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Chamber president speaks of 'I40 renaissance' at Conway Noon Lions Club

Posted: July 1, 2014 - 2:53pm
Brad Lacy, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation president, references a map of road improvements that would bring visitors from Interstate 40 to the Cantrell Field redevelopment Central Landing.  ERIC WHITE
Brad Lacy, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation president, references a map of road improvements that would bring visitors from Interstate 40 to the Cantrell Field redevelopment Central Landing.

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.

(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at michelle.corbet@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1215. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)

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Igor Rabinowitz
Igor Rabinowitz 07/01/14 - 09:12 pm
This is good

They're doing a good job

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey 07/02/14 - 06:31 am
140 renaissance


alipage72 07/02/14 - 08:13 am
I'm torn...

I concur on the view of the city as seen traveling the interstate. It is not pretty. This area of town is the hub, but it isn't 'pretty'. A passer-by would have to actually venture into the town to ever get near any of the actual aesthetic improvements that have been made. I do wonder, although the land values are probably going to rise and therefore be a boon for the land owners, what becomes of the less than affluent renters who live in the houses around there? Is Conway going to eventually price out low income families? With the addition of 'high-end' housing, brownstones and upper end retail, the appearance will certainly improve, but I do worry about some of the families who more than likely have been in the area for years with grandfathered low rents who may now have to move into places that have risen rates with the market.

c'mon man
c'mon man 07/02/14 - 09:49 am
Happening for years

Unfortunately, Conway has been trying to price out lower income people and businesses for years. A good example of this is the costs to build a building in town versus outside the city limits. A church outside of Conway but in the city limits looked into building a multi-purpose facility a couple of years ago. A very similar one was built for around $500K outside of Conway. Because of the multitude of city codes, etc. in Conway, it was going to cost that church over $1M to build it...twice the price. It also costs much more than it should to build a house in this town.

I believe the many different restrictions, codes, etc. that Conway has passed over the years actually stunts the growth of the town more than it helps.

Elmer Fudd
Elmer Fudd 07/02/14 - 10:47 am
c'mon man

I have had more than one builder tell me the same thing about the building codes.

David 07/02/14 - 11:52 am

Remember that old cartoon where Lucy moves the football just before Charlie Brown's foot can boot it away? It ran for years and every year Charlie fell for Lucy's promise that it would be different this time. Trust me. So, how is it that the "worst part of the city" became the worst part of the city that everyone entering Conway gets to see first? No, no, don't look over there! Look over here where it's bright and shiny and new! Honest, we're going to do the same thing we have been doing for years differently this time. We're going to do it the same way we always have, of course, but it will be different this time because, you know, streets and roads. If we are so eager to become a shopping destination, perhaps we could achieve the same bloated tax results by allowing the vast multitudes of shoppers living here to shop for booze along the fine roads passing through the "worst part of the city." That could be "life changing for us" as well as good for Baptist Health's business. I suppose that the "real estate services" company based in Montgomery, AL was thinking ahead with their landscaping, public art and water features offering the new homeless and tired shoppers a beautiful place to bathe after they have shopped themselves into bankruptcy and can no longer afford that "extremely dense" housing. I know; I just can't see into the future like the seers who brought us "the worst part of the city." I do know one thing: It will be different this time. And, not in the way Mr. Lacy may think.

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