, but the cost to sustain the magic was simply too great and they folded. With additional competition from Laughlin, Nev. and other desert entertainment venues, the number of visitors to the venue began to decline.
The Village went through a series of different owners in the 1990s, each of whom tried to revitalize the area without success. As crowds once underwritten by McCulloch Properties-sponsored leases and entertainment all but vanished, the facility fell into disrepair. An effort to have the City purchase and redevelop it was launched in 2006, but the ballot initiative was voted down by local taxpayers. By the time the Great Recession leveled the U.S. economy in 2007, the English Village had become an eyesore losing more money than it was taking in.
What remained of the facility was foreclosed upon by the mortgage holder, Virtual Realty Enterprises (VRE), early in 2012. The occupancy rate had dropped to less than 35 percent. The loose collection of shops that remained to cater to visitors and local residents had abandoned the British theme. The Lake Havasu City Convention & Visitors Bureau, still operating a small Visitor Center at the location, stepped forward with a proposal to manage the English Village and help the new landlord clean up the mess that had been left behind.
Today: Recent History
Perhaps the biggest change in the English Village over the past three years has been the restoration of shopping options, leading to a 100 percent occupancy rate in all but the old theater which still remains closed. Ten of 15 commercial spaces have been leased to new tenants as follows: Beanie’s Coffee, Champion Rentals, Crazy Kangeroo’s T-Shirt, HavaSoap, London Bridge Shore Store Souvenirs, Party Barge Rentals, Queens Vacation Rentals & Sales (property rental and sales), Southwest Kayaks (Sales, Rentals and Stand-Up Paddleboards) and Sunset Charter & Tour Company.
The increase in occupancy was a direct result of numerous strategic improvements initiated and paid for by Virtual Realty Enterprises. They were accomplished during the lean years following the Great Recession when a financial institution with less of a social conscience and desire to be a good community steward may have done nothing at all. The revitalization has brought more people back to the English Village and include the following:
- Maintenance of the grounds, which had become dirty and untidy, was assumed by the Lake Havasu City CVB with daily cleanup, patrol of bathrooms twice each day and regular trimming and maintenance of trees and vegetation to make it attractive again.
- The parking lot was repaired and resurfaced; lines for parking vehicles were repainted; new signs were installed to clearly mark the entrance and exit; the parking fee collection station was removed; and parking fees were eliminated.
- The old London Bridge sign on Arizona Highway 95, which had become a faded eyesore, was restored by repairing the letters, taking off the old broken neon lights and repainting it. A new secondary panel for the Lake Havasu City Visitor Center was installed on October 20, 2014.
- The former “Hog in Armor Pub” and “City of London Arms Restaurant” were restored to make room for an impressive new, large-scale Visitor Center, including the Bill Spresser Art Gallery for rotating local art exhibitions, all operated by the Lake Havasu City CVB.
- All buildings within the Village were repainted to make the area is more appealing and eliminate the sense of fatigue and tiredness that had come to dominate the area.
- A new pump was installed in the bathroom holding tanks, and the bathrooms themselves were upgraded, to provide a clean, safe, sanitary environment free of odor.
- Existing lights were replaced and repaired, and new lights were added so the English Village is safer and more attractive to walk through at night.
- The original stage under the Bridge was reconstructed and all the property beneath the bridge, including the stage, was deeded to the City.
- Seven new shade trees and 10 new benches were added to the property to provide shade in the summer and restore part of the natural appeal from the past.
- The plumbing for water delivery in the Village was repaired or replaced so it is free of leaks; irrigation was restored with water available to all parts of the property.
- The fountain at the entrance to the Village was restored; water is now running in it again and the attractive display is lit at night.
- A new tenant sign has been placed at the entrance to make it easier for visitors to discover and find local shops.
- The iron gate and fence at the entrance were restored to provide a much more attractive entrance to the facility.
- Flags from several nations were replaced at the entrance and on the former theater to help recreate the sense of pageantry and international community.
- The drainage system for landscaping and sidewalks was repaired to better direct runoff during the rare incidents of rainfall throughout the year.
The increase in occupancy was a direct result of numerous strategic improvements initiated and paid for by Virtual Realty Enterprises (VRE). Improvements included building and fountain renovation, new landscaping, bathroom upgrades, new signage, upgraded lighting, parking lot repair/resurfacing, and the addition of an art allery where the former Hog in Armor Pub once was. Additionally, the original stage under the London Bridge was reconstructed and all the property beneath the Bridge, including the stage, was deeded to the City.
The state of the economy has been the single most important factor to delay redevelopment of the English Village. Over the past few years VRE sought to improve the property to its highest economic potential by constructing a multi-level underground parking deck, three residential condominium towers, an expanded marina and a more upscale complement of shops and dining options. Only limited interest was expressed by potential funding partners.
The company has since explored the idea of scaling back its plans by introducing an upscale hotel brand and smaller condominiums units. The central corridor of the English Village, which has been upgraded and improved to conventional building codes and includes the Lake Havasu City Visitor Center, would remain largely intact. Like their earlier redevelopment concepts, however, future actions will likely be dictated by a development partner.
“It’s not to say we won’t do something on our own,” said Bill Spresser, a VRE representative recently quoted in the local paper, Today’s News-Herald, “but we’re open to having a partner if it helps us get it done faster. We think the (English Village) has some tremendous potential so we want to make sure we do it right.”