Brad Lonberger, principal at Gateway Planning Group, said he and his team are at a great point in the revitalization — not redevelopment — of the Markham Street area.
The group is hoping to develop a business plan and process that other communities will be able to use.
At Wednesday night’s Jump Start Markham Street Public Meeting, Gateway Planning presented “contact sensitive solutions” that create outdoor living spaces where people want to live, walk, dine and recreate.
The Groups’ concepts focused on the area between Spencer and Markham Streets, starting with the future home of the proposed retention pool and amphitheater as a solution to downtown flooding.
The scrap metal site will be turned into a neighborhood scale water retention pool and amphitheater that will be utilized for “short-term flood control for infrequent large storm events,” said Jonathan Ford, senior project manager of community design.
A precedent for designing amphitheaters is creating venues that can host large events, but also smaller scale spaces that can be used on a daily basis, Ford said.
Ford’s vision for the amphitheater is a public green space that will include some raised areas and some depressed areas that create individual park spaces or “outdoor rooms” that are part of the overall amphitheater space.
“Maybe this raised area is the place you come and sit to have lunch or a picnic, maybe this room hosts yoga Sunday morning, this plaza is on Markham, so maybe there’s a Farmer’s Market or kids event some mornings,” he said.
The buildings around the amphitheater will be designed to make it safer and more inviting, Lonberger said, creating plaza space at intersections.
The actual Markham Street was presented as a “green street” with bike lanes, on-street parking and bioswale-like landscaping that will help mitigate water runoff.
When the group measured how many jobs were located in context to the study area, they found there were 4,890 jobs between 11 major employers in a one-mile radius.
“But there aren’t necessarily a lot of housing opportunities for those people besides a single family environment in most cases,” Lonberger said.
Their goal is to create plans for different types of housing products that will allow different poverty levels to coexist in the same area, experiencing the same benefits of walkable streets and public spaces.
Amy Ross, with ICF International, is looking for existing financial opportunities for homeowners to fix up their homes. She is also looking at new residential options such as townhouses and multifamily units.
“I’ve started researching financial opportunities at the developer level — what are the federal funds, and what are the local funds that you can put in place to make the how a little bit easier,” she said.
Ross said her main goals are financial successes for residents, developers and the city; a diversity in tenant base including mix of income, race and age; as well as a mix of building type — multifamily, townhouse, apartments — and that the density of buildings contribute to downtown retail and office space.
“There are a lot of great old homes, and great old homeowners that are still there,” Lonberger said. “We want to make sure they are able to retain their ownership weather they’re renters or owners.”
Lonberger assured any recommendation the group makes will not require people to move out of their homes for the sake of progress.
Lonberger speculated about how the currently vacant property owned by Hendrix College will need to relate to the rest of the existing neighborhood as the college “may have a need to build more student housing.”
“We don’t know currently what some of the lots they currently own will expand into, but what we can do is create a way for them to integrate into the built environment in a good format, so that whatever is built is a compliment to the neighborhood.”
With three overlapping design formats, on top of building codes, Lonberger said it is restricting development and hindering landowners from making improvements to their individual properties.
In the next two months, Gateway Planning will return for either additional work sessions and public input or a zoning and design standard presentation to Conway City Council.
The public raised concerns about more local businesses, child-friendly park space, bike lane design, downtown parking and price point of proposed housing options.
When Gateway Planning returns, at a time yet to be determined, they will present refined concepts based on Wednesday’s comments, design standards, details and answers to housing and policy questions as well as a zoning framework, Lonberger said.
“It’s going to be an ongoing process until we close with the final plan at the end of the year,” he said.
Gateway Planning’s contract term ends in December. To vote on and share ideas for Markham Street visit the IdeaScale at ImagineConway.com.