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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan.)