State’s largest Christmas tree soon to go up in Conway

By Tammy Keith Published October 31, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Ed Outler, left, and Dylan Lindsey lay blocks while working on the archway at the intersection of Van Ronkle and Oak in downtown Conway.

CONWAY — Halloween is being celebrated today, but planning for Christmas has taken front and center in stores and on city agendas for months.

The Conway City Council voted in August to buy a 54-foot lighted artificial Christmas tree for Rogers Plaza, which is under construction at the east entrance to downtown.

Jack Bell, chief of staff for Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, said Nov. 18 is the target date to receive the tree.

“We’re looking at having it up by Nov. 23,” he said. That’s the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

The tree was purchased for $120,874 from Get Lit in Springdale.

The tree is steel and has 19,964 lime-green lights and weighs 8,000 pounds, Bell said. Installation oversight is an additional $3,400, he said.

“It’ll come in on a big truck, and the first year, Get Lit is going to help erect it with our physical-plant guys doing most of the work and learning as they go,” Bell said.

The total cost, $124,274, is being paid with Advertising and Promotion funds, Bell said.

“[A&P funds are] designated by law for promotion and things that bring people to the community, and parks is one of those,” Bell said.

“[The money] can’t be used for streets, general-fund projects or any of that.”

Advertising and Promotion money comes from a 2 percent tax on prepared foods and 2 percent on hotels/motels.

The company will also help the city do some marketing for the tree, he said, such as the Trail of Lights.

“I think we’re already on it, but it will be a little more focused.”

Bell said some people he has talked to about the tree are happy, and “some are amused by it, I guess.”

“I haven’t found anybody angry about it. Maybe most people I talk to do understand that money is for promotion, and most is paid for by people who visit.”

Bell also said the tree is designed to last 15 to 20 years.

The City Council unanimously approved the purchase.

“I know $124,000 sounds like a lot of money, and it is,” Alderman David Grimes said, “but the tree should last 20 years or more, so that breaks down to a cost of $6,200 per year. Or to look at it another way, Conway has close to 62,000 residents, so the cost breaks down to about $2 per person.”

Bell said the company told Conway officials that the tree is the largest in Arkansas, and people will be able to see it from Interstate 40.

He said construction on Rogers Plaza “is going very well.” The family of the late Earl Rogers donated the property at Oak and Van Ronkle to the city for the plaza/park. It was the location of a bright-blue building, the Earl Rogers Co. (a NAPA store), which was torn down last November.

Van Ronkle Street was closed in front of the chamber, and a dedicated right-hand turn lane was created.

An arch installed across Oak Street will declare it Historic Downtown Conway on one side, and Established 1875, when the city was officially incorporated.

Bell said a Corco Construction official believes the plaza will be ready for the tree, although the work won’t be finished.

“He feels like they can accommodate it by the 23rd. The entire plaza won’t be completed, but they’ll fence off that part that’s not complete,” Bell said.

The plan is to have the fountain done by then, and the tree will be erected over the fountain, which will be shut down for the winter.

The tree’s base is 27 feet, Bell said, and the fountain is 23 feet wide.

Anchors will be placed in the ground to help hold the tree, Bell said.

“We did have a backup plan if Rogers Plaza isn’t ready — we’ll look at Simon Park,” Bell said.

The tree likely will be stored at the Conway Expo Center, he said, either upstairs or in the front, unfinished area.

“It’ll take up quite a bit of space. It comes with racks to hang the limbs on, and the rings break down and stack on top of each other,” Bell said.

In Perryville, a private individual bought a lighted tree for the community to enjoy.

Calfneck Enterprises, owned by businessman Robert Allen, bought the 21-foot artificial tree, also from the Springdale company.

Calfneck employee Patrick Collins made the arrangements.

“[Allen] loves Christmas, and he wanted to put up some lights, and I got ahold of Get Lit,” Collins said.

“They put a proposal together, and everything had a tree in it, and we liked it,” Collins said. It’s off Main Street on Arkansas 10, “right in the middle of town,” he said.

The tree has colored lights coordinated with music, Collins said, and people may tune their radios to an FM station to listen.

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

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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