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Work under way on Rogers Plaza in ConwayOriginally Published May 23, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 22, 2013 at 10:26 a.m.
Josh Elliott of Mallard Ready Mix, left, helps Tommy Fowlkes, assistant director of the Conway Street Department, center, and Travis Holland of the Street Department pour concrete for a “drop in,” which will help drain water from the street as part of the construction of Rogers Plaza.
Lloyd Westbrook has waited 18 years to see his dream for a park in downtown Conway start to take shape.
Westbrook, 81, of Conway became president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce in the early 1990s and retired in 2000.
“I had the idea that we needed to do all we could to maintain and keep a real viable
downtown area,” he said.
Earl Rogers, who died in 2006, owned Earl Rogers Co. (a NAPA store), which was in a small bright-blue building at Oak and Van Ronkle streets, the east entrance into downtown.
“I got the idea that if we would tear down the old blue building, we could build a park there,” Westbrook said.
Westbrook said he saw Rogers getting into his truck at the downtown post office one day and told Rogers he wanted to talk to him.
“I said, ‘You might think I’m crazy,’ … but I said, ‘If you will give us that building’ — I was talking about the chamber — ‘I’d like to tear that out and put in the Earl and Mary Louise Rogers Park.’”
Westbrook said he told Rogers he envisioned a fountain, flowers and shrubs, “and benches where people could sit.”
“He listened to it very intently and said, ‘No, it’s not a bad idea. I just don’t want to give up my building right now,’” Westbrook said.
Westbrook said Earl’s wife, Mary Louise, took up the cause for a park, too.
The Rogers family donated the property to the city last year, and the building was demolished in November.
Rogers Plaza, which is being created on the site, will include all those features Westbrook pictured — a fountain, flowers, shrubs and benches.
Jack Bell, chief of staff for Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, said the park will cost approximately $300,000, paid for by city of Conway Parks and Recreation advertising and promotion tax funds.
A feature that Westbrook didn’t envision is an arch across the street declaring the area Historic Downtown Conway.
Rachel Earls, director of destination marketing for the chamber, said the arch will cost $257,000.
It will be paid for with Convention and Visitors Bureau money, which comes from the advertising and promotions tax.
Bell said the arch will span Oak Street and the park, between the chamber and the Walgreens parking lot, “approximately where the chamber of commerce sign is now — that sign will go away,” Bell said. The other end of the arch will be across Oak Street in Warp and Woof’s parking lot.
Crafton Tull of Little Rock drew plans for the project, Bell said.
Van Ronkle Street will be closed in front of the chamber, and a dedicated right-hand turn lane will be created at the traffic light on Court Street to get on Van Ronkle, he said.
The street closure “is
going to happen imminently,” Townsell said.
“They’re working on the drainage improvements right now and recurbing,” he said.
The closing will affect only one business, Townsell said, rental property owned by Dennis and Wanda Fulmer. It now houses seven businesses, including the Faulkner County Board of Realtors and Dennis Fulmer’s business, Custom Carpet Concepts. The closure will take two of the business’s parking spots as well, Townsell said.
“I had no idea the city would let them close that street in front of the chamber,” Westbrook said.
Although parking is at a premium downtown, “I think there can be events there,” Bell said. “I think people can walk there.”
“It’s a wonderful addition to downtown,” Townsell said, and the start of making Van Ronkle look as attractive as Oak Street.
As it is now, Townsell said, the city gives “mixed signals as far as the vitality and attractiveness of our downtown.”
The plaza and arch will provide a much-improved front door, he said.
After the Rogers building was razed last year, a lighted community Christmas tree was placed on the slab.
Westbrook said he is happy the park is becoming a reality, even if it did take almost two decades.
“Sometimes you have to plant an idea and let it grow for a while,” he said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.
Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.