Heber Springs Hits Growth Spurt

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Nov. 23, 2009 12:00 am  

Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson said the city's new $12 million Community Center & Indoor Aquatic Facility is projected to open by Memorial Day.

In the last two years, Heber Springs has been going through an extreme makeover.

In 2007, Arkansas State University opened its nearly $18 million satellite campus at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain, and Baptist Health unveiled a $25 million hospital.

Now Mayor Jackie McPherson can hardly contain his excitement about the newest crown jewels for the city: a $12 million community center and a $6 million sports complex.

The sports fields will be ready for play in the spring, and the Heber Springs Community Center & Indoor Aquatic Facility is expected to be open by Memorial Day.

"This is going to bring future growth to our area," McPherson said last week on a tour of the community center construction site.

McPherson said Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale had already been penciled in to use the community center for the last week of April. He also has fielded calls from Little League officials asking about the possibility of using the baseball diamonds for tournaments.

In addition to the new landmarks around the Cleburne County seat, which is about a 90-minute drive north of Little Rock, McPherson said an about 50-bed hotel was in the works. And in December, an undisclosed company is supposed to announce that it will create about 350 jobs in Heber over the next two years.

McPherson said he swore to remain mum on the details.

"I would have to say the last five years, without question, [have been] the most exciting times this community has ever had," said Howard Chapin, president of First Security Bank of Heber Springs, who has lived in the county since 1982. "We have a lot of good things going for us."

Heber Springs also seems to have weathered the recession, which might be thanks to the tourists who visit the city nestled on the banks of Greers Ferry Lake. In 2007, $149.5 million was spent at Heber Springs' retailers, and the number grew to $167.7 million in 2008, according to sales tax figures from the city. Between January and September of this year, $128 million has been spent at cash registers in Heber Springs, compared with $122.4 million during the same period a year ago.

Still, the area has felt the overall economic weakness. A 48-unit $5 million apartment complex project was put on hold because of the recession, said Andrea Cooper, vice president of acquisition for RichSmith Development of North Little Rock, which was a consultant for the project.

Cooper, however, said the owner, Burleson Development of Benton, had decided to move forward and construction should start in the first quarter of next year.



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