With the start of a new year, and the start of a new decade, Van Buren Mayor Jonathon Hurst and the Van Buren community are thinking ahead on the future of their city.
As the city began to cross over into a new decade Tuesday night and the New Year’s ball dropped in downtown Van Buren, shops stayed open late, vendors were selling food, and everyone prepared themselves for the countdown.
Patricia Howard sat in front of her store Main Street Candy and Fudge Shop and mentioned that she wanted to see downtown Van Buren become more financially healthy. Howard recounted all the changes the downtown has gone through over the years.
“Downtown moves in cycles,” she said. “There is always a down cycle and an up cycle. Right now, we are in an upcycle.”
In Howard’s eyes downtown is growing, but it will need help from the community to get where it needs to be. She related it to the chicken and the egg. Which comes first? Will the things that draw the community towards downtown come first or will the community start working together to build the city up?
Hurst wants Van Buren to become a competitive location for attracting new businesses and retaining existing businesses.
“In 2019, I worked with Western Arkansas Planning and Development to create a Business Retention and Expansion Program,” Hurst said. “Through coordinated outreach and communication between community leaders and local businesses, the needs, and then help to connect them to resources and support, currently, I have formed a BR&E leadership team made up of representatives from local businesses, big and small. I hope to begin business outreach in the first quarter of 2020.”
Hurst went on to say the government can’t solve all the problems, but he has seen communities improve when the government forms partnerships with citizens.
Debbie Foliart, one of the owners of Chapters on Main, is very involved with the development and growth of the city. She says that right now the priority is residential living outside of Main Street for the group Van Buren Original, as well as the economic development of the city.  The continued growth and development in downtown for retail and hospitality is also very important to her.
Hurst also said he would continue to implement the parks plan and will work with Parks and Recreation in 2020 to determine the next project.
“Our streetscape that the mayor is working on currently will make a strong impact on this also for downtown and how we are able to approach new business and new consumers,” Foliart added.
“The downtown streetscape project will begin sometime in 2020,” Hurst noted. “We received a $492,000 grant from ARDOT to add new downtown sidewalks, landscaping, irrigation, and other elements to beautify downtown and make it more pedestrian friendly.”
The consensus among the people of Van Buren is that the community and government must work together to make their vision for Van Buren come to fruition in 2020.
“I’m excited about the future of Van Buren because the volunteerism and civic purpose here is second to none,” Hurst concluded. “By working together, we can move forward, and I am grateful for the opportunity to help us get there.”