The dedication of up to $18 million to build roads related to the Cantrell Field redevelopment could delay planned improvements to Salem Road and College Avenue, city officials say, though the issuance of bonds and tapping other sources of money could put these improvements back on the timeline.
“The way we look at it, we think this project is transformational in terms of making Conway a much bigger, much broader commercial market than it’s ever been before,” Mayor Tab Townsell said. “By that, we mean in terms of the retail dollar payback, in terms of new jobs and the many benefits there, in terms of enhanced property values and the resulting increased property taxes — and in terms of all these things paying dividends for years and decades to come. In the short term, it may require a little investiment, but in the long term we’ll reap the profits in terms of community development.
It was announced on Thursday at the Conway Chamber Business Expo Breakfast that Dennis F. Cantrell Field will be redeveloped as “Central Landing,” a mixed-use development whose initial phase was said to be a $90 million joint venture between the Conway Development Corporation and developer Jim Wilson and Associates. Although the nature of the development has not been finalized, Restaurant, office, hotel and apartment/town home uses have been discussed. Some city officials have said that even a school within the development isn’t out of the question.
The purchase agreement for the 151 acres of city-owned land was conditioned on the city providing three major street infrastructure improvements related to Central Landing:
• An overpass connecting the property to the Conway Commons shopping center,
• an access or frontage road connecting Central Landing to I-40 via the Oak Street interchange,
• and a road running west through the Cantrell Field property to connect with Bruce Street.
Conway has an annual “regular” street department budget of about $4 million per year used for maintenance of existing roads and some improvements and new street projects. Regardless of what is done with the Central Landing street projects or the city’s other major projects, the Conway Street Department “would still be able to undertake continual maintenance of the roadways and some improvements just as we have done for a number of years” using this $4 million regular funding, according to City Engineer Ronnie Hall.
The other two current major street projects included in the budget are the widening of Prince Street and building about a mile of the proposed Western Loop.
The money dedicated for the Central Landing infrastructure is part of a nine-year Major Street Project Budget consisting mostly of the proceeds of a 1/4-cent sales tax dedicated exclusively to major street projects. This tax has generated about $3 million per year. According to Mayor Tab Townsell it can be expected to continue to generate as much or more.
Of this roughly $3 million income, $500,000 is earmarked for police cars. The remainder, which the Major Street Project Budget puts at $2.5 million, is the main source of funding for the city’s major street projects. The other budgeted source of funding for the major street projects is an allocation of $900,000 per year generated by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department’s 1/2-cent state sales tax passed by the voters as a Constitutional amendment in 2012.
Arkansas law allows cities to use tax revenue to finance loans repayable in no more than five years without requiring a public vote, and the Major Street Project Budget is written with a “choreography” of overlapping five-year loans for individual project phases requiring only approval of the Conway City Council. Using five-year financing, the three improvements required by the developers of Central Landing would be completed by 2017, in time for the grand opening.
The Major Street Project Budget shows year-to-year carryover being consumed, to one degree or another, to pay off loan balances for the Prince Street project (to be paid off by the end of 2015), Western Loop portion and Elsinger Overpass connecting Central Landing to the Conway Commons (both to be paid off by the end of 2020), and Mid Town Parkway running from the Oak Street/I-40 interchange through Central Landing to Bruce Street (to be paid off by the end of 2022). The ending balance with all debts related to the city’s major street projects paid is $92,500, according to the budget.
As budgeted, it is not possible to fund other planned street projects including widening Salem Road and part of College Avenue west of Donaghey.
However, Townsell and Hall both said that the Major Street Projects Budget is conservative, and does not account for several available financial options.
Townsell said he will consider proposing a bond issue which, with the approval of Conway’s voters, would allow the debt of Central Landing road construction to be stretched out for what Townsell said would be at least 15 years, thereby lowering the annual debt payment and freeing up money for other major street projects, unexpected expenses, or whatever other economic development opportunities may present themselves in coming years. The downside of a bond issue is ultimately paying a higher price and obligating the city to make payments for at least 15 years as opposed to five per project phase.
City impact fees collected with some new developments in the city could be more extensively tapped as an alternate funding source for future major street projects also, Townsell said. Though the amount generated by impact fees varies year-to-year with the amount of new construction, about $600,000 per year is a safe estimate, Townsell said. The Central Landing development itself will pay no impact fees, as the Cantrell Field property is in an industrial area designated an “impact fee free zone.”
Also, the budget does not factor in any increase in sales tax revenue, Townsell said, which Central Landing itself can be expected to raise.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)