Wrap it up
By Maylon T. Rice
The Big Story: Big Buildings, Big Parking Lots
Any year-end story is laden with minute facts about the major news stories of the past year. Yet, as the past 365 days have trudged by, it was often not so much the “news,” but community controversy that we will all remember. Here’s a look at some of the things that happened in 2006.
Free Weekly readers would have to be hiding under a very large rock, a long way from the “heartbeat of Fayetteville” aka Dickson Street, to be oblivious to the triple-round of planning/zoning/commission decisions on the Dickson Street condo/commercial development known as the Divinity project. The project thrust a young developer into newsmaker status, which made his arrest of driving while intoxicated a news story.
Meanwhile the debate over how tall the Divinity building should be—according to the city— continues. A lawsuit file against the city for approving the structure by the Divinity’s next-door neighbor Michael Shirkey and Peter Tooker, former editor of the now defunct alternative newsweekly, The Grapevine, will ride into 2007.
While ground has not been broken on the Divinity Building, the Barber Group, which is developing the property, should see their other Dickson Street area monumental high rise, The Legacy, completed in ’07. The Legacy building effectively blocks the southward view of another tall Dickson Street building, University Baptist Church.
Not just Divinity-condos everywhere
The debate over “tall buildings” and condos in downtown wasn’t limited to Divinity. The Legacy condo/commercial project, which is replacing the old Shulertown, is running a bit behind schedule after one construction company was fired and another hired in midstream.
An investment group that included retired Bank of Fayetteville head John Lewis sold the old Santa Fe Railroad depot property on Dickson Street to another group of developers who are planning to develop at least part of the property for high-rise living and parking deck. Two other high-rise condos are planned just up the street, one next to Underwood’s, by yet another developer and another almost right across the street at the current Mr. Tux location, another condo project by yet a fourth developer who is betting his bucks on Dickson Street luxury living.
One of the big debates in Benton County this year was over the high-rise condos on Beaver Lake. That stirred up lots of talk. With property rights folks, New York city developers, and pretty much everyone who wanted to jump in, claiming they had a dog in the fight, since Beaver Lake provides the drinking water for the hundreds of thousands in this part of the state.
And another behind schedule downtown high rise—that rose a couple of stories after the original deal had been cut with the city—is the new hotel/condo/retail by yet a fifth group of developers. The city razed the old Mountain Inn and sold the property to the developers in a sweet deal, but nothing happened on the site for most of the year. The developers had promised quick action, but it wasn’t until these waning days of 2006 that a large crane was erected on the site. The finished hotel and condo project is expected to be completed in 2007 or is it 2008? Time, they say, will tell.
And, yet more condos are almost completed on the top of the former Bank of America building on the downtown square.
And if it’s not condos, it’s parking lots
As 2006 was drawing to a close, city officials announced that they wanted to jump into the real estate game (again) and be a player in the development of a mega parking garage (minimum 500 parking spaces) and “ancillary leaseable space” facility that would occupy a large part of the Dickson Street area. The structure would take up part of two blocks, span above Spring Street and butt up to some of the older homes on Meadow Street. The proposed “public/private” project will certainly be one of next year’s hot button issues. To be razed would be the old Porter Produce building, Grub’s Bar and Grille and some of the WAC’s office buildings on School Street. The largest parking garage in the state—the new $30 million Harmon Avenue Parking Facility on the UA campus with more than 2,000 spaces is just a few blocks up Dickson Street. Who knows, maybe someday Fayetteville will be known for its fine parking garages?
City Real Estate
The old Tyson Mexican Original plant on Arkansas 16 in
Fayetteville was empty. The city decided to buy it and use it for a justice center, with police and fire located there. The power was turned on the power so the building could be used for a brief time as a sorting center for items donated to those suffering from the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. Now the city decides it doesn’t want it.
Surprise, surprise, surprise as Gomer Pyle usta say. So what is going on?
The CAT controversy
It’s not easy being public access anyway, but this past year the Community Access Television board has held some of the most contentious, name-calling board meetings ever. A group offended by some of the CAT content, held public discussions on the role of CAT and Public Access TV. More and more local cable channels are being re-arranged as the local cable provider shuffles the deck to get more viewers, more revenue and bring us more of those crappy shopping channels.
The mountain controversy
Another rather peculiar controversy, one which only those who have lived in Fayetteville for some time can really understand, arose over the planned conversion of a spacious Fay Jones designed home atop Mount Sequoyah into a house of worship for the local Jewish synagogue. The city council, planning commission and even diverse church and civic groups including members of a local ecological and preservation society got involved in trying to preserve the city’s character, without offending anyone. Well, it’s didn’t work. Tempers flared, letters were written and in true Fayetteville fashion it later ended up being much ado about – well much ado. Members of the synagogue backed off its plans and
community members don’t seem to mind if the house remains
empty – which it still does.
The BBBQ controversy
Some love it, some hate it and they’re all talking about it. The annual Bikes, Blues and BBQ festival brings thousands of two-wheeling folks to town in the fall. The ongoing debate is between those who say it helps their business and those who say it hurts their business, and between those who want tighter reins on vendors to ensure that the city gets its tax money. Also being debated is just how many bikers actually attend and how much noise and rowdiness the town folk and city services should be burdened with.
THE DOWN AND DIRTY
The Chicken Litter Trial
Lot’s of folks were watching a small courtroom in Washington County this spring and summer where a multi-million dollar civil trial blamed chicken litter for unexplained illnesses and cancers affecting young people in Prairie Grove. After lots of high powered, scientific evidence was presented by witnesses and experts for both sides, the court ruled in favor of big business.
Oklahoma Snooping and blackmail
Water-quality issues over the Illinois River Watershed continue, but during the summer there were plenty of fireworks. Oklahoma Attorney General, Drew Edmond, was in a closed door meeting with both sides and slyly suggested a multi-million dollar payoff would make it all go away. That set Washington County Judge Jerry Hunton’s teeth on edge. Hunton accused the AG of blackmail. Word has it that autos and trucks with Oklahoma tags, have been riding the Washington County backroads, taking photos of chicken houses and homes. Locals suspect it’s private investigators looking for any evidence of chicken dumping they can use in any upcoming lawsuits. And the drama continues into 2007.
Local terror trial
A post-doctoral UA student living in Fayetteville, Anway Jabar, was arrested and tried on several counts – and was convicted on identity theft in U.S. District Court. He was first held as a potential terrorist for some remarks made when he and his wife were about the leave for the Middle East. He was convicted of stealing the identity of a Kansas teenager and using information to obtain credit cards.
Arkansas State Trooper Larry Norman was found responsible in the tragic shooting death of an innocent, mentally challenged Springdale man who he had misidentified as a criminal on the run. Norman and fellow law enforcement authorities were hunting a felon out of Michigan who was arrested after running though the Springdale Wal-Mart with local police in pursuit. Norman later resigned form the State Police.
Owl Creek Opens, Jefferson Closes
The Fayetteville School District opened the Owl Creek School on the western boundaries of Fayetteville and set in motion a series of talks about a possible second high school for the district. What will happen with the historic Jefferson Elementary School in the center of town, which was vacated when the new school opened, is being debated.
Change at the top
It seems, at times, like musical chairs at the cop shop. Frank Johnson, a gentle bear of a man, stepped down as the city’s first African American chief of police for a high-powered job at Wal-Mat corporate. He made a good, but short run as chief.
Tap Room Burns
A Fayetteville landmark, Maxine’s Tap Room in downtown Fayetteville, where many have quaffed a cold one over the past few decades burned this year, shortly after longtime owner Maxine Miller passed away. The Tap Room’s new owners are working feverishly to restore the bar to its former glory.
A SPORTING GOOD YEAR
Hog Wild Lives Here
Now this isn’t the sports page of the Fayetteville Free Weekly, but Fayettevillians are Hog Wild about those Razorbacks. This was one of the “fatter” years in that six home games were played in Fayetteville’s Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The new quarterback sensation – Mitch Mustan from Springdale lured big crowds into the stadium (even after a 50-14 drubbing by the University of Southern California in the opener). The Piggies finished 10-3 and scored a slot at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
Again, this is not a sports-who-dun-what, but heck, the most watched Saturday sports show on TV, ESPN’s GameDay, came to
Fayetteville in November. That event, whipped Hog fans into a victorious lather against the University of Tennessee Volunteers. Coach Lee Corso and his side Kirk Herbstreit, host Chris Fowler and part-time panelist Charles Thompson all thrilled an early morning crowd. It was woooooo Pig Soooie in national prime time. This was the first, but hopefully not the last time visit to Fayetteville by GameDay.
UA wins boat race
The University of Arkansas, long a participant in the “green” design and energy efficiency, hosted the world cup of solar designed boats at Lake Fayetteville and won the event. The event generated lots of good press for the UA College of Engineering, which sponsored the event.
A number of Northwest Arkansas residents passed away this year, leaving some big holes in the community. Among them: Maxine Miller, long time owner and operator of Maxine’s Tap Room; Dr. James Mashburn, who delivered thousands of babies in the post-WWII growth boom NWA; artist and educator Neppie Conner; all-round nice guy Pat Regan; Lamar Anderson, proprietor and founder of Hugo’s; attorneys Marshall Carlisle and William Murphy, who shared the same office for decades; law firm founder and civic leader Bill Bassett; and J.B. Hunt, who founded the nation’s largest publicly traded transportation company.
Jim House won a State House seat vacated by term limited Bill Pritchard. Pritchard of Elkins elevated himself to the State Senate by defeating Lynn Donald Carver for the Senate District of Eastern Washington County and large portions of Springdale. State Rep.
Marilyn Edwards was elected to her third and final term in the State House – again with no opposition – one of the few members of the Arkansas House with such bragging rights. Both State Rep. Lindsley Smith and State Rep. Mark Martin, both overcame challengers in the general election to return to Little Rock
A close city council race left Adella Gray with a four-vote victory over Richard Osborne for the Ward 1 seat vacated by Swifty Reynolds after several recounts. Ward 2 alderman Don Marr resigned his post on the council citing the need to spend more time on his business. Nancy Allen won his seat. Ward 2 alderman Kyle Cook drew no contenders for his seat and Shirley Lucas won her seat back.
A Democrat, Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe of Searcy, carried Washington County’s in his bid for governor, defeating former U.S. Congressman and Republican Asa Huchinson, who has roots and a long history in the western part of the state.
Many were shocked at the defeat of a well-publicized millage proposal to help fund the Fayetteville Public Library getting it away from the whims (and wags) at City Hall.