Dardanelle residents working to develop downtown

By Tammy Keith Originally Published March 31, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 29, 2013 at 9:15 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

The Renaissance Front Street Restoration is a group of about 30 people who are working to revitalize Front Street by holding events and bringing people to Dardanelle. Upcoming events include a rummage sale and Rockin’ on the River. Some of the members, from the left, are Barry Sims, Carolyn McGee, Gwenda Martin, Julia Taylor, Kathryn McCormick, Gloria Craig, Betty Henson, Clinton Chronister, Kay McMullen and Angie Sims.

Residents of Dardanelle have said the city has a lot to offer — friendly people, its location on the river and proximity to Mount Nebo — but not a vibrant downtown. Not yet.

Angie Sims said she founded The Renaissance Front Street Restoration three years ago to improve the downtown area.

It’s slow going, but she and her committee members are determined.

“When I started this, my goal was to fix up Front Street, our downtown, right there on the river, and also to bring more people to Dardanelle and Front Street,” she said.

Sims, who registered the nonprofit organization in February 2011, has spearheaded events such as an art walk, cook-offs, the Dog Daze Festival and a talent show.

The Renaissance Front Street Restoration, which has 15 to 20 active members, has $5,000 in its bank account, Sims said.

Two more fundraisers are scheduled in April.

The third annual Rummage for The Renaissance will be held from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 11, 12 and 13 on Arkansas 22, and donations are being collected.

Rockin’ on the River, a free outdoor music event, will be held from 5-8 p.m. April 20 in the Front Street gazebo on the river. The Renaissance will sell barbecue dinners, Sims said.

“We’re trying to bring in money to not only fix up Front Street, but to hold events to bring people to Dardanelle, and we can introduce them to our businesses around town,” Sims said.

The downtown was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. Sims said the

Renaissance group has gotten support from not only Dardanelle officials, the chamber and civic clubs, but the chambers of commerce of nearby cities, including Russellville.

Dardanelle Mayor Carolyn McGee said residents will soon see improvements in downtown.

She said the city received a federal 80-to-20 matching grant through the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to improve sidewalks, add lamp posts and install new landscaping.

The highway department is providing $200,000, and the city will chip in $50,000, which was budgeted for the project, McGee said.

She said the highway department has to “sign off on it” first.

The work will begin on Quay Street and continue south on Front Street, she said.

“It’s going to be great to get all that done,” McGee said. “It’s a good atmosphere.”

That’s not all McGee has planned.

The Front Street gazebo grounds, next door to City Hall, were full of blooming jonquils last week.

“We’re going to be revamping all this,” she said, standing in the adjacent parking lot.

McGee said city treasurer Betty Smith drags water hoses across the property to water the plants.

The mayor said the city will pay for the installation of an irrigation system and plant shrubs.

It’s not all about looks, of course. Sims and McGee said more businesses are needed downtown.

Sims owns two buildings, and both are rented, she said.

Debbie Moudy of Dardanelle was eating lunch one day last week at Tarasco’s on Front Street.

She said the downtown could be improved.

“I’ve really enjoyed Savanah’s, and I enjoy this restaurant, and I wish there were more things here,” she said.

Three restaurants on Front Street draw regular crowds. It is home to banks, the post office and other businesses, but most of the buildings are vacant.

More than a half dozen of the downtown buildings are owned by Margie Jones, 79, and her son, Dwight Jones, 38.

Margie operates River Front Antiques on Front Street in one of their buildings, and the space next door is full of antiques, too.

She said her son isn’t interested in selling any of the buildings.

“He wants to fix them up,” she said.

Margie said her son is “slow as Christmas,” adding with a laugh that he was born on Christmas Day.

Dwight said he is committed to restoring the buildings he and his mother own.

“We do have plans for quite a few of them,” he said.

“I have historic people who have looked at them. I’m for a restoration and completely restored downtown area,” Dwight said.

He said he would like the buildings’ architecture to represent the 1880s to 1940, and he wants to use historically appropriate colors.

“I don’t believe in doing anything halfway,” he said.

McGee said most of the family’s buildings are sitting idle, although there have been people interested in buying or leasing them.

Dwight said he will lease his downtown buildings after he renovates them.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Among the businesses he would like to see are boutiques and a bakery shop/cafe.

“To be honest, we need to open up another antique store,” he said.

Dwight said he has been working on the family’s properties.

“I have the Benjamin Franklin store all cleaned up and the old Savanah’s,” he said.

Savanah’s restaurant first opened in one of the Joneses’ buildings, Dwight said.

He said to help get the business off the ground, they gave the original owners a few months’ free rent with their lease.

The restaurant is now on the river side of Front Street.

The Joneses are not members of The Renaissance Front Street Restoration.

“We’ve been busy doing so much stuff,” Dwight said. “We support The Renaissance or any type of club to support this.”

The Joneses said they were glad to hear about the grant the city received.

“[Renovation] takes time, and honestly, some of the things we were waiting on was the streetscapes, the sidewalks.”

In 2012, several of the Joneses’ properties, including downtown buildings, were scheduled for public auction at the Yell County Courthouse because of delinquent taxes. Dwight said he paid the taxes and kept the buildings.

“Really, our heart is into restoring [the downtown property]. I’ve spent a small fortune, … and I will see it through, without a doubt,” he said.

It can’t happen too soon for Sims and her group.

“We encourage people to join us. My main thing, I want to hear their output. I want to hear their input. I want to hear their ideas,” she said.

Meetings of The Renaissance Front Street Restoration, which are open to the public, are held at 6 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at City Hall.

“What I say is, ‘Help bring Dardanelle back to life,’” Sims said.

For more information, call Sims at (479) 886-3567.

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.