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After flow of ideas, city in Arkansas out to make water tower a tourist draw

by Kenneth Heard | April 24, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Main Street West Memphis will illuminate a 94-year-old water tower on East Broadway and hang glistening cables from it, giving the effect of cascading water, as part of the Crittenden County town's efforts to boost tourism downtown.

The project, which could begin in June and be completed by the end of the year, comes on the heels of plans to build a 5-mile trail along the Mississippi River that connects with a walkway that crosses the river by the Harahan Bridge to Memphis. The walkway opened in October.

West Memphis leaders announced in October the city would build an 11-foot-wide trail for $1.5 million that passes under the Interstate 40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge and winds north.

"We hope this tower will be a destination to bring bikers downtown who ride across the bridge from Memphis," said Deborah Abernathy, executive director of Main Street West Memphis. "We want something unique to pique their interest."

The tower's refurbishment will cost about $240,000 and includes lights, a small park and garden beneath the tower, scores of cables hanging from the structure that include shiny discs, a plaque denoting the tower's history, and a sitting area.

It's more cost-effective than merely slapping paint on the structure, which would cost $300,000, Abernathy said.

Main Street West Memphis has commissioned Randy Walker, an urban artist from Minneapolis, to work on the tower.

Using a water tower to highlight a town's characteristics isn't a new idea, said Marian Boyd, interim director of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.

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El Dorado has its logo, Original Boomtown of Arkansas, painted on its water reservoir as a nod toward the Union County town's oil industry.

A Fouke High School panther mascot is painted atop the Miller County town's water tower, although some passers-by think the creature looks more like the legendary Boggy Creek monster that gained notoriety in the area in the early 1970s. Several other Arkansas towns also have depictions of school mascots atop towers.

Other towns across the country also use water tower art to proclaim their personalities.

Circleville, Ohio, features a large orange water tower to highlight its yearly pumpkin festival. Luling, Texas, which is proud of its watermelons, painted its tower to look like a large, striped melon.

The water tower in Rochester, Minn., is shaped and painted like an ear of corn in honor of the Libby Foods company that once operated there, and Hebron, Ill., reminds residents of the state championship its high school won in 1952 with a basketball-shaped water tower.

Occasionally, though, water tower boasting has to be edited.

For years, Alma's water reservoir was painted green and looked like a can of spinach. The cartoon character Popeye held a can of the leafy vegetable and claimed the town to be the "Spinach Capital of the World."

But the town lost that title to Crystal City, Texas, and workers painted over the reservoir, said Bryan Huff, executive director of the Alma Chamber of Commerce.

"It was a tourist attraction," Huff said of the spinach can tower. "But we're no longer the spinach capital."

Huff said there is talk of redoing the reservoir on U.S. 71 to include the town's motto as being the "Crossroads of America."

'"We're discussing rebranding Alma," Huff said. "Absolutely, a water tower is a great way to promote the town."

The West Memphis water tower sits on East Broadway and Fourth Street, Abernathy said. It was built in 1923 by the Federal Compress and Warehouse Company for a large cotton compress. The city didn't use the tower, but the company provided the city's first main water lines along East Broadway as a public service.

The faded compress' logo can still be seen on the tower, Abernathy said.

Boyd said cities shouldn't paint over old water towers if they consider them historic properties. She said people can call the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program in Little Rock for information about refurbishing towers without destroying their historical significance.

"This is a great tie-in to the river crossing," Abernathy said.

City leaders want to develop the downtown area to add restaurants and retail shops.

"This is a positive note," she said. "It shows West Memphis is committed to making a commitment to our city. We have a lot of history to show in West Memphis. This is just the beginning."

State Desk on 04/24/2017

Print Headline: After flow of ideas, W. Memphis out to make water tower a tourist draw


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