SEARCY Efforts to beautify and restore historic downtown Searcy were recognized recently by Main Street Arkansas, a preservation-based economic-development program housed with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
Participants in the statewide program were invited to the Arkansas Municipal League’s 2018 Winter Conference at the Fort Smith Convention Center, where winners of various Main Street Arkansas awards for 2017 were announced.
“Every other year, all Main Street Arkansas directors attend this conference to receive awards,” said Amy Burton, executive director of Main Street Searcy. “This is a good way for all the cities in the Municipal League to learn what’s going on in Main Street Arkansas cities around the state.”
During the opening-night banquet Jan. 11, Searcy’s name was called twice — for the Best Downtown Public Improvement Award and for the Best Facade Restoration Award.
The Best Downtown Public Improvement Award went to the Searcy Downtown Beautification Project and Main Street Searcy for a $517,000 project that improved the Courthouse Square and Spring Street.
The Best Facade Restoration Award went to the Rialto Theater in Searcy, where efforts of the Revive the Rialto Campaign resulted in the restoration of the theater’s Art Deco-style exterior.
“We were very pleased to have received these awards. They are both collaborative efforts. … There were many players in the game,” Burton said.
“The Searcy Downtown Beautification Project is a collaboration of the city, Main Street Searcy, the Searcy Regional Economic Development Corp. and the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce. Our local leaders are working together for the betterment of our community,” she said.
“Through the Downtown Beautification Project, we have been able to install some islands around the Courthouse Square that can be filled with trees and seasonal flowers,” Burton said, adding that the islands have access to electrical outlets. “We have also built some new crosswalks, using some of the original brick that is under the asphalt of the street.”
Burton said the cost of the restoration of the front of the Rialto Theater, which was built in the 1920s and renovated in the Art Deco-style in 1949, was primarily funded through the city’s general-improvement funds, private donations and a grant from Entergy Arkansas that was used to restore the theater’s neon marquee and other lighting.
Burton said efforts will now turn to the restoration of the theater’s interior.
“We have received a $20,000 grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Society to conduct a condition assessment of the Rialto Theater,” she said. “Once we hear the results of that assessment, we will know better how to tackle restoring the interior.”
Searcy Mayor David Morris said the theater was given to the city years ago.
“It has been managed by Victor Weber for the past 23 years. He is in his 90s and retired at the end of 2017,” Morris said.
“We put out a Request for Proposal seeking someone to operate the theater and got three interested parties,” he said. “Then the light came on in my head. … Why can’t the city operate it as part of the Parks and Recreation Department?
“I presented it to the City Council, and they voted for the city to operate the theater.”
Morris said Steven Gifford, network administrator in the city’s information systems department, had worked with Weber for a few years and will continue to help run the theater for the city. Mike Parsons, director of the Searcy Parks and Recreation Department, will oversee the management of the theater.
The Rialto Theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been closed for several weeks during the transition but is scheduled to reopen Friday, showing the family movie Ferdinand.
“We will have a new sound system, new projectors and lighting,” Parsons said. “The seating is OK for now. We will wait until we get the results of the assessment before we do anything else.”
Parsons said the Rialto Theater will continue to operate seven days a week.
“Movies are shown at 6:30 p.m.
every day, as well as at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday,” Parsons said. Matinee tickets are $1, and Tuesday admission is $1; admission at other times is $3.”