Conway Works on Plan for a New Downtown

Conway Works on Plan for a New Downtown
The city of Conway hopes to transform this 28-block area into a new downtown with parks, wide sidewalks and shops.

What started as a way to solve a flooding issue in Conway has blossomed into a plan to create a new downtown.

“Our downtown is kind of built out right now,” said Wes Craiglow, Conway’s deputy director for planning and development.

But a new plan calls for an area that covers 28 blocks to be transformed into a mixed-use development that features small businesses, wide sidewalks, public parking, parks, lofts and apartments, Craiglow said. The 28-block area borders Hendrix College on the north, the central business district on the south, Harkrider Street on the east and the railroad tracks on the west.

The first step in the project will be for the city of Conway to acquire Conway Scrap Metal at 1110 Spencer St. for $315,000, Craiglow said. The deal is expected to close no later than June 30.

The city then will turn the approximately 2-acre site into a basin to collect rainwater to prevent the city’s current downtown from flooding, Craiglow said. He hopes the city can start construction on the project in 2015.

Craiglow said the Planning & Development Department got involved in the project because it didn’t want a “big hole in the ground” at the site of the basin. “So that spun off this concept for a park and amphitheater space that would be permitted to flood, but most of the year it’s park space,” he said.

The talks about the park then expanded to include what could be done to the streets, and developers became interested, Craiglow said.

“One thing led to another and we made it a formal planning process,” he said. “That’s where we are today.”

Conway developer George Covington Sr., a general partner with Covington Properties, told Arkansas Business last week that he’s interested in developing a mixed-use building near the site of the basin.

Covington’s vision for a development would be a building with retail on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors.

He said he hasn’t gotten far enough along on the projects to have details. But he would like to attract businesses such as a downtown market or bakery as well as offices and small shops to fill the first floor.

He said he has five locations in the 28-block area that he could place buildings on. He said he would start with one and build the rest out if there’s a demand. To build all five might cost $20 million, he said.

Covington said he didn’t have a timeline for when the projects might start.

“This is a long-term goal,” Covington said.

He said he’s waiting for the city of Conway to finish the park project before he makes his move.

“Timing on a deal like this is critical,” Covington said. “If people can see things going on, … I think it’s going to open up just a whole lot of things downtown. It’s going to make people feel better that there’s actually something happening.”