If the audience at Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s fifth monthly town hall meeting Monday night can be considered an accurate gauge, it would seem that a strong majority of citizens support a proposed move of the Pine Bluff Police Department’s Patrol Division to The Pines shopping mall.
At an audience member’s request, those in support of moving the patrol division to the mall rose to their feet at Monday’s event. The backing was nearly unanimous.
Hollingworth last week vetoed a 5-2 June 17 city council decision to send the division from its current location on Commerce Road to the former Army Reserve/National Guard armory at 1000 North Myrtle, near Townsend Park and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The mayor instead favors the sector’s relocation to the mall, where owner Andy Weiner is offering a 5,800-square foot space at no charge for the first 36 months of a five-year agreement and then “less than” $1,000 for each of the remaining 24 months.
The city would be responsible for its own utility costs of an estimated $1,600 a month, But the mall — in addition to leading in a $100,000 investment in renovating the space — would be responsible for all taxes, maintenance and insurance on the police area. Hollingsworth said an initial estimate on updating the armory so that it could house the patrol division was $700,000, and she believes that money could be spent more wisely on upkeep of the Joe Thomas Public Safety Building, which presently houses the police department’s administrative offices. The armory was given to the city by the Army.
Weiner is making no secret of the fact that the police presence is wanted as a means of helping the mall attract national vendors. Weiner said the public’s perception is that the facility is unsafe.
The council members — Aldermen Charles Boyd, Glen Brown, Steven Mays and George Stepps and Alderwoman Thelma Walker — who favored the armory site were not swayed by Weiner’s plea to the panel. Stepps and Walker were displeased, saying that although Weiner had owned the mall for a couple of years, they had not heard of his interest in housing the police patrol division there until the proposed move to the former armory was well under way and had drawn general support among council members.
Weiner told The Commercial the following day that he had previously made the appeal to former Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones, and although he was warmly received by then-mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., he didn’t “push the request” because of Davis-Jones’ negative response.
“It was only with the new (mayoral) administration and police chief coming into office that we attempted to make the same request,” Weiner said. “Unfortunately, the move to the armory was well under way.”
Hollingsworth believes a mall location would provide the city more “flexibility” with the police department as well as possible uses for the former armory.
Several audience members Monday night termed a move to the mall “a no-brainer” in expressing their support of the notion.
“If the armory ain’t good enough for the Army, then why should it be good enough for the police department?” a spectator asked.
Aldermen Bill Brumett and Wayne Easterly voiced support for the mall proposal. Boyd called the mall concept “a great idea,” but said he was unfamiliar with it when he voted for the ordinance calling for the relocation to the armory.
Mays shared the opinions of several citizens who said they would prefer to have police “substations” in both locations.
“That’s workable,” said the mayor, noting the city’s need to aid the mall, which supports the city with sales tax revenues it collects, and the Townsend Park/UAPB area, which has had some security issues.
Brown, Stepps, Walker and Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. did not attend the town hall meeting.