Brad Lacy, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation president, said the worst part of the city is often the first thing visitors see.
“We hear it all the time from people who come here for the first time — companies, individuals — they drive here from the interstate and think this is an ugly town,” he said.
“Honestly,” Lacy said, “it’s the worst part of the city.”
Due to three major development projects paired with extensive road improvements, Conway’s view from Interstate 40 will be transformed over the next three to five years to give visitors a new perspective.
“We’re really going to see a renaissance along I-40 that we’ve never seen before,” Lacy said.
At Tuesday’s Conway Noon Lions Club, Lacy took to the podium to speak about the coming projects that hinge on a special election Sept. 9 that will determine if a 1/8 cent sales tax will be rededicated for bonds that would fund the necessary road improvements to support development along I-40.
Lacy said he’s been working to establish a new Conway Municipal Airport since he first became Chamber president in 2000, but “the most exciting thing about the airport moving is what we get to do with the old one,” he said.
For the first time in Conway’s history, the CDC is in a joint-venture partnership with a private developer to turn the former airport into a mixed-use development of retail and dining components, offices, multi-family units and hotels known as Central Landing.
Jim Wilson & Associates, a real estate services and management company based in Montgomery, Ala., has more than three decades of experience, and has built more than 22 million square feet of shopping space.
“They pay attention to details like landscaping, public art and water features,” Lacy said.
In addition to the retail component, Lacy said, Central Landing will include about 200 single-family home sites and as many as 700 high-end apartment and brownstone units.
“The project will be extremely dense, unlike anything anyone has ever done in Arkansas,” Lacy said.
Lacy compared Central Landing to Hendrix Village if one could imagine it with 500,000 to 1 million square feet of retail with houses, apartments, office sites and hotels.
“It really becomes a destination for a lot of people, and solidifies our position as the shopping magnet of this part of the state,” Lacy said.
This project paired with Lewis Crossing Shopping Center, a 400,000-square-foot shopping center anchored by Sam’s Club, will create more than 1 million square feet of retail space within the next three years, Lacy said.
“That is life changing for us,” he said.
The projects will increase retail sales, which in turn increase sales tax collections enabling the city and county to work with larger operating budgets, Lacy said.
“It’s really the only way cities have to grow in places like Arkansas where the majority of your revenue comes in from sales tax collections,” he said.
On the other side of the interstate, adjacent from Lewis Crossing, Baptist Health plans to break ground on a 200,000-sqaure-foot hospital said to employ about 425 people.
Lacy said the projects would be truly transformational for the city, and not in the way that most people may think.
Even though the retail component may get a lot of attention, he said, the surrounding road improvements will turn what has been a road system built around the former airport into a connected grid.
“The airport has always been in the way,” Lacy said, “forcing us to go to either I-40 or Harkrider.”
The rededicating of bonds, to be determined in a special election Sept. 9, would enable the city to build an overpass bridge that will connect Bruce Street and Elsinger Boulevard and will finance the rest of construction for the Southern Interchange.