Conway: Downtown Facelift Lifts Community Pride (Main Street Preservation | Winner 20,000+)

In the last decade, Conway’s downtown has received a facelift.

The Conway Downtown Partnership transformed the downtown into a hub that offers everything from arts to specialty retail shops.

The effort has paid off.

“Downtown Conway is diverse in terms of what people can do, buy, and see while here,” said Kim Williams, executive director of the Conway Downtown Partnership. “Downtown Conway is booming like never before.”

The city’s efforts earned it a 2012 Arkansas Business City of Distinction award for Main Street Preservation.

The roots of Conway’s initiatives date to the mid 1990s when the city created Action for Conway’s Tomorrow. In 2001, that group launched Conway Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit organization that targets the promotion, planning and maintenance of downtown Conway.

One of the Partnership’s first moves was hiring the architectural and urban design firm, Sakal & Hood Inc. of Chicago, to create a master plan of development for downtown Conway.

The result was “Conway 2015: A Vision for Success,” which provided a blueprint for how to improve the downtown. In 2002, the city of Conway adopted the plan.

“To date, the plan has served as the foundation for development in downtown,” Williams said.

The public and private investors supported the plan.

Here are some of the key projects that helped turn around downtown Conway:

In 2003, the CDP, the city of Conway and the Conway Corp., which owns the city’s utilities, tackled downtown Conway’s first streetscape and public way improvement project.

On Front Street, between Main and Oak streets, the developed streetscape includes period lighting, brick pavers, planters and landscaping. The overhead utilities were buried and the drainage was improved.

“To date, approximately $1.2 million in streetscape improvements have been completed throughout downtown,” Williams said. Conway recently added improvements to Main Street.

In 2005, Mike’s Place opened in downtown Conway and was one of the few Conway restaurants allowed to sell alcohol in dry Faulkner County.

The restaurant “was the spark that has been a major catalyst in attracting more” restaurants, Williams said. “The success of the $2.5 million, 9,000-SF hot spot was the CDP’s first step in creating a bustling, 24-7 downtown.”

In addition to adding businesses, buildings were renovated.

The CDP bought a vacant building at Oak and Chestnut streets that a fire destroyed in 2003. The Conway retailer Em Jeans-Express Male bought the property and built a $1.2 million flagship store there in 2007.

The former Steel Chevrolet building at Main and Court streets was renovated for $2.7 million in 2008. The 15,000-SF building “brought the building back to its original warehouse style,” Williams said.The building is now home to JJ’s Grill of Conway and the pizza restaurant, Old Chicago.

The Plunkett-Jarrell building renovation took place in 2008 and is now the home of oneChurch and Central Arkansas Baton Twirling Studio.

The city of Conway jumped into the renovation action and in 2009 developed a 29,000-SF police headquarters.

To boost more development, downtown Conway was designated a Commercial Historic District in 2010. That means property owners could be eligible to receive Arkansas historic tax credits for their renovations.

Also in the works is a pedestrian and bicycle friends promenade that will connect downtown to Conway High School and Conway Regional Health System, Williams said.

“The future is very bright for downtown Conway,” she said.

The moves have cultivated a sense of pride for Conway residents.

“What I always hear from residents regarding our downtown is that we have a beautiful and vibrant downtown,” Williams said.

“When they visit other towns, it makes them so proud because they know our downtown has been preserved and is flourishing while so many have declined, or are nonexistent.”