Developers Reimagine Conway's Oak Street

Conway’s downtown has traditionally ended where Oak Street intersects with bustling Harkrider Street, but city planners and commercial developers are attempting to push that historic envelope further to the east.

City planners have zeroed in on a half-mile stretch of Oak, from Harkrider to Ingram, adopting design standards and streetscaping practices to transform the east-west corridor from a sea of asphalt into an urban boulevard with wider sidewalks, canopy trees and period-style streetlights.

Developers plan to link historic downtown Conway with additional options of dining, shopping and health care along Conway’s reimagined vision for Oak Street.

Deluxe Burger Lounge

Two Conway businessmen are transforming a vacant building in historic downtown Conway into a nightlife destination with the opening of an upscale lounge/bar and a burger joint with an outdoor patio under the same roof.

Ross Crain Investments — a partnership of Todd Ross, president and CEO of Preferred Medical, and Chris Crain, president of Crain Automotive Team — bought the Earl Rogers building at 1004 Oak St. for $375,000 in July 2013.

Ross then worked to convince Fayetteville restaurateur Scott Bowman of Bowman Restaurant Group to expand into central Arkansas. Bowman owns Theo’s Bar & Dining Room with locations in Rogers and Fayetteville as well as several spinoffs. One of those he’s bringing to Oak Street: Deluxe Burger.

Bowman’s Deluxe Burger opened in Fayetteville in 2013. The Deluxe Burger website describes the restaurant as the modern version of an old-school hamburger joint with reasonably priced half-pound burgers. The menu also offers sandwiches, hot dogs and salads. One side of the menu is dedicated entirely to a variety of craft beers, Mason jar cocktails and milkshakes.

At more than 7,000 SF, the Earl Rogers building enabled Ross Crain Investments to not only bring a new restaurant to town, but also create a nightlife destination with a bar/lounge concept and outdoor patio all on the same corner.

The lounge is still a concept, but it’s expected to have an upscale atmosphere with handcrafted cocktails and a light menu. Ross likens it to something you’d see in a boutique hotel.

Deluxe Burger will face Oak Street, the lounge will face Court Street, and the loading dock in the back of the Earl Rogers building on Van Ronkle Street will be transformed into a covered outdoor patio that can serve customers of either establishment.

Ross said construction should begin soon, and they’re planning to be grilling burgers and mixing drinks by New Year’s.

White Goat

Ross and Crain also bought the former alternative music venue Sound Stage at 1008 Oak St. for $90,000. They are leasing the space to Anna Dickinson for her second White Goat store; her first is in the Heights neighborhood of Little Rock. White Goat is an interior design and furniture store that specializes in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. The store also offers accessories, gifts and chalk paint classes. The store is being renovated by Salter Construction Inc. of Conway. It is expected to open by the end of October.

Urban Boulevard

Conway is working to create a better entryway to its historic downtown with design standards for new development that will turn Oak Street into an urban boulevard. The city is hoping to extend the historic half-mile section of Oak Street farther east with wider sidewalks, canopy trees and underground utilities.

In 2009, the Old Conway Overlay Design District was extended to include about two city blocks east of downtown to Ingram Street. New development along this half-mile stretch is meant to act as a transitional buffer from hotels, gas stations and fast-food options off the interstate to the historic row of shops and restaurants in downtown Conway.

Wes Craiglow, deputy director of planning and development, said the city is entering into its “next generation of character” and city planners want to make sure they’re guiding development in a direction that will support a walkable, mixed-use downtown.

The first of these developments is MedExpress of Morgantown, West Virginia, an urgent-care facility under construction at 813 Oak St. The facility is being modeled after traditional downtown buildings that are set close to the street with parking to the side and rear of the business.

Con-Ark Village Inc., the company that owns The Village Center at 813 Oak St., purchased a vacant lot at 713 Oak St. for $130,000 in June 2013 as part of the MedExpress site. The company also demolished the part of its shopping center that housed Layla’s Gyros & Pizzeria and Oak Street Antique Mall to build the urgent-care facility.

The city has seen two successful remodels along Oak Street when the former Pizza Inn at 724 Oak St. was transformed into a Taziki’s Mediterranean Café in 2012, and most recently when the former Tokyo Japanese Restaurant at 716 Oak St. was gutted and remodeled into Tacos 4 Life Grill in June.

Both restaurants have outdoor seating and hidden parking lots that enhance walkability. In July, the Conway City Council approved a standard recommended by the Conway Tree Board that would require new construction and remodels along Oak and Harkrider Streets to allow room for trees to be planted along the sidewalks.

A CVS Pharmacy of CVS Caremark Corp. of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, will be the largest redevelopment to adhere to these new standards at the urban boulevard’s busiest intersection — the southeast corner of Oak and Harkrider Streets.

The pharmacy chain is embracing the city’s traditional downtown design standards, bringing the store to the street with parking to the side and back, balancing the brick to window ratio with large storefront windows and pairing the development with landscaping and canopy trees.

City planners said CVS has applied for a building permit, but it’s still working to get its plats filed and engineering work complete with local utilities company Conway Corp. before a permit can be issued. CVS has not yet closed on the property.