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Markham Street redevelopment one of better opportunities, city developer says

Posted: February 6, 2014 - 4:48pm
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A "Future of Downtown" projection is shown during a presentation to the Conway Noon Rotary Club from Wes Craiglow, the city's deputy director of planning and development. Craiglow called the Markham Street redevelopment one of the better opportunities of this generation for the City of Conway.
A "Future of Downtown" projection is shown during a presentation to the Conway Noon Rotary Club from Wes Craiglow, the city's deputy director of planning and development. Craiglow called the Markham Street redevelopment one of the better opportunities of this generation for the City of Conway.

The restoration and revitalization of Markham Street is one of the better development opportunities of this generation for the City of Conway, a city developer said Thurdsay.

“[The Markham Street redevelopment is] attempting to create an environment full of redevelopment opportunities, a compact-neighborhood that’s a powerful economic and atmospheric engine,” the City of Conway’s deputy director of planning and development Wes Craiglow told the Conway Noon Rotary Club.

While presenting the advantages of infill and redevelopment, compact neighborhoods and community-centered planning efforts, Craiglow pointed to the redevelopment project of Markham Street, centered between Hendrix College and downtown Conway, as having all the qualities necessary to benefit.

“This 28 blocks is wedged perfectly between those two centers of gravity,” he said. “There is no reason this can’t be the future of downtown or a powerful economic engine going forward.”

The project — aimed at turning the more than two dozen blocks into a walkable, mixed-use development — is still in its infant stages.

The project was selected by MetroPlan’s Jump Start program last year and received a $180,000 grant, paired with $50,000 from the city, to fund a private and public partnership to create plans and conduct research studies to transform Markham.

In December, design consultants from Gateway Planning released polling results, which showed 60 percent felt the future of Markham Street is important to the future of Conway, and 25 percent felt it was somewhat important.

The polling results also indicated 78 percent of those polled believed Markham Street is essential for a meaningful connection between Hendrix College and downtown Conway.

In an interview with the Log Cabin Democrat in December, Craiglow said if the project, and other development projects, is successful, city leaders hope the area will be a regional draw similar to Little Rock’s River Market District or Fayetteville’s Dickson Street.

On Thursday, Craiglow said he believed the area, specifically Markham Street, would ultimately go neglected and undeveloped without a secure, long-term plan.

“Currently, there’s not a lot of demand in that neighborhood for new construction, but in the last ten years we’ve seen one or two,” he said. “By in large, there’s just not a lot of interest in that neighborhood.”

Still, Craiglow said he believes the area is inclined to success with the right mix of shopping centers, office parks and residential areas paired with sidewalks, painted bike lanes and streetscape.

“By bringing them together in higher density, more compact areas and encouraging them to grow up instead of out, everyone sees a greater return on that investment,” he said. “Financially and economically, the investment return on the private side is they can get more usable-square footage to sell or to build per acre they have available.”

To help validate his claim, Craiglow compared the redeveloped Halter Building in downtown Conway, which sits on 1/3 of an acre and draws $1,400 in property taxes compared to the Walmart on Skyline Drive, which sits on more than 23 acres and draws $6,600 in property taxes. Compared, Craiglow said the Halter Building is 19-times “more powerful.”

To complete the Markham Street Corridor project, Craiglow said input from the community is needed just as much as from city developers.

“The best planning comes from the bottom up and outside in,” Craiglow said. “It gives the chance for residents to speak about the type of homes and neighborhoods they want, for business owners to speak about the type of commercial or office districts.

“Everybody gets a voice, and ideally, we participate equally and from that we’re getting an equitable response and a plan that represents everybody’s best interest.”

The community will have an opportunity to voice its opinions at a public meeting Feb. 26 in the second floor conference room of the Conway Police Department, located at 1105 Prairie Street. The meeting is the second in a series of planning workshops to engage the public.

“We need to hear from the community, and their voices need to be involved,” Craiglow said.

There will be subsequent meetings throughout 2014 before a land-use plan will be published near the end of the year, Craiglow said.

(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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David 02/07/14 - 02:02 pm
"bringing them together in higher density"

If this article is representative of what a city developer said, then there is already a land use plan and city administration is just waiting for the choir to say amen. There may be a few not yet totally numbed souls who are still clinging to the fantasy that Conway "developers" will go somewhere other than "Little Rock's River Market District" and "Fayetteville's Dickson Street" to stimulate their creative notions. Conway leaders seem locked into thinking if they can just set their sights low enough, they might be able to accomplish something. Without better creative thinking from our leaders or better leaders, the only thing powerful the residents of Conway will get is the stench from another "economic and atmospheric engine."

lachowsj 02/07/14 - 02:37 pm
Not complicated

The vision is for a walkable place that links Hendrix to the existing downtown. Higher density stuff makes an area more walkable because you have more stuff closer together. Construction is closer to the street and taller and the cars park on the street or around the back instead of Walmart style surface lots. More stuff generates more taxes without the added expense of building more water lines and more sewers, etc. More residents mean more customers for local businesses. People walk more so are naturally more healthy. They run into each other more and talk to each other more.

That is the very broad vision. The particulars are not yet decided and they can't be forced too much or it becomes more Disneyland than real. If prodded along and supported it may have some Dickson Street or Market Place vibe but it will not be those places. It will be uniquely Conway.

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