After handing out and reviewing pages of rules, Conway city officials told the city’s business community at a meeting Tuesday night that they want the city to look nicer and they’re prepared to begin better enforcement of the rules to make that happen.
City staffers went over rules about trash, trees, recreational vehicles, signs, starting businesses and more.
City zoning administrator Jessica Hucks said the meeting was not called in response to the recent collapse of a downtown building, that the staff had discussed the possibility of calling this type of meeting for a while.
However, Assistant City Administrator Mary Catherine Hyman said, “We don’t want to be known as the city that has buildings collapse.”
A slide show of several problems around town showed grass growing up in parking lots and alleys, trash outside and debris piled up.
Tommy Moore commented on a picture of his business that was shown saying the mess was caused by the recent project to bury power lines on Fourth Avenue. He wanted to know what will happen to the mess.
Amanda Roof, owner of Amanda’s Collection, agreed that the power lines project has caused some problems.
“It’s a mess. It’s really unsafe for us to walk there,” she said of an area behind her property.
Hucks assured them that the problem will be remedied as soon as the power lines are underground.
Downtown Conway businessman Leroy Clewis voiced concern about some of the requirements he heard.
“Have you ever rented a building?” he asked. “Well, let me tell you, it’s a job.”
Still, Clewis said, he understands that he can’t fight City Hall.
In regard to some comments Hucks made about people walking on the roofs of buildings to make sure they’re safe, Clewis said, “I know this collapse thing was very serious. What I know is most buildings down there are 100-years-old. I don’t want nobody walking on my building…You got to walk real easy on this building.”
He said the information shared at the meeting was a lot to digest at one time.
He said he certainly wants his property looking nice and in good shape because employees spend eight to 12 hours a day at their businesses and they almost become like home to them.
Business owners have 180 days to correct problems pointed out by the city. If they don’t, they can be ticketed and taken to city court. If the problem drags on long enough, the city can place a lien on the property.
As for his buildings, he said, “I want to rent them all. I don’t want any empty. It hurts the city…We need to make it easy enough so we can bend the rules and all get along…Renting property is a job.”
Hucks answered that they’d rather talk with business owners and try to work out problems rather than write them tickets.
“We’re all here tonight because we want the same thing,” Hyman said. “We all want a thriving city. We’re here to help you.”
She said they want to start enforcing the city’s ordinances, but in the same way if they see something that needs the city’s attention business owners should call and alert them.
“We hope this will spur people to take some action…We’re not going to come busting through your doors unannounced,” she said, adding that they can take out liens, but they don't want to have to do that.
Roof later got up and offered words of encouragement to the business owners.
She said the information given at the meeting was a guide telling people how they ought to conduct themselves.
“You’re supposed to take care of your backyard,” she said. “At the end of the day I don’t want anyone leaving here upset.”
But her ultimate question was, “Do you have pride in your business?”
Tracy Pickens, co-owner of The Black Water Market, said, “I think the meeting went great. I think it was overdue and I am very glad that the city is going to start to take action.”
He said if Conway looked nicer more people would want to come here and spend their money here.
Cliff Galloway, owner of the building at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Laurel Street, said he thought the meeting was good, but he hopes the city will balance its rules with the interest of the property owners and businesses when they turn to enforcement.
He pointed to several recent positives in Downtown Conway, saying he can’t wait for Fourth Avenue power lines to go underground, and he really likes the new Kingston Park.
“I think as you see improvements like that it makes property owners and businesses take more pride in their businesses and they want to improve as well. I’m hoping that they will take a gentle approach to work with the people to solve problems rather than using the hammer to make them,” he said.
Downtown Conway Alive director Hillary Howard said she thought the meeting drew an excellent response, estimating that as many as 100 people attended.
She said it was a great opportunity for people to learn more about doing business in Downtown. The questions and clarifications were also good, she said.
After the meeting Hyman said she was excited about the turnout.
“I think everybody’s here for the same thing. We want to see a more beautiful, thriving town and I’m hoping by starting this conversation tonight people will take more pride in their properties and make some renovations.”
She said she hopes people don’t think the city was trying to be difficult.
“This was for economic development…This was to improve the city, but we need everybody’s help,” she said.