White Hall Mayor Noel Foster spoke recently about the city’s progress, plans and goals for 2017 at the White Hall Lions Club’s monthly meeting.
The topics ranged from improvements to White Hall City Park and the U.S. 270 widening project to the status of a new Holiday Inn hotel and new restaurants.
Since the city’s Founder’s Day Fall Festival on October 22, Foster said the park’s amphitheater has undergone “lots of improvements,” and grass has grown around it.
Growing grass is the easiest way to prevent erosion, he said, but engineers told city officials that growing grass in the wooded park would be difficult without removing some trees. Engineers are providing advice to the city on which trees to remove around the amphitheater, Foster said.
“It’s our hope as a city and a City Council that over the next three or four years we will invest well over half a million dollars into our park,” he said.
The city will pay 20 percent of the cost, with 80 percent coming from grant money, he said. In addition to the amphitheater, the improvements will include a second entrance to the park on Anderson Avenue. That area is flatter than the primary entrance and should make it easier for people with limited mobility or handicaps to enter the park, Foster said. The city also intends to improve walking areas and install play sets for children with limited mobility or handicaps.
“We want to improve that access in the park for those people,” Foster said.
Foster said the city is also considering installing a dog park after fielding several requests from citizens for that feature.
“We’re pretty excited over the next three years what we’re going to be getting accomplished in the park,” Foster said.
Foster said he is frequently asked about the project to widen U.S. 270 from two lanes to five. He said he asked Arkansas State Highway Commissioner Robert Moore “to help us move the widening project up on 270 because of all the increased traffic.”
Moore has been receptive, Foster said, and survey crews, utility crews, the fire department and others continue to work on the project.
“What I have learned is these type of projects, even at this point, still take a lot of time,” Foster said. “There are a lot of things to be considered as far as easements, and utilities have to be relocated. Land has to be acquired with minimal impact on the people who own businesses and homes.”
Asked whether sidewalks would be installed along U.S. 270 for runners and bikers, Foster said he was unsure.
“I know there is signalization at [U.S.] 270 and Edwards [Street]. They’re gonna put signals there. And I would suspect that kind of project would at least have sidewalks and maybe a bike trail,” he said.
Engineers are also studying whether to put a traffic signal at the intersection of Claud Road and U.S. 270, he said.
“The traffic is a good problem to have, but we need it widened, and we need signals,” he said. “Signals would break the traffic. If you had signals there it would be a little easier to get in and out of businesses and things like that.”
Foster said he’s asked weekly about the Holiday Inn slated for construction on land behind the Dairy Queen restaurant off I-530.
“We have been working with the engineers and architects on Holiday Inn, getting some of those things finalized so that they can begin construction, approving the plans through our fire marshal, things that we need to get done on our end to expedite that process,” he said.
The city tries to move quickly when presented with permitting applications so that construction is not held up, Foster said.
“When you see those hotel groups come, when people are visiting the arsenal or visiting industries here, we don’t want them staying in Little Rock,” he said. “We want them staying here, eating in our restaurants, and shopping in our city.”
Foster said he has met three times with “an experienced restaurant operator” interested in opening a sit-down, family-style restaurant in the Woodlands Plaza shopping center on U.S. 270. The restaurant would move into the space formerly occupied by Coach’s Burgers, Catfish, Wings and More, which has closed. Foster said he is scheduled to meet again on Saturday with the man, who owns restaurants in central Arkansas. He said the man has been in touch with the property owner, and Foster expects the project to happen.
“If it’s one thing that I hear is, we need a family dining restaurant with a menu where [if] you want fish and my daughter wants a hamburger, you can get it,” Foster said. “Rather than specialty-type foods. So I’m pretty excited about that, and that he’s an experienced person.”
Foster also characterized the new city water park, Crenshaw Springs, as a success. The park turned a small profit in 2016 and employed about 50 teenagers from White Hall as well as Pine Bluff, Watson Chapel, Wabbaseka and elsewhere, he said. Groups from as far as north Louisiana and Mississippi visited the park in buses during the summer, often stopping at the end of the day to eat at restaurants such as Dairy Queen and Taco Bell.
Additionally, the White Hall Chamber of Commerce has a new website, whitehallarchamber.com, which allows people to sign up for membership online, Foster said.