BY MELANIE BUCK –
Rick Chrisman, local downtown business owner, addressed Mena’s City Council during their April meeting regarding continued delays on the completion of the streetscape project along Mena Street.
Some years ago, the project began to replace the sidewalks of Mena Street with decorative pavers as part of the Downtown Streetscape Project. However, as Mayor George McKee put it, “we’ve had 3 one-hundred year floods and an ice storm” which have caused delays with completing the project, along with FEMA taking almost five years to release the funding. At Tuesday night’s meeting, the project was approved to begin advertising for bids for the construction of those sidewalks.
Rick Chrisman, owner of American Artisans on Mena Street, spoke at the meeting on behalf of several business owners and organizations from the downtown area regarding their efforts to draw tourism to the region. Chrisman explained that the business owners have been inspired by a revitalization study that ARCO (Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas) conducted. “The creative organizations and businesses downtown have been working hard to create events to draw tourism to downtown to improve the area,” said Chrisman. He gave examples of events that encourage growth in tourism. The Rod Run, bicycle riding events, marathon events, Lum and Abner, and six events in the fall including Downtown Trick or Treat, Chamber Fall Festival, CMA Changing of the Colors, OLT productions, Mena Art Gallery’s National Painting Competition, and the Ouachita Arts Festival. Chrisman pointed out to City Council that all of those events occur in the downtown area and “it’s important to us to see this improve down here.”
According to Chrisman, there have been two main issues along the way that they feel have hindered their efforts somewhat. “One has been that Queen Wilhelmina has been closed down, which will solve itself soon. The other is the long overdue streetscape project and we’re glad to see you approve to advertise for bids on that,” said Chrisman. “It’s encouraging that the City is going to go along with an investment on that project as the other business have down here in their efforts.”
Chrisman expressed that although the business owners are glad that the old sidewalks will be replaced to match the rest of the street, there is concern over how long construction could take and how it might impact their businesses and events. “This is an opportunity for us to shine and improve things down here. Downtown businesses and organizations support and encourage the Mayor and Council to move forward on the Streetscape Project. However, in the process, we need to be considerate in the scheduling of the project in a manner that least impacts local businesses and visitors that come to see our products, services, and special events. It’s going to be a major disruption when you start to work on the streets,” said Chrisman.
During discussion of the project, Mayor McKee said it would be, “at best a hindrance” to business owners and consumers alike, but the work has to be done and the City will consider how and when they complete the project that has the least impact. “We will work with the contractor and try to work out a plan. I don’t know what that plan will be, but we will do our best,” said Mayor McKee. ARCO Chair Gar Eisele said, “We want it bad enough that we will make it work.”
Other items discussed previous to Chrisman’s presentation were reviewing and accepting bids for projects and the re-appointment of positions.
Department heads each gave reports of their respective areas of expertise, beginning with Airport Manager Will Robbins. Robbins reported that steps to complete the Master Plan, required by the Federal Aviation Administration, are coming along and it is expected to be complete by September.
Fire Chief John Puckett said that Mena Fire Department responded to 3 structure fires and 1 car fire last month, among other miscellaneous incidents. Police Chief Brandon Martin reported that officers worked twenty-four accidents last month and made fifty arrests. The Street Department head Roy Harris said they are continuing to haul loads daily for the City-wide Spring Cleanup program so there are no totals to report as of yet. However, Mayor George McKee has asked that citizens stop throwing leaves in ditches. He said that with all of the rain, it clogs up the drainage system and causes worse flooding.
In addition to approving advertising for bids regarding the Downtown Streetscape Project, the Council announced that Cossatot Builders, Inc., won the bid for the construction of a restroom/storage facility at Tapley Park near the soccer fields with the low bid of $133,500. The Council also approved the transfer of reserve funds for incidental repairs to the baseball/softball concession and restroom facility and to assist with construction of a second restroom at Tapley Park.
Tim Masters was appointed to the Mena Depot Commission to complete the unexpired term of Gar Eisele. The remainder of the three-year term will expire on March 4, 2017. LeAnn Dilbeck and Steve Mosley were re-appointed to their positions on the Depot Commission with their three-year terms set to expire on March 4, 2018.