At Thursday night’s Conway Downtown Partnership Annual Meeting, three business leaders participated in a panel discussion about upcoming development projects for Downtown Conway.
Kim Williams, executive director of Conway Downtown Partnership, said the projects were the biggest developments downtown has seen to date.
The three panelists included Brent Salter, vice president of Salter Properties, Todd Ross, CEO and president of Preferred Medical and George Covington Sr., president of Covington Companies.
In addition to the rebranding of the Regions Bank building into Metro Square, Salter also announced a residential component called The Flats at Metro Square.
Salter said the residential piece is "kind of down the road."
"There is still a lot to be worked out to see that come to progression," he said.
There’s a lot of potential with this sight, Salter said, but he questioned the haste of the project.
"Do we go out there and do what’s easy, do what’s quick, or do we take a step back to see if we can get everyone’s stars to align and be able to create something really great," he said.
Some of the things that would need to be aligned for the residential piece to begin include the planning and development process, infrastructure and parking.
"This is an opportunity for downtown to get this parking garage that everyone has talked about," Salter said. "We are on board for doing what would help the city, and help progress the economy, but at the same time you want to help get people living downtown."
Salter said he could start building the flats tomorrow, but he needs time to make sure everyone is on the same page for a project of this scale.
"We want downtown to thrive. Downtown is the core. Downtown is what is going to attract new businesses and when you attract new businesses, Conway grows and everybody grows," Salter said.
The overall image of the project is to turn downtown into a place where people can live, work and shop, he said.
Ross said the typical history of downtown areas across the United States have shown how downtown used to be the economic hub of a community with grocery stores, drug stores and bakeries, but overtime those people and businesses moved to the suburbs.
"It’s exciting to see a resurgence of everyone coming back downtown," he said.
Covington wants people from The Village at Hendrix to feel comfortable walking from their homes to downtown with new sidewalks, landscaping and lighting along Front Street and Markham Street.
Covington Companies’ master plan for Front Street includes five buildings that occupy 6.5 acres of land between Front Street and Spencer Street.
Covington has lived on Front Street his whole life. He was brought home from the hospital on Front Street and brought his wife home to Front Street. In order to prepare the land for construction, Covington made the decision to tear down his family home.
"It’s hard to tear down the place you’ve been for your whole life, but you’ve got to move on sometime to see a better project come along," he said.
Covington said his project is similar to the Salter’s but he’s waiting to see what their project brings before completely constructing his master plan.
"You don’t want a big building there that nobody’s moving into," he said, "so you’ve kind of got to phase it in, and build one, fill it up. Then build another one."
Large grocery retailers haven’t expressed interest in coming to the downtown area, Covington said. "We’ve called and talked to grocery stores, but we feel like what we’re going to end up with is probably going to be a mom and pop-type situation."
Ross said demolition of the inside of the Earl Rogers building is complete and remolding of the outside should begin in the next couple of weeks.
"We hope to have tenants in there by the spring," he said. "The building is not big enough for all the interest we’re getting which is really a big ringing endorsement. I really wish it was twice the size that it is."
Covington said the announcement of these development projects are a sign of the city’s economic health and success.
"All these things add up to nothing put positives for Downtown Conway and we wouldn’t be looking at doing a project like ours if we didn’t feel like Conway is going nowhere but up," he said.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. 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)