The conference room at the Chamber of Commerce was overflowing with people Monday night who participated in a public poll and question and answer session that will help shape the design plans for the Markham Street redevelopment.
Gateway Planning, the professional planning consultant company from Dallas that’s heading the design process, was in Conway all day Monday meeting with different groups in the community in an effort to better understand what’s needed for Markham Street.
“Our focus groups and our interviews [Monday] brought us a lot of knowledge,” said Dan Burden, director of innovation and inspiration and co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute. “We learned about what has been done already, and what things are typically problematic.”
Meetings started with Hendrix College in the mornings followed by a meeting with developers. Then they met with investors, bankers and realtors, Markham Street churches and businesses. City staff and civic leaders participated in a public walkability tour, and the day ended with the public meeting Monday night.
The goal of this project is to accommodate growth and provide investment for the city, Hendrix College and the residents that are there now, Brad Lonberger, vice president of Gateway Planning, said at the public meeting.
Gateway Planning’s assessment area includes Spruce Street and Independence Street to the north, Front Street to the west, Van Ronkle Street to the south and Harkrider Street to the east.
During the existing conditions presentation, Lonberger said Markham has existing conditions that don’t support revitalization. It’s lacking sidewalks, and has no bike compatibility, he said, but the width of the street provides an opportunity for wide sidewalks and crosswalks.
“It’s not just about what’s above the ground,” Lonberger said.
Markham Street is aging and needs some real attention, but that not only includes street repairs and sidewalks, but utilities and drainage systems as well. Utilities have a 50 year life cycle. When these systems need to be replaced, the cost comes out of the city budget.
“We’re making sure the neighborhood investment matches the infrastructure investment to create that taxable growth that will allow you to capture value through taxes,” Lonberger said. “We need to make sure taxes are feeding into regenerative funds for future investment.”
Gateway Planning said they would work with existing investments the city has made to enhance them as much as possible.
Burden said society has over designed for one way of travel, and now there’s only one way — the automobile.
Once cities start focusing on people, they stop growing traffic and begin to grow communities instead, Burden said.
“All future transportation dollars and all future investments for the community should be spent for the people,” he said.
During the question and answer session, one Markham Street resident expressed concern about Hendrix practicing a type of collegiate eminent domain as the college expands onto Markham Street.
“Our goal is not to push anyone out at all,” Lonberger said. “We want to make sure that everyone has a voice, and if people want to stay, in our concept they have the option to stay there because that’ s No. 1 for me.”
When one man asked about available grants to help bring existing homes up to design standards, one of the design consultants said the city has acknowledged that this will be an issue that needs to be addressed over time.
A representative from the University of Central Arkansas said she finds it interesting that whenever the city defines walkability it quickly turns to retail.
“As the city continues its planning and generating ideas, please consider there are other things to walk to than a store,” she said.
Lonberger said Gateway Planning is conducting a base market study to see what is available in the market, and if retail really is the best option.
“There’s office, hospitality, entertainment, convention, but ultimately housing is what’s really needed for both downtown and Hendrix College,” he said.
Housing that is permissible according to the Old Conway Area Plan includes single family residential, much like what is in the neighborhood today, duplexes, multifamily, including anything from standard apartments to townhouses, lofts, flats and courtyards, said Wes Craiglow, deputy director of development. Along with an opportunity for mixed use and live/work units, he said.
Lonberger said he wants to include more options such as stacked residential and cottage homes similar to The Village at Hendrix. He added that Markham Street is an excellent opportunity for potential partnerships with Hendrix College.
“[Hendrix] doesn’t necessarily have a plan for a project in the Markham Street area, but we’d like to take this opportunity to work with, and come up with some concepts and ideas that they may be able to move forward with,” he said.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. 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)