The Rebuild Vilonia 2014 steering committee met with property owners recently to “plant some seeds” regarding downtown possibilities, said chairman Marty Knight.
About 50 people gathered at the Church of Christ for the meeting held Aug. 12. On an overhead projector, Knight and David Sargent, CEO of WER Architects and Planners in Little Rock, presented two concept designs that could be potentially used as a road map for rebuilding the Vilonia downtown area.
“These are really just concepts and ideas,” Knight said, adding that they are not “pie in the sky” ideas but things that can be done.
The designs presented focused on the four- or five-mile stretch of highway that took the brunt of the tornado, with businesses leveled.
One concept promoted development on Highway 64 as a downtown area with businesses built closer to the street and with a majority of the parking located behind them.
Sidewalks and crosswalks could be built. A turning lane could be developed into a median with a tree, Sargent said, adding that the idea is to create a “turn of the century mid-America” feeling.
Old-style shopping malls, with parking in front, Sargent said, are being shut down and redesigned.
A second concept focused on building more of a town square with green space for multiple uses.
There was talk of awnings, pavilions, street lights, sidewalks designed to incorporate trees and benches. Sargent stressed that the concepts being presented are more about where the buildings are to be constructed than the materials and designs that will be used.
The actual store fronts could differ, reflecting the personality of individual owners.
“It’s more about where they are than what they are like,” Sargent stressed.
McKimmey Associates, owners of the property where the strip mall was downed, plays a major part in the rebuild, said Stanley Gordon Jr., who is a steering committee member and property owner.
He said he has talked with McKimmey representatives and they are “open to talk.” He also said that “at this time” they said they have no plans to rebuild but instead sell the land.
Several times during the meeting Knight stressed “these are concepts. We are not talking plans, folks.” He thanked Sargent’s architectural firm for volunteering their services to help with the ideas.
Property owners Steve and Sue Shock were in the audience. Steve asked if the Arkansas Highway Department and the utility companies had been contacted and if limitations had been discussed. Meetings are being set up with the entities, Knight said.
No one, he stressed, knows the answers at this point.
“All of it might not be able to happen,” Sargent interjected. “But some of it might be possible. This is just a starting point and something for the property owners to think about.”
On that note Sue Shock said, “Let’s get some answers before we can take the next step.”
Prior to the proposal, Knight told the business owners that the Rebuild Vilonia committee was formed to assist the property owners and the city.
The committee will gather and disseminate ideas and plans and research areas to “find funds available to restore the city, possibly beyond what it has ever been.”
Knight said it will be easier to secure funds if a developed plan is in place. He also said members of the committee have been meeting with FEMA representatives and combining efforts toward the common goal.