Those who attended the April 12 meeting of the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development noted the city is waking up after the winter doldrums. Mayor Butch Berry said an upscale interior design company moved to town, and Main Street Eureka Springs (MSES) Director Jacqueline Wolven commented that downtown vacancies are suddenly filling up. She said it seems people from Texas are moving their businesses here, “and that’s a good sign.”
Wolven said MSES is compiling a comprehensive survey of properties within her sphere with very specific information including square footage, contact names and lease terms. She said it is a formidable task to create the survey, but once completed it can be updated at least annually, and information will make it easier to know whom to talk to about a property.
Allen Huffman of Arvest Bank said he has been trying to make progress with the Pine Mountain Village property. “It is too much of an asset to let it go downhill,” he said proposing getting a group together, including the mayor, to see if they can find a way to fill the empty spaces. “It needs paint,” Chamber of Commerce President Tammy Thurow, who leases space there, said, “and that’s not the job of the Chamber.”
Sentiment among the group was that it’s inevitable a brewery will move to town at some point. Berry said a previous attempt proved to be too much work for the owner, but the site is sitting there ready to go with piping, water and everything else in place. He said there have been prospective brewers testing the waters here.
Wolven also mentioned she will have an intern helping businesses with their online marketing for which “there will be a minimal cost to get a card in the game.”
MSES is trying to get a crosswalk across Main Street which will effectively be a stylized water design extension of the rainbow stairs. However, since Main Street is part of a state highway, Wolven has found herself in “a sticky wicket” dealing with the Arkansas Highway Department.
Hot spot for pot
Chair Sandy Martin said Berry is setting up another meeting with David Couch, author of the medicinal marijuana bill approved by voters, to answer questions about how to apply for a dispensary license and explain the final laws and regulations. Berry said he knows of four or five people seriously interested in applying to put a dispensary business in town. He added one of the criteria for choosing a site is the need for economic development, and Eureka Springs fits the bill.
Tech center coming?
Martin said the Winrock Foundation identified a tech center grant possibility for Eureka Springs which, if it came through, would create new year-round jobs in town, and Berry added North Arkansas College is at least talking about establishing an extension site in town. Planning commissioner Woodie Acord mentioned the old Clear Spring High School building off US 62 west of town as a possible site.
Acord then produced a list of commercial properties for sale in the area. He and alderman Terry McClung had identified 70 properties, and Acord said he expected maybe only 25 percent would move in the next 18 months. He commented seven restaurants have been listed in the past year, and none has sold.
Reduce, reuse, relocate
Wolven then brought up recycling. She suggested Eureka Springs, already known for being a Tree City USA and Bee City as well as sort of “hippie-dippy,” could lead the way in the mid-South in reducing waste from styrofoam and plastic bags. Such a move would appeal to certain potential visitors, and besides the environmental benefit it would be positive public relations.
She added even leftover motel soap could be recycled and would make a good news story.
“And a new business,” Martin added.
Martin suggested for the next meeting, one topic should be making it easy for prospective entrepreneurs to know what financial instruments are available to help them move a business here.
Next meeting will be Wednesday, July 12, at 10 a.m., at the Auditorium.