Conway developer restores, repurposes downtown buildings

Originally Published December 2, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 30, 2012 at 12:09 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Conway developer George Covington Sr. has purchased several buildings over the years to renovate. His latest projects are refurbishing buildings at 1028 and 1030 Front St. for retail spaces. One will become a wedding business and the other a nutrition club. His office at Covington Roofing and Sheet Metal Co. is also on Front Street, and he owns most of the buildings on the block.

— Another piece of downtown Conway is getting the Covington touch.

Developer George Covington Sr. purchased two buildings on Front Street and is renovating them for incoming businesses — one wedding and one nutrition business.

“The front was about to fall out of one of them; there were animals in there,” Covington said. “We bought it from an estate that had it.”

The buildings at 1028 and 1030 Front St. were owned by the late Herbie Wilcox, a friend of his, Covington said.

Wilcox died in 2010 and formerly owned Central Arkansas Promotions, which was in both spaces for a time, before renting one building to another business and operating in the other, Covington said.

He said Wilcox moved to Louisiana, leaving the buildings vacant for about six years.

“It took me over a year to get those two buildings,” Covington said. “Herbie’s sat there all that time, and I walked by it so many times, and finally, I made up my mind. I said so much could be done with this, and nobody’s going to touch it with a 10-foot pole. I can do this.”

Covington owns most of the block now.

“I used to buy a building over here, a building over there,” Covington said, but he became frustrated when building owners didn’t always want to improve their properties.

“It’s easier for me to own a whole block,” he said.

Covington’s Roofing and Sheet Metal Co. office is on the west side of Front Street, where it has been since 1923. In 2011, Covington purchased the former Log Cabin Democrat building across the street, gutted it and updated it. Tenants include a church and Blackbird Academy of Arts.

He said that complex is a nice complement to Irby Dance Studio, across the street in the corner building that he does not own and adjacent to his latest acquisitions.

Tammy Spand of Conway will open A Wedding Palooza and Events at 1030 Front St., a business that she started in April in her home. She said Jan. 15 is the target date to move into the building.

Covington said the wide-open interior is almost 2,500 square feet and features original brick on the walls.

“I grew up here — I’m originally from Conway,” Spand said.

She lived in Morrilton for 16 years.

“I moved off and came back and opened up downtown because it’s just my childhood home. I know it’s a good district — they have Toad Suck Daze downtown and have a lot of traffic in that area.”

Her business includes wedding and other event planning, wedding-dress rentals, and she may add new wedding dresses to her inventory.

“I’m just going to see where it takes off,” she said.

The other building, approximately 1,900 square feet, is being leased by Cindy Ballard of Conway, who said she will open a nutrition club.

It is tentatively named Toadally Nutrition, she said.

“Nutrition clubs are new to Arkansas,” Ballard said. She mentioned clubs in Rogers, Fayetteville, Texarkana and Hope.

She said the business will include a smoothie bar, and daily memberships will be sold. People may get a smoothie or energy tea, she said, and participate in any class offered that day.

“We’re eventually going to have Zumba classes, small classes,” she said.

Weight-loss challenges will be conducted, she said, adding that the club is for people wanting to lose, gain or maintain weight.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom because I have a special-needs child, so this is something I can do,” she said.

“We’re hoping to be in and start the first full week of January.”

Covington said records don’t show the age of the two buildings.

“I’ve been down here my whole life, and they were old when I was a kid — I’d say they’re somewhere between 75 and 100 years old,” he said.

Covington also totally revamped the old Plunkett-Jarrell Grocer Co. building on Front Street, one of his favorite projects, because he remembered the store from his childhood. It’s brand-new inside, except for the beam and wood trusses he kept for a vintage feel.

When Covington finishes with his most recent project, the buildings will be another point of pride for downtown, said Kim Williams, director of the Conway Downtown Partnership.

“As always, we’re very excited about any preservation project, and that project has been in the making for quite some time,” she said.

Williams said Covington is working with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program to keep the historic integrity of the buildings.

“That’s the key to these revitalization projects — keeping the old spirit, if you will,” she said.

She said the goal of the downtown partnership is to make Front Street the entertainment district.

“Anytime we have a storefront like that revitalized, it’s one more step in the right direction. Our hope is to have that whole street filled with vibrant storefronts. It helps everyone,” Williams said.

Covington said the Front Street properties are in a well-lit area, which is often busy with community members and children taking art and dance lessons.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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