Conway City Council on Monday voted unanimously to buy the vacant building at the corner of Laurel Street and Second Avenue hoping to relieve some employee overcrowding, create a small home for police in the downtown area and delay the need for a new city hall, according to Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy.
The city plans to spend up to $600,000 for the 11,700-square-foot building. That includes a $575,000 purchase price plus any closing costs.
Blain-Bellamy said the idea for a new multimillion-dollar Conway city hall has been delayed indefinitely because council just doesn’t think this is the right time for it.
This will also give at least a temporary reprieve to the Conway Chamber of Commerce. The city had hoped the chamber’s building would be removed to make room for the new city hall.
The mayor said the group still believes that a new city hall is something that will come in the future, but with this new building they won’t be as pressed to do something.
“It certainly would allow us not to need to make any changes with the chamber of commerce’s building, certainly not immediately,” she said. “That would give everybody some reprieve, to give time to plan ahead for the chamber and city.”
She said there hasn’t been any talk about when a new city hall will be brought up again.
“It’s not a good time for that kind of investment. It’s just more of a wait and see…” she said.
She believes the city can begin using the building as soon as four to six weeks after the sale is completed. With some new floor covering and paint, the building will be ready to become home to city employees who are crowded in existing city offices.
She mentioned the planning department in particular, which has as many as 12 people working now in tight quarters.
She also foresees a small office for police in the building to take care of some complaints from downtown business people, who want them closer by. Of course, police are patrolling the downtown area now, but with the move from Laurel Street to the Public Safety Building on Ninth Avenue, police aren’t downtown as often and they don’t have a place to stop or meet with people.
The mayor also sees it as a place for some employees who are now based at the city shop on U.S. 378, but who spend a lot of time downtown. She mentions, for instance, city arborist Wanda Lilly.
The building also has plenty of storage space for things like Christmas decorations, she said.
But Blain-Bellamy has even bigger ideas for the long-term use of the building.
Once the city has its new city hall and no longer needs this building for offices, she’d like to see it turned into a place similar to ones in some other cities where really creative things are being done. She listed New Orleans as an example.
“They’ve become downtown central,” she said.
Blain-Bellamy foresees the possibility of renting spaces to artisans who will develop and sell their wares. She thinks about a restaurant, brewery, bar or farmers market in season.
“The enormity of the space is such that a lot of good things can happen everyday and make it a place that is a real draw for our downtown consumers of all kinds,” she said.
She mentions “foodies,” people who like beer or the creative arts, and will act on the opportunity to view and purchase them.
“There are no limits actually,” she said. “That dream would happen once there is a new city hall facility in place and, hopefully, it will be built to serve the new capacity that has been developed in the city and for more growth.”