Working the trenches to achieve a dream is no foreign concept to new Moab resident Evelee Hill.
A real estate agent turned developer, Hill could be found in the trenches behind Poplar Place last week, her blonde head bobbing about in a maze of ditches freshly dug in the literal groundbreaking of a retail mall she intends to build.A striking contrast amid the open landscape and heavy machinery, Hill was wearing white shoes and sweat pants with a pale pink top and matching sweat band beneath her bangs, apparently paying no heed to the staining qualities of Moab's moist red soil.
She busily clambered in and out of the trenches the day the digging began, a measuring tape in one hand and a clipboard in the other, jotting down figures here, consulting with workers there, clearly intending to have a hand in the project's development from the ground up.
Despite her obvious preoccupation, Hill seemed happy to stop at the approach of strangers and the resident curious, to explain her project in detail over and over again, and accept encouragement.
"I just get revitalized all the time," she said. "The people stopping by, and the interest in it, and the approval - that kind of verbal reinforcement . . . When people like what you're doing, you can't help but get revitalized."
What Hill is doing is directing the development of a commercial complex that will feature twin theaters, botanical gardens and a central fountain area, an upper-story outdoor deck for dining, a delicatessen and coffee house, artist studios and galleries, office space and a variety of retail outlets for women's and recreational apparel, American Indian arts and crafts, and landscaping supplies and books.
A formal groundbreaking ceremony will be scheduled within 45 to 60 days, and the grand opening should follow within a year, Hill said.
A scale model of the structure is suggestive of the pueblos of the Southwest, with entry ways from the sidewalk shaped like natural rock arches. Hill said she wants to use original art by local and American Indian artists to decorate the mall.
Hill is also mindful of the large number of foreign tourists who visit the area and plans to provide multi-lingual directional and interpretive signage to make shopping easier for them.
She has tentatively titled the project "The Village of Moab." It will be built in four phases with an interior and exterior reflective of desert tones - what Hill calls "sunrise-sunset" colors.
"I plan to name the different buildings according to Indian tribes, with symbols on each of the buildings - an ear of corn, kachinas, the sun symbol, Navajo blanket designs. There will be a Fremont building, definitely with Fremont Indian ghost figures (on the walls)," Hill said.
Business space will range from 500 to 2,000 square feet, with room for about 25 tenants upon completion, she said. The complex was designed by Richard Kohler, of AIA Architecture-Urban Design in Salt Lake City.
"We've tried to design it so you could expand, so there's mobility and versatility where you can go. To compete with the height of the Landmark and Poplar Place, it will be two stories. The top 500 square feet will be a mezzanine," Hill said.
The mini-mall will fill the gap between the Poplar Place and Landmark Motel on First North and Main where a gas station burned down years ago.
Hill is a native of Star Valley, Wyo., and grew up in Pocatello, Idaho, where she became a real estate broker after attending college. Eventually, she owned her own agency.
She saw Moab as her future a year ago on her first pass through on a search for someplace to relocate and start a business with her husband, Bob Rush, a physician.
"When you see something, it doesn't take long. It's an intuitive feeling, it really is," she said.
"One of the reasons I like Moab is, it's not overdone. It's not overcooked. It's not overbaked, and the people are real," she said.
What Hill had in mind was "someplace interesting and close to the Native American culture," she said in an interview at her new home.
She said Moab had something that southern California and northern Arizona lacked - a homey feeling and friendly people in an area close to an American Indian community. Not to mention state and national parks with record-breaking visitation, a high traffic count on Main Street, and 20,000 square feet of prime commercial space available at a fair price.
"I saw an opportunity here," Hill said. "The first thing that attracted me was the Native American culture; the absolutely exquisite scenery, second; and the opportunity, third."
Hill said it occurred to her the first day she came into town that Moab could use a mall. She made sure there were no new projects like hers on line, and she found out the vacancy rate of retailers was not high.
"I looked into statistical information - room rent, park visitation, traffic counts - and the more involved I got, the more I realized the opportunity here," she said.
"I really think we can do it. I think we can pull it off."