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Planning by city pays off


Development of the Smart Auto Mall in White Hall is proof that the city’s image and placement is paying off, Mayor Noel Foster believes.

Scheduled to open in August, the dealership’s three buildings under construction will add 70,000 square feet in three buildings to White Hall’s commercial footprint.

Smart Motors, one of Pine Bluff’s oldest firms, is moving the bulk of the company’s automobile and truck dealerships to White Hall on 15 acres northwest of the Interstate 530 and U.S. 270 interchange.

The sales and service for General Motors products will be housed in the largest of the three buildings, with Honda and Hyundai vehicles each occupying separate facilities.

Some 100 jobs will be involved in the move to White Hall, he stated, with the number of employees probably growing at the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep operation.

Smart Auto Mall will allow the company to meet image requirements established by auto manufacturers, Roger Smart Jr. said, with state-of-the-art facilities.

Work on the city’s image has paid off in 2012, Foster said Friday, emphasizing a highly visible police department is an asset when it comes to relocating to White Hall from cities and towns where crime is a major issue.

Prospective businesses and residents take note that the city picks up trash and mows the I-530 interchanges to keep the city’s front doors attractive, he added. As he answered questions about municipal activity, a public works crew was picking up leafs outside City Hall with a trailer-mounted vacuum.

Maintenance is the key for a small city with limited resources to operate efficiently, he added.

“Our sewer system is very old,” he noted. “We have 28 sewer stations with two pumps each and they are checked daily.

“We spend a lot of time maintaining what we have,” Foster added.

Public works director Jeff Jones and the remaining department heads have a daily plan of action on what they plan on accomplishing each day, the mayor said. With 42 employees organizational planning is vital to achieving goals.

“We have to be frugal with the public’s money, and that means planning ahead,” Foster emphasized.

Planning has started on a new city museum, along with work on the community building known as the Scout Hut at City Park and the park’s amphitheater.

He has met with a financial planner this year with a goal of refinancing several municipal bond issues to take advantage of lower interest rates.

Some of that planning began in 1997 with the adoption of a 2 percent sales — with the revenue pledged toward a community center. Fifteen years later plans for a community center are starting to take shape.

The $3.5 million generated by the tax is not sufficient to build what residents said they want in a center in a survey conducted earlier this year.

Foster asked McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. of Little Rock and architect Fred Reed of Pine Bluff to developed plans as the city cleared a large tract southeast of Dollarway and Hoadley roads this year. Timber was cut from the site and a topographical survey was conducted of the city-owned tract.

Foster and Aldermen Ken Smith and David Beck have visited half a dozen municipality owned and operated centers with aquatic parks this year, with an eye toward those that operate at a profit or at least break even on operational costs.

He was impressed with Alma’s water park has a large pool, slides, a splash park, and features designed for the young and adults. “We were told repeatedly you have to run it like a business,” Foster said.

“Obviously, you must have fees to offset the costs and rules for a safe environment,” he added. “Every successful operation we saw had strict enforcement of rules and fees.

Foster said he anticipates sometime in the first half of 2013 residents will be asked in a referendum to approve a bond issue to finance the community center and an aquatic park without levying a new tax.

If voters approved a bond issue, development on the center could begin in the summer and hopefully be completed in the spring of 2014. The aquatic park will take longer, but possibly be open in 2014.

Foster sees a “light at the end of the tunnel” a year after the city mothballed the city’s water wells and began purchasing water from United Water Arkansas.

White Hall broke the annual construction record nine and one-half months into the year, with commercial development topping all previous levels.

Smart Auto Mall played a major role in the new record. The total value listed on 71 permits was $12.81 million.

Doctors, attorneys and retailers have White Hall on their maps, the mayor noted. “More and more sales and service companies have decided to move here after they look at what we have, the safe environment and the quick proximity to the county courthouse, banking services, medical facilities and two gyms if they want to exercise during their lunch hours or after work,” Foster added.

Foster said that’s the kind of development improves White Hall’s economy and quality of life.

During the year the White Hall City Council adopted a nuisance an ordinance and has hired a city inspector/code enforcement officer responsible for building inspections and nuisance control, including sub-standard structures and overgrown lots.

Eddie Parsley will begin working full-time when he retires from the Pine Bluff Fire Department in early 2013.

Foster said Parsley will take some burden off the police department with nuisance inspections.

The police department has added one officer during the year and obtained a number of equipment upgrades.

Work is underway for a new fire sub-station and city crews constructed a 40- by 50-foot records storage building at the city. The latter was “way overdue.”

As part of the city’s image campaign, Foster said the city has constructed a privacy fence around the shop area “so we can be good neighbors” to the nearby residential and commercial property owners.

The city has upgraded and marked city-owned vehicles and equipment.

“It doesn’t move fast enough for me,” Foster said. “I get frustrated, but it is wise to plan for the future.

“All I know is I am taking work home with me at night.”