Conway Downtown Partnership members, community leaders and guests gathered together for the fifth annual partnership meeting Wednesday at Hendrix College.
“It’s been another good year for the Conway Downtown Partnership and, in turn, for downtown,” Jack Bell, president, said.
He said they’ve had more hanging baskets and landscape areas than ever before, which has resulted in the area looking more beautiful than ever.
Bell said in the last year alone, there have been 19 new businesses, six currently existing business moves, four business expansions, $517,500 in remodels, $6,050,000 in new construction, which has resulted in 124 new full-time jobs and 30 part-time.
“We are heading in the direction, in my opinion, of having a 24-hour downtown,” he said.
Mayor Bart Castleberry, who Bell said “truly understands and believes in a vibrant downtown,” and has demonstrated that through his support and investment in the area, mentioned that Conway was a vibrant city that people wanted to be a part of.
Castleberry noted that it is nice to attend events like the partnership meeting and thank the people that have a hand in that.
For years, 86-year-old resident and Edward Jones owner Milton Davis was a part of that, until he died in April.
During the meeting, Log Cabin Democrat Publisher Kelly Sublett posthumously honored Davis with the downtown award of distinction.
“Milton was a friend of downtown,” Sublett said. “We want to honor him for, really, kind of jump starting what we know as Toad Suck Square. He named that himself, I believe, when he purchased the building at the corner of Front and Oak [Streets] three decades ago and just really kind of helped with revitalization of that area.”
Sublett said that Davis was also a charter member of the Conway Downtown Partnership.
“Milton was an advocate for all things Conway,” she said. “He encouraged people that were new here to really branch out and to meet each other and have conversations. He was someone that was important to me and I know he was important to all of you.”
Milton’s wife, Claudia — who said the award was thoughtful and appreciated — son, Granger, and other family members accepted the honor.
Joe Borgstrom, from Place and Main Advisors, Inc., was the speaker for the lunch.
“What a great town you guys have,” he said. “Downtown in particular, I’m really impressed with. You’ve got some fantastic retail.”
While there are some challenges to overcome, Borgstrom said the area has “great bones,” and great businesses.
Borgstrom recalled trends in downtowns through the years, obstacles that other communities have faced, revitalization tactics that have failed and worked and what Conway could do to ensure possible future success.
He said there are several keys to attracting talent: having a good quality of life, having unique businesses, having access to education, having a strong sense of place, walkable /bikeable neighborhood, have varying housing options, to have a connectedness and having strong arts and culture.
From an outside perspective, Borgstrom said Conway does pretty good, but if the city wanted to be a regional downtown, which there is no reason it couldn’t, it’s about building those types of attractive aspects.
A guest asked the speaker what he saw as the downtown’s biggest assets — it’s strong retail sector and full store fronts — and challenges — lack of density.
“I think it’s really important to keep your historic character because I think authenticity of your downtown is really important,” he said. “I think you have a very authentic downtown, you want to retain that.”
Those newer buildings, though, Borgstrom said, could be replaced with higher density, to go up and increase the number of people living in the downtown area.
“That’s going to further strengthen the existing businesses and further attract other businesses to downtown,” he said.
Hendrix College President Bill Tsutsui said it is great for Hendrix to have a vibrant downtown at its doorstep with so much growth — includes the new residential buildings being constructed, the improvements that have taken place and the potential for the new Conway City Hall — and pride.
“All of us here in Conway are fortunate to have forward thinking city and county governments, exceptional educational opportunities at the k-12 and post-secondary levels, a gold standard public utility and community partner in Conway [Corporation] and entrepreneurial engaged business community, a dynamic chamber of commerce and downtown partnership and a wonderful, wonderful community of warm, welcoming, hardworking people,” Tsutsui said.
He said at Hendrix, they plan to contribute to these efforts, which includes the art created by their own for city roundabouts.
“These are exciting days here at Hendrix, these are great days for Conway, Tsutsui said. “It’s a wonderful time for downtown.”
Also during the meeting, Pete Tanquay, from Rock-Pond Solutions, updated the room and said WellSky had bought them, which was a great thing; Las Delicias’s Francisco Yanez told the community to expect new flavors coming soon that would appeal to food-conscious customers; and Emerge’s Renee Stone announced the businesses move to its new location, the, Kordsmeier Furniture space on Oak Street, and decision to join the Conway Downtown Partnership.