By AMY KNOWLES

SPECIAL TO THE LOG CABIN

The Conway Downtown Partnership is taking aim at its next major project, and Markham Street sits squarely in its sights.

The non-profit economic development organization has accomplished much in its decade-plus history by using public and private funding to add to the "walkability" of downtown Conway and, when needed, updating the infrastructure, according to Kim Williams, executive director of the partnership. She cites a major problem with the infrastructure as a determining factor for the CDP to now focus on Markham Street.

"There is a box culvert that runs through one property and basically drains downtown near the Chamber building," Williams said. "This area catches a lot of storm water drainage and causes flooding like we had the other day." The Chamber of Commerce building is on West Oak Street near its intersection with Harkrider Street.

The solution, the partnership believes, is for the city to purchase the land at the source of the problem and convert it into a retention/detention pond, nicely packaged as a park. The property owners have been contacted and are open to negotiation, Williams said.

"We’re not looking to throw anyone out of their property," she said. "We are willing to pay fair market value or possibly trade locations."

Long-term wish list items include increasing available residential space, possibly by adding single and multi-family attached homes. A time frame is difficult to set as the CDP will need to work with property owners to renovate, acquire or develop the properties along the plan’s path.

"What we can do now is make improvements with street-scaping, as we have on Front Street and other areas downtown," said Williams. Project plans include turning the road into a pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined avenue with wider sidewalks, period street lights, pedestrian crossings and reverse diagonal parking. These plans will be completed in sections so as not to tie up traffic, and residents can expect to see work in that direction beginning this year.

"Fayetteville has turned one street’s parking into reverse diagonal parking, and people love it. It’s safer for pulling out into traffic, you can see where you’re going," said Williams. "It’s similar to parallel parking, but with fewer steps."

She added pedestrians prefer to have a buffer between themselves and traffic, thus the wider sidewalks and on-street parking.

Another benefit is Markham Street is a natural connection from downtown to Hendrix College and the northern side of Conway.

"Our grandparents had it right," Williams said. "Having services and amenities within easy walking distance of home just makes sense." She pointed out when Hewlett-Packard came to Conway, a number of the new workers came from areas where they didn’t need cars. When workers looked for homes, they migrated towards Little Rock where they could live on one side of the river and walk across a bridge to get to work, shopping and entertainment. In the future, Williams said, "We want to keep those people here."