Architects of Conway’s new city hall shared a preliminary drawing of the site at a council workshop Monday night showing a three-story, 50,000-square-foot building that spreads over the site of the Conway Chamber of Commerce’s office.
Conway Administrator Adam Emrick and Deputy Administrator/Planner Mary Catherine Hyman will pitch the project to the chamber’s board at a board meeting Nov. 12.
A trio of chamber representatives attended Monday’s presentation, but had no comment on it after the meeting, saying they wanted to wait until after Tuesday’s meeting.
The plan the way the architects are showing it now has the chamber on the first floor of the new City Hall toward the back of the building.
Also on the first floor in the very preliminary plans are the city council chamber and the municipal courtroom. Council’s chambers is designed for 150 to 175 people, but Councilwoman Jean Timbes thinks that might not be enough for 10 years down the road. Council members have said numerous times that they expect this building to take Conway far into the future, surviving the way the Robert Mills designed city hall has.
The current chamber has seating for 111 people including the council members’ seats.
“We use the jury boxes now. We hang them off the rafters,” Timbes said.
But Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy said that doesn’t happen more than about three times a year.
Architect Billy Connell suggested that council pipe its meetings into other first-floor rooms at special times when the chamber is overflowing.
The proposed building the way it is shaped now is in sort of a T with the front on Main Street, but back a little from the street.
Connell says the architectural team wants to consider the entire space from Second Avenue to Scarborough Alley and Main Street to Laurel Street, and is looking at how the building will fit into that block.
Behind the building are parking spaces for 46 cars, with a green space behind that that could be used for 56 more parking spaces. Connell suggested putting retail buildings facing Laurel Street, but that idea didn’t draw much comment from council. Another idea is to build a parking garage behind the new building nearer to Laurel Street.
Councilman Tom Anderson was the first to give his nod to the preliminary plan.
“I love everything you’ve done,” he said. “I think it’s awesome.”
He says hundreds of planes go over Conway everyday and he thinks one-half or one-third acre of green space will look good from the sky.
The plan closes the road that takes motorists from Main Street around the Main Street Memorial Bridge to Second Avenue and limiting Scarborough Alley to one way, likely from Main Street to Laurel Street.
Councilman William Goldfinch pointed out that lots of people use Scarborough Alley and he wanted to make sure that it wasn’t going to be closed. He is also concerned about losing so many existing parking spaces when the building is constructed.
“I personally don’t think we can just cut out parking. If I’ve got to park at my church and walk to the City Hall, that’s not functional,” he said.
Planners want to put a slightly raised crosswalk for pedestrians across Scarborough Alley, also saying that it should slow down traffic in the alley.
They have also included in their plan an alleyway from Third Avenue to the building.
Security is also a big issue for city staff and the architects.
Emrick said security is difficult at the present City Hall, which makes it important for staff and visitors.
“We live in a time now when we have to be able to control entry…” he said, also pointing out that although defendants headed to the Municipal Court are typically facing charges that aren’t too serious, that isn’t always the case.
The plan developed by the crew from Stubbs Muldrow Herin architects (SMHa) shows a gated entry at the left side of the back of the building where defendants will be brought in through a Sally Port.
The plan also shows lots of green space and what was referred to Monday night as the Ike Long Mayor’s Garden. The Ike Long building being used now by the city’s planning and zoning employees and the city hall administrative building facing Second Avenue will both be leveled and their employees will be moved into the new building.
After Tuesday’s chamber meeting when planners have a better idea about the space available to them, they’ll start looking at cost estimates for the building.
“We are trying to right size the project with your budget,” said SMHa principal Sam Herin.
After the meeting, Timbes said, “I think they’re doing a good job. I think we need some answers for them.”
Councilman Larry White said he is happy that the conversation with the chamber has been opened and he hopes that they will be onboard after they know more about the plan.
“We need to make certain that everybody is clear about what we’re doing,” he said, adding that the city and chamber have a long history of working well together.
He doesn’t want to move ahead until everybody is aware and supportive, he said.