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Updated: Critical public input opportunity for Markham Street

Posted: February 22, 2014 - 7:41pm

Updated: A previous version of this story stated Wednesday's meeting would be the final opportunity for the public to give input for the Markham Street redevelopment project. Brad Lonberger, principal at Gateway Planning Group, said Wednesday's meeting will be a critical review meeting in the process, but it will not be the final opportunity for public input. There will be other chances for public input in the process, he said.   

Wednesday night the public will have one of its last opportunities to provide input for the implementation plan for the transformation of the Markham Street area into a central connector linking Downtown Conway to Hendrix College before final concepts are presented.

“The last meeting was critical in providing feedback, but this one is critical in that it is the launching pad to the final product,” said Scott Grummer, program manager of community development for the City of Conway. “We want to make sure we have the plane going down the right runway.”

Last year, the Markham Street redevelopment project was selected as one of five projects across the state to receive MetroPlan’s $180,000 Jump Start grant. Paired with $50,000 from the City, the grant funds a public-private partnership that is conducting research studies, collecting public feedback and creating plans to aid in an implementation strategy to redevelop Markham Street.

Gateway Planning, the economic development and design consultant firm from Dallas selected to work on the Jump Start initiative, will be at the meeting Wednesday night to present draft concepts based on public input from previous meetings.

“This is a very important meeting,” Grummer said. “It will give everyone that visual of what Gateway Planning is thinking.”

These concepts will show potential improvements to public roads as well as adjacent development, such as Covington Properties’ conceptual master plan for Front Street, which would complement the improvements, Grummer said, both aesthetically and fiscally.

The Markham Street effort encompasses 28 blocks bounded on the north, east, south and west by Hendrix College, Harkrider, the central business district and the railroad tracks.

Wes Craiglow, deputy director of planning and development for the City of Conway, said Markham Street serves as a natural connector tying downtown Conway to Hendrix College situated between Front Street to the west and Harkrider Street to the east.

Hendrix’s commitment, from the Village to student life structures, paired with about $70 million in investment in Downtown Conway over the past decade have paved the way for walkable infrastructure linking the two entities, Craiglow said.

“Those two centers of gravity have placed an emphasis on the Markham Street area,” he said. “It’s become a general consensus among city leaders that that area is primed for development.”

Financially and economically the ability to redevelop real estate where infrastructure already exists is more feasible than new development.

It’s a more modest investment because Infrastructure and services like police and fire are already in place, Craiglow said.

Also, structures that use all available real estate on a parcel generate exponentially more sales tax per square foot than lower density malls outside of town, he said.

Grummer said compact development also provides economies of scale that make it financially feasible for developers.

“Although the opportunities are great, this is a long-term process, and it’s not meant to push anybody out,” he said. “It’s not meant to cause anyone to move or sell. We’re all going to come together and formulate strategies and let those strategies happen naturally.”

In an email, Gateway Planning said, “We encourage attendance to give us feedback, so we can be sure our concept is representative of the public desires and will help us develop the action and implementation plan for the area.”

The Gateway Planning presentation should last about 30 minutes with the last hour in a half reserved for community feedback, Grummer said.

The economic development firm will then come back in April to meet with the Arkansas Highway Department. The next time Gateway Planning comes to Conway, at a time not yet determined, they will present the final concepts.

Brad Lonberger, principal at Gateway Planning Group, said Wednesday's meeting will not be the last opportunity for the community to give input. 

"There will be other chances for input in this process, but this will be a critical review meeting for this process," he said. 

Once the conceptual drafts are presented at Wednesday’s meeting, the community development department is going to put them on the ImagineConway.com site to continue soliciting feedback from the community.

Using Idea Scale on the right hand side of the site, the community can submit suggestions about what they would like to see, and others can vote to agree or disagree with that idea.

“They can provide feedback as well as put in their suggestions about what they want to see,” Grummer said. “We’re trying to put in as many tools as we can to get as much public input as possible.”

By expanding our footprint downtown we’ll create more quality of place, Craiglow said.

“We like to say downtown is like the living room of our city,” he said. “It’s where we come to spend time with family and friends.”

The “Jump Start” Markham Street Public Meeting will take place Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the second floor conference room of the Conway Police Department at 1105 Prairie St.

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