One department head for the City of Alma is looking to improve the city’s downtown if voters approve his portion of the 1-cent sales tax issue in the upcoming special election.
Streetscaping with trees, green spaces, seating, wider sidewalks and alternate parking are all part of a plan for Fayetteville Avenue in Alma to make the downtown more attractive to businesses and pedestrians, said Mark Yardley, director of Alma Public Works.
"The goal is if we can make people believe the downtown is attractive, we can attract businesses to the area," Yardley said. "Right now there’s no reason for them to come downtown."
Early voting on the 1-cent sales tax begins Tuesday, and if approved, it will replace an existing 1-cent tax in Alma, which is set to sunset in August.
City officials want to keep the current tax rate, which is 9.5 percent, but extend the 1-cent tax to help pay for city projects.
On the Aug. 12 ballot, seven separate improvement projects will be up for vote. If any of the projects are approved, the 1-cent tax will be put in place to pay for the project, but the tax will never total more than 1 cent.
Yardley has three separate initiatives on the ballot for the 1-cent tax, but the downtown streetscape improvement bond and the parking improvement bond must be approved together, he said.
"There are two ballot items, but they’re really the same project," Yardley said. "We don’t want one without the other."
As part of the changes to Fayetteville Avenue, street parking will be switched to parallel to allow space for a tree-lined median and wider sidewalks. Because the lost parking would need to be replaced, Yardley’s plan includes the addition of several small lots that could be accessed from the street.
There currently are 113 total parking spaces on Fayetteville Avenue. Yardley’s plan with both parallel and lot parking will total 112 spaces, with only one spot lost, he said.
Small lots will encourage visitors to walk and explore the downtown, while trees lining the street and scattered seating will provide shade and rest, Yardley said.
Kevin Beaumont, vice president at McClelland Consulting Engineers, is working with Yardley on a design plan for the downtown streetscaping.
Beaumont, a former director of Alma Public Works, has wanted to improve the city’s downtown for some time, he said. Streetscaping would be a complement to Alma’s quality school facilities, such as the Charles B. Dyer Arena and the Alma Performing Arts Center, both located in the downtown area, Beaumont said.
Increased lighting, wider sidewalks and slower traffic because of the median and layout also would create a safer downtown, Beaumont said.
Yardley hopes to create a "park-like atmosphere" to make the downtown more friendly to pedestrians, he said.
More than 100 trees with irrigation and native plants that are easy to maintain are part of the design plan, said Rick McGraw, a landscape architect with McClelland.
"A key part of this is landscaping; that’s what’s going to make the whole area come to life," McGraw said.
Other elements include a grand entry with stamped or textured cement to highlight the entrance to Fayetteville Avenue, and a four-faced clock near the farmer’s market.
Residents also will get a chance to provide input on the design, McGraw said.
If the project is approved, construction won’t begin until ownership of Fayetteville Avenue is turned over to the City of Alma, Yardley said. Right now, the street is maintained by the state as part of Arkansas 162.
Alma officials are working on the city’s portion of a bypass that will transfer Arkansas 162, which travels along U.S. 64, Cherry Street, Fayetteville Road and Main Street to Henry Street, to a new section of road that will connect Henry to Mountain Grove Road. Yardley expects the Arkansas 162 project to be complete by the end of 2016.
If Yardley’s third ballot issue, for street improvements, is approved, about $1 million will be used to pay for the relocation of utilities for the Arkansas162 project. Another $955,000 will be used to rebuild the road from U.S. 64 to Fayetteville Avenue.
This portion of Arkansas 162 was originally concrete surface that is now covered by asphalt, Yardley said.
"What happened is everywhere there was a seam in the concrete, it’s created a reflective crack in the surface," Yardley said. "It’s like a washboard."
Costs for both the Fayetteville Avenue streetscaping and parking will total about $2,875,000 million, and both Yardley and Beaumont said it is worth the expense.
"The money this project is going to cost, you’re going to get something for every penny you spend," Beaumont said.
For Yardley, if the new downtown can attract even one restaurant, then it will have achieved its purpose. He said he hopes it will inspire those who own or lease a building in the area to make their own improvements.
"This is going to be a catalyst for change in downtown," Yardley said.
Early voting on the tax is Aug. 5-11 during regular business hours at the Crawford County Clerk’s Office. Three polls will be open in Alma on Aug. 12 for the special election.