Two new playgrounds, work beginning on a new tennis center and millions paid to flood victims for their damaged property are all signs that Conway is coming back from the devastation left by Hurricane Florence, according to city administrator Adam Emrick.
Now he’s ready for the city to celebrate its recovery with the Conway Strong festival.
Although he acknowledges that there are people who are still struggling, he says the city has turned the corner and is ready to move into the future.
The FEMA buyout is rounding down, adding to the city 128 acres of vacant property that should help some residents in the affected areas with future water problems. He also points out that Conway has more than 3,000 acres of conservation property in its city limits, which he thinks is unusual for a city this size.
The city isn’t allowed to put any kind of structures on the now city-owned properties and must tend them, which is expensive, but the city has come up with an idea to help. At the request of some of the residents living near the flooded properties, the city plans to lease these vacant lots to adjoining property owners for $1 a year. That will allow them to enlarge their yards and they will be required to keep them manicured.
“Really, I think we’re doing a good job (with the FEMA buyout). Those are the homes that are most susceptible to flash floods. They’re gone now. They’re out of harm’s way. That has been an incredibly successful program,” he said.
This past week, city officials took bids on a new riverfront playground. Emrick expects Conway City Council to vote next week to approve the winning bidder.
Emrick is excited about the playground and the riverfront park. He says the playground will be crafted just for Conway and won’t have the hollow pieces that are so easily destroyed by flooding.
“We asked for it to be river-themed, or a nautical theme, something that tells the story of Conway. We’d really like to see something that plays on the riverfront…” he said.
Staff is also looking at the possibility of changing out the mulch to a surface that will be better for wheelchair-bound kids and others with mobility issues.
“It makes a difference for a lot of kids,” he said.
The different surface comes with a large price tag, between $60,000 and $100,000. He estimates that the playground will have a total cost of about $200,000.
As to the park, the city has already spent $40,000 for plants there and that’s just for phase one. He expects maybe one or two more phases.
City employees have been busy this week planting trees and shrubs, all in accordance with a plan created by arborist Wanda Lilly. Timmy Williams’ staff has been putting the plants and trees in place.
The planting has been going on for about one week now and will likely take several more weeks, but Emrick has already voiced his approval.
“It’s stunning,” he said.
Also on the riverfront, the city has rebuilt a dock damaged in Hurricane Joaquin on the park-side of the marina. He says Darrell McDowell, who oversees the city’s facilities, has spearheaded that effort. When a railing is added it will be open to the public.
“I plan to put Bistro tables and chairs out there,” Emrick said.
Also on the schedule of things happening soon is the reopening of Sherwood Park. Emrick says it will be nicer than before, but not extravagantly so. He expects about a $100,000 cost for that project that is set to open Oct. 5 in conjunction with the Conway Strong festival.
A new, much-improved tennis center is also a point of pride for Emrick, who says it will be elevated and approved by the U.S. Tennis Association.
“It will be better than it was before and hopefully it will never flood again,” he said.
Emrick says the city is also looking at requiring good subdivision development so flash flooding doesn’t damage property, but river flooding isn’t something that can be stopped at this point.
He points to the Conway Golf Club property as an example, saying water just sheets off of the property now because there’s nothing there to slow it down or capture it.
With development, they can slow the water, capture it and send it to Crabtree.
And on the subject of Crabtree he says the city has amassed a large amount of acreage near Crabtree and is looking at something there to hold stormwater.
The S.C. Nature Conservancy is working with the city on the plan, but Emrick isn’t ready to say yet exactly what the plan is. He does say that the city is hoping for a grant to implement it.
“We, at that point, are now where we can start looking forward,” he said.
Emrick is filled with compliments for the city staff and says he never ceases to be amazed at the things they accomplish.
He worries that some suggestions of raising bridges and/or putting in culverts will simply shift the problems to others.
But, he said, “There’s a lot of big projects that need to be done and need to be looked at that are bigger than the City of Conway,” he said.