Christmas tree removed from Rogers Plaza

Could be spring before fountain in use, city official says

After two turbulent months in its first holiday season, Conway’s Christmas tree is gone.

The mammoth, 54-foot tree arrived in downtown Conway on a cold, rainy November day and left on a cold, sunny January day. In between, the tree was greeted with a modest amount of criticism and hostile feelings from several local residents in the 62 days it spent in Rogers Plaza.

Around every corner was more controversy, it seemed. From the city council’s waiving of competitive bids and several strands of non-working lights, the tree was not without its dilemmas during its first Conway Christmas.

The latest controversy involved whether or not the city would be responsible for the lodging, meals and labor of Get Lit workers who came to take down the tree. Get Lit officials have said it was not a part of the original contract for the company to return to take down the tree. In the end, Conway and Get Lit officials were able to negotiate a deal in which the tree would be taken down by Get Lit and city employees with no additional cost to the city from Get Lit.

Jack Bell, chief of staff for the City of Conway, said four to five city employees helped Get Lit with the tree disassemble over the past two days, which was completed Wednesday morning.

Now, the colossal holiday decoration will make an unexpected, return voyage to its manufacturer in Springdale to repair lighting issues, which Get Lit has blamed on water and vandals.

“It’s unfortunate that there were issues both within and outside of our control that took longer than we would have wanted to get sorted out,” Get Lit Chief Executive Officer Jason Hull said in a Jan. 16 company statement. “However, we value the City of Conway as a customer and a partner and that is why we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that our product worked as intended, even to the extent of fixing non-warranty issues at no charge.”

Bell said there is no set-timeline on when the tree might return to Conway and its proposed storage location at the Conway Expo Center. The final say so on the tree’s return will rest with Conway officials, Bell said.

“They’re going to set it up and field test it as long as we want, and until we are comfortable with it,” Bell said. “It’s on us.”

In the meantime, the city has work to do on a 7,000-pound fountain that remains in Rogers Plaza before it is fully-operational, Bell said.

Some work was completed on the fountain before the Christmas tree’s arrival, but the work halted while the Christmas tree was in town. According to Bell, the fountain accounts for $65,000 of the $331,000 Rogers Plaza project approved by the Conway City Council in April 2013, which includes dirt work, electricity, plants, plumbing and concrete for the plaza.

Bell said all work still to be completed in the plaza is part of the original contract.

Crews, either later this week or next week, are expected to begin work on such aspects as the fountain’s lighting, in addition to further work on Conway’s archway, according to the city’s chief of staff.

Bell said there is no time frame on when the fountain will be operational, although Bell admitted it could be spring before the fountain is used to avoid the risk of encountering freezing water and busted pipes.

(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at lee.hogan@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan.)

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