Just how bad did Heber Springs want and need its new community and aquatic center and sports complex?
Opened in July 2010, the city hoped to sell 600 family and individual memberships in the first six months. A year later, more than 7,800 memberships had been sold, and Heber’s population is just over 6,400.
The city’s passage of a sales-tax initiative to fund the much-needed, $18 million project demonstrates a strong commitment to its residents’ quality of life and helped earn the Cleburne County seat honorable mention designation as a 2011 Arkansas Business City of Distinction in the Quality of Life category.
The 52,000-SF, $12 million Heber Springs Community Center & Aquatic Facility includes an indoor pool, two racquetball courts, two full-size basketball courts, a portable stage, an indoor walking track, a youth room, weight training rooms, meeting rooms equipped with full audio/video capabilities, classroom space, office space and a full commercial kitchen. It is designed to host large and small conventions and trade shows as well.
Outdoor amenities include a pond, skate board park and a walking track. The $6 million sports complex provides baseball, softball and soccer facilities.
A penny sales tax is funding the facilities. Three-eighths of a cent was dedicated to construction, the rest to operations.
Mayor Jackie McPherson praised the coalition of local businesses supporting the tax, and called the long-term benefits of the project “immeasurable.”
“The general health and well being of the residents and visitors, affordable facilities for our citizens and visitors, and the pride in our community are just a few of the benefits,” he said. “We no longer have to travel to other cities for special events, more often they are now held here. And, of course, the economic benefit to the community for local businesses is also very significant.”
The center is booked months in advance now for meetings and parties, attracting visitors from all over the state and even beyond its borders. Civic benefits include the use of the therapy pool by Baptist Health Heber Springs for seniors programs, the use of the competition-quality pool by the Heber Springs High School swim team and use of the baseball field by the HSHS baseball team.
“The project provides a venue for all members of the community to congregate, exercise and participate in sporting and cultural events,” McPherson said.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department operates the center and sports complex. In fact, thanks to the sales tax, the city was able to add 11 full-time and six part-time employees, plus a cadre of volunteers, to run the facilities.
McPherson thinks the center’s success – the fact that it’s a source of civic pride – more than justifies its construction.
“Local support is very good,” he said. “With memberships for our community center and aquatic complex in excess of the population of the city, we think this speaks for itself.”