Conway Musical Park location to be changed

By Tammy Keith Published October 15, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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CONWAY — The first musical park in Faulkner County has an artist, a design and funding, but not a location.

The Conway Public Art Board’s original plan was to create the musical park in downtown Conway at Markham and Willow streets on a lot owned by real estate agent Spencer Hawks, who agreed to lease the property to the city for $1 a year for no less than three years.

The $60,000 art project includes an interactive musical sculpture, Bluescycle, which will be created by artist Steven Parker of Texas.

The Conway City Council approved the funding, but not the location, said Beth Norwood, a member of the Conway Public Art Board. The project is being paid for with a voluntary property tax for recreation. In addition, $30,000 annually is given to the art board from the city’s portion of the Advertising and Promotion fund, which is a tax on prepared food and lodging.

“It was going to have to be moved. The City Council was reluctant to approve a temporary location,” Norwood said.

Now Conway Public Art Board members hope the sculpture will be built in a former scrapyard at Markham and Spencer streets, which is near the original location. The scrapyard site, which the city owns, has been cleaned up and will be developed as part of the Markham Street Corridor to connect downtown Conway and Hendrix College.

Ruthann Curry Browne, chairwoman of the Art Board, said the musical-park art was scheduled to be installed in April; now it will be fall 2018, pending approval of a site, Browne said.

“It won’t delay us that much,” she said. “It turned out that’s better for the artist; the artist was really busy in the spring.”

Browne said the former scrapyard site would be the best option for the musical park.

“They’re getting ready to develop that whole site with the amphitheater, which is exciting and makes more sense to begin with,” Browne said. She said the art board didn’t start with the scrapyard site because members didn’t know what was planned for the site or how long its development would take.

Bryan Patrick, the city’s planning director, said the former scrapyard site is ready to go. He said soil has been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency, and fresh dirt was brought in.

He said an engineer with Garver of Little Rock is working on the corridor-project design, which should be completed any day.

Patrick said the redevelopment of Markham Street, depending on the design chosen, will cost approximately $3.5 million. He said the corridor project will be paid for with a matching grant — 20 percent from the city and 80 percent from MetroPlan, a central-Arkansas transportation-planning agency.

The Markham Street Corridor will include wider, pedestrian-friendly streets, street lamps and native plants, Patrick said.

Assistant Planning Director Jason Lyon said in an earlier interview that the corridor will include businesses and shops built closer to the street, and the city will encourage mixed-use buildings with retail on the bottom and residences on the top.

Norwood said she and Scott Grummer, city planner, met briefly Oct. 6 at the former scrapyard site.

“It was a good meeting, and Scott and I want to work together on this; it’s a matter of going through those steps,” Norwood said. “We want to get the plan worked out and then go to the City Council. Because [the city is] in the planning stage, it looks like we can all get in together and plan with this piece in mind.”

The art board was started in February 2016 after getting approval in September 2015 from the Conway City Council and being given a $120,000 budget.

Conway City Council member Shelley Mehl said the former scrapyard is a better site for the musical park.

“I was the one who brought up I’m not paying rent to put it on someone else’s land,” Mehl said. “I subsequently went to meet with the Public Art Board; I just think there was a misunderstanding. By public art, we meant land owned by the city.”

Mehl said the Conway Public Art Board was given a list of all park properties in the city.

“The whole idea of having it in the Markham Street area with the new park is a perfect fit,” Mehl said. “If not, we’ll find another place to put it. We could put it up at the trailhead by Tucker Creek; it could go in College Station Park, or the pedestrian overpass that’s going over Dave Ward Drive at Stone Dam Creek. There are lots of options of where we can put it. It just needs to be on city property.”

The City Council will make the final decision, Mehl said.

Browne said she appreciates Hawks and all the energy he put into the plan to have the sculpture on his property.

Hawks said he is “kind of disheartened, because I would have loved for it to happen there. I can’t fault the city — they’ve got a lot of wisdom there that I don’t.

“My big deal is giving something back to the community with this piece of land I have no intention to use for a few years and help out and to really make Markham the best gateway into Conway as possible,” Hawks said.

Browne said the proposed sculpture is “a fabulous piece of musical art.” It will be five interconnected bicycle frames outfitted with bulb horns, bicycle bells and large music boxes, according to the proposal, and all ages and abilities can play the piece.

Along with the primary art piece, Browne said, the artist will create an S-curve bicycle stand that displays information about regional musicians. Parker said his art will honor the legacy of the Markham Street neighborhood and highlight Conway’s commitment to bike-friendly infrastructure.

The $60,000 budget includes $40,000 for the art and $20,000 for site work and landscaping, Browne said.

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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