In order for the Central Landing shopping center project to proceed, Conway is contractually obligated to pay to build several road projects associated with the development. How the city will pay for it will be the subject of a lot of conversations at city hall over the next few weeks.
According to City Engineer Ronnie Hall, it’s estimated that the roads will cost about $16 million, which is more than the city can afford using five-year financing. This means that probably the roads, and therefore the entire Central Landing development, will depend on the voters of Conway.
"We need to start putting projects under contract in April or May of 2015 in order to achieve the fall of 2016 completion, which as I understand it is what the developer’s plans are," Hall said. Late last year the plan was to have the road projects completed by 2017, but the developer has accelerated the schedule to hopefully open the first stores sooner.
"Five year financing" is the standard method by which cities borrow money for large projects. But by law, municipal loans cannot be extended past five years.
Mayor Tab Townsell’s proposal is rededicating a 1/8 cent sales tax that is currently bonded until 2021. Municipal bonds can, and usually do, allow a city to borrow beyond five years. Through rededicating this 1/8 cent sales tax income stream the city could build the roads, but it would tie up this income stream until 2044. Also, rededicating this money would have to be approved by the voters of Conway.
If the voters don’t approve the rededication, or whatever funding mechanism the city council decides on, it’s likely that the Central Landing deal would fall through. This would also be chaotic for the construction schedule at the new airport being built in the Lollie Bottoms, because the current phase of construction there is being funded by a $6.1 million loan that is supposed to be paid back when the Central Landing developer, Wilson and Associates, closes its real estate deal to buy the current airport property from the city for $6.1 million.
It will take action from the city council in April to put the question on a July ballot, or and action in May to put it on an August ballot.
The road projects that Wilson and Associates have asked for are an overpass connecting the property to the Conway Commons shopping center, an access or frontage road connecting Central Landing to I-40 via the Oak Street interchange, and a road running west through the Cantrell Field property to connect with Bruce Street.
It is expected that the council will discuss ways of paying for the street projects at its work session (formerly called a "retreat") on April 1.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)