The Rebuild Vilonia 2014 steering committee is making plans to assess needs and reach out to property owners as part of the first steps to re-erect the downtown area demolished by the April 27 tornado.
About 30 or so residents, including some who are property owners, met Tuesday, Aug. 6, at the Vilonia Church of Christ. Marty Knight, chairman, handed out a pie chart defining the structure of the steering committee with two sub-committees serving under it. This is the steering committee’s second meeting, he said, since an initial public meeting was held in August at the senior citizens’ building, where more than 200 were in attendance.
It was said that letters have been sent out to property owners defining the steering committee’s goal to "see the town rebound strongly," and asking for their help in getting to that stage. The property owners, Knight said, is the key to achieving that goal. More than once, he stressed, the committee has no desire to "tell anyone what to do with their property" but instead to help.
Knight announced that Erin Brown, who has a background in finance, will serve as the chairman of the finance sub-committee with a main focus on funding. That subcommittee’s charge, Brown said, will be to pursue fundraising and research grants.
"We will see what skills everyone has and what you can bring to the table," he said.
Melanie Gentry, co-owner of Vilonia Animal Clinic, will head the planning sub-committee with an objective to identify businesses that were lost, compile data and assist in that area. Also, that sub-committee will reach out to any potential businesses that would like to open in Vilonia and provide support. Mentioned as a need is to research tax incentives for businesses wanting to locate in the area.
Business owner Stanley Gordon Jr. will serve as a liaison between the committees and the property owners. Gordon said he has been reaching out to business owners. He plans to visit with a key player, referring to McKimmey Associates in Little Rock who is the owners of the concrete slab that was once a strip mall.
Alderman Jim King was at the meeting. The chart denoted that King and Mayor James Firestone will serve as liaisons for the city. Jill Bonnema, executive officer of the Vilonia Area Chamber of Commerce, will represent the VACC.
Ideas have been shared, and committee members have met with architects who have volunteered their services and have developed "images and videos of what is possible" with the rebuilding if everyone works together. Gordon said the images are attainable and not a "pie in the sky."
On a related note, Knight and Gordon both said they have had positive meetings with FEMA representatives who encouraged them to contact the state legislatures concerning possible funding for some projects.
There was a brief discussion regarding the steering committee filing for a non-profit status. However, the issue was tabled to a later date.
The committees meet at 7 p.m., Tuesday evenings, at the church. Anyone interested in helping is invited to join a committee. For additional information, visit Rebuild Vilonia 2014 on Facebook.