VILONIA — We have a lot of area in the city limits to develop and work on, Vilonia Mayor James Firestone said addressing a standing room only crowd, Thursday night, at a Rebuild Vilonia 2014 meeting.
"It’s July in Arkansas and it is 65 degrees out and rainy," Firestone said. "Are we blessed or what? We are also blessed to have this turnout to come together for the purpose of establishing a direction to rebuild in the downtown area."
On that note, Firestone introduced Marty Knight, a pastor with the Vilonia Church of Christ, as the one driving force behind the meeting, concluding with "I think this is a good idea."
From that point on, Knight served as the facilitator of the meeting that lasted a little more than an hour. By trade, Knight said, he is a project manager, for a business. Looking out into the audience, Knight referred to the 200 or so in attendance as a "great group of people who shares the spirit that we’ve got to rebuild." The April 27, tornado leveled many of the businesses on Highway 64, which is referred to as the city’s downtown area.
Faces in the audience revealed residents from many different walks of life including blue collar workers, business owners, land owners, city council members, law enforcement and school employees. Not everyone in the meeting, though, was from the Vilonia area. There were three television crews from Little Rock. As well, there were business owners from different areas of the state with brochures and concrete construction building products. State representative Joe Farrer, District 44, of Austin, Arkansas, was in attendance.
Minutes into it, Knight told the audience, the purpose of the meeting is to assemble committees for identifying funding sources, help with plans and ideas and assimilate information. What the committees will not be charged with, he said, interfering or being a hindrance to anyone or an attempt to tell property owners what to do.
"I know Vilonia. I am a Vilonian. I know they wouldn’t listen if we did," Knight said. Also, he said, the committees will not be "political action" committees. "If you are upset at your neighbors, talk to them," Knight said. "If you are upset at the city, run for office."
He referred to the downtown area as a "clean slate." As sad and tragic as it is, he said, "it is a great opportunity for us to rebuild.
"There are businesses ready to move here and there is no place to go," Knight said. Also, he said, one can see houses being built back. There were questions from the audience in regard to businesses such as which ones have said they will return. It was said that Dollar General, Kieth’s Service Station and Vilonia Therapy are in the process of building back.
Many audience members offered suggestions. Some spoke out in favor of building particular venues including a city pool, a recreation center and restaurants. One man suggested researching other cities to see how they "bounce back." The conversation, at one point, turned to building on the bypass. One man in the audience said he is ready to build a Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken.
"All I need is land," he said.
At one point in the meeting, Firestone briefed the audience on some upcoming projects that are already in the works including paving S. Mt. Olive St. and extending Industrial Park Dr. to Cemetery St.
A couple of times during discussion, Knight reigned in conversations and encouraged everyone to "stay focused on the rebuild."
Businessman Stanley Gordon Jr. also helped with officiating the meeting. Those who want to help, he said, should not back away because they think they don’t have the expertise. There are opportunities, he said, for everyone with a desire to help. Both Gordon and Knight stressed that "time is of the essence."
Prior to dismissal, Knight encouraged anyone wanting to help to sign up to be on committees. Another meeting, he said, will be soon. Those wanting to sell land, he said, should get the word out. Also, he said, a Facebook site Rebuild Vilonia 2014 will have updates as well as media outlets.
Alderman Jim King, who is also a pastor, was the last speaker. He touched on the subject of "whiners and complainers" and what they accomplish compared to people who are positive.
"Let’s be positive," he concluded. "Let’s continue to encourage each other. We will get more done."
The meeting ended with a prayer led by Gordon.