The Van Buren City Council voted Monday night to purchase two pieces of property just south of Main Street to continue the city’s effort to revitalize the downtown area.

Aldermen voted 5-0 to buy property at 115 S. Ninth St. for $23,400 and the adjoining property at 117 S. Ninth St. for $25,000. Council member Mike Kneeland was absent.

Mayor Bob Freeman said the city plans to demolish the two houses on the properties and convert the area into green space for the immediate future.

“This will clean up the entire block,” Freeman said.

The property will be adjacent to the 900 block of Main Street which is being developed into a food truck court by local businessman Jim Petty. The soon-to-be green space also will be in the area of the newly opened Freedom Park and the Veterans Memorial Plaza, phase II of the downtown Veterans Park.

Veterans Memorial Plaza is the city’s original Veterans Park and is located across Main Street from Freedom Park, which was dedicated and opened to the public on June 30.

The food truck court will offer pads for five to six vendors with electricity, water and sewer, Petty said.

The council voted to enter into an agreement with Hawkins-Weir Engineers Inc. to provide engineering services for the Lee Creek Access Road improvement project.

Freeman said the cost will not exceed $30,000.

Brett Peters of Hawkins-Weir said the project will include replacing a pedestrian bridge in Mike Meyer Park with a bridge for vehicles and drainage improvements.

“We want to improve access to the park while avoiding the street behind the Simmons Food plant,” Peters said. “The first step will be the widening of a drainage channel.”

Freeman said the city also is seeking state funding for the project as well as a state grant to make repairs to the Jefferson Street bridge. He said future planning calls for a study of accessing Mike Meyer Park and the Lee Creek area by making an immediate turn to the west off the Jefferson Street bridge.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council gave its support to Police Chief Jamie Hammond’s request for a K-9 unit which the VBPD has not had since 2008 when the department’s K-9 officer Michael Bowman went to the Arkansas State Police.

Hammond estimated the cost would be about $75,000, including $15,000 for the dog and its training as well as the officer’s training and a K-9 vehicle. Hammond said Prosecuting Attorney Marc McCune has pledged $20,000 for the K-9 unit.

While drug detection is the most common use for the K-9, Hammond said the dog also can be used for tracking evidence and finding lost people.

“A K-9 unit is not only a deterrent of criminal activity, but it can be useful for community engagement,” Hammond said. “With our own K-9 unit, we would not have to rely on the Fort Smith Police Department and the Arkansas State Police for their help.”

City Attorney Candice Settle said the K-9 unit could pay for itself with forfeitures of money and property during drug arrests.

Freeman pointed out the VBPD position is open for a K-9 officer.

“The issue is purchasing the dog and equipment,” he said.

Aldermen approved an ordinance to renew the levy of a 2-mill tax on real and personal property for the city and a 1.4-mill tax for the public library.