It’s Kim Williams’ job to know what’s going on in downtown Conway.
She’s executive director of the Downtown Partnership, and through her efforts there are concerts in the park, baskets of flowers hanging from lampposts and monthly meetings with downtown merchants to encourage them to promote their businesses.
After more than a year of research, she was instrumental in getting Conway’s downtown named to the National Register of Historic Districts in 2010.
The district has 130 buildings, representing the development of the city spanning the years from 1879 to 1960.
At the time of the nomination, Williams said: "Fifty-one percent of the buildings in our commercial district were found not only to be old enough to qualify, but they also still had a great deal of character.
"That means they’ve been well-preserved... ," Williams said.
George Covington is chairman of the Downtown Partnership.
His heart is in Downtown Conway.
He is responsible for the renovation of countless properties, rebuilt with a design to preserving Conway’s historic feel.
He also has an interest in the Downtown remaining attractive and safe.
Discussing the collapse of buildings in Morrilton’s downtown on Monday that killed a toddler and injured several others prompted Covington to comment.
"Morrilton’s downtown has been on the downslope for several years," Covington said. "If their downtown business district were more vibrant, they’d have more of an interest in keeping up their buildings. The buildings just haven’t been taken care of."
He’s predicting that investigators will determine that the collapse was caused by the moving or taking down of an interior load-bearing wall or post.
"You see a building that has been standing for 100 years, you think it’s structurally sound," Covington said. "But if somebody comes in and messes with it, well, that might change the whole dynamic."
One thing Covington is pretty sure of.
"Morrilton’s Mayor (Stewart Nelson) keeps talking about the roof being piled on with extra roofing material. If that roof were going to cause the collapse, it would have happened when we had heavy snowfall this winter," said Covington, who has been a roofing contractor most of his career.
He laments the loss of some of Conway’s historic buildings.
"The depot is gone, the movie theater is gone," Covington said. "There was a period of time when the mindset was: ‘Let’s get rid of it.’ Historic relevance didn’t mean much then."
He’s concerned about the Faulkner County Courthouse. It was on the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas’s list of endangered buildings in 2009.
The alliance wrote at the time: "In 2008, the (Quorum Court began to) assess the need for repairs to the building, citing lack of space and outdated building systems. One evaluation of renovations concluded that the cost of rehabilitation would be more expensive than building a new courthouse, sparking discussion among County officials and in the local media about demolishing the courthouse."
Covington said: "I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks it’s a beautiful building. But I’m afraid if it goes, we’ll never have a county seat again. Offices will be spread around in nondescript buildings. It would be a shame."
Covington has no projects in the works for now, but his method is to scope out a building and encourage the owner to sell.
By the time the sale is closed, he already knows where the water lines are, where the sewer lines are and what his first and last steps will be.
He’s been contacted about doing the same sort of work in Little Rock and yes, Morrilton. He wasn’t interested.
"If I’m going to lose my shirt, I’d rather it be in Conway," Covington said.
(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-1234.)