Were a city council vote on the matter held today, the Pine Bluff Police Department's Patrol Division apparently would be moving to near Townsend Park.
Were a city council vote on the matter held today, the Pine Bluff Police Department’s Patrol Division apparently would be moving to near Townsend Park.
An ordinance proposing such a shift already has the support of at least five of the eight council members and may wind up with unanimous backing. The measure is due for a second reading at Monday night’s council meeting.
The patrol division currently works out of a privately owned, warehouse-style building on Commerce Road. Alderman Steven Mays — who is co-sponsoring the relocation legislation with Alderman Glen Brown and George Stepps and Alderwoman Thelma Walker — believes “it makes the most sense” to have the sector within the former Army Reserve/National Guard Armory at 1000 North Myrtle Street, just beyond Townsend Park.
The Army gave the armory to the city, which has roughly $1.5 million in bond issue money earmarked for enhanced and new police facilities. The revenues were generated from the 2011 voter-approved five-eighths cent sales tax hike for capital improvements.
“The Commerce Road building is costing the city about $20,000 in rent, plus utilities, each year,” Mays said. “Moving the patrol division to the armory would save the taxpayers about $35,000 a year. That’s just good business and one of our primary considerations.
“Moving the division to the armory building would increase police presence at UAPB, which would help to increase enrollment,” Mays continued. “Meanwhile, with UAPB building a new chancellor’s residence and upgrading under way at Townsend Park, University Drive and University Park, we’re talking about an increase in business in the area. I think we would see new restaurants and other new establishments. I truly believe this move would be a major boost to our economy.”
Alderman Bill Brumett isn’t stating opposition to the possibility, but he’s not certain the armory is the right fit for such a project.
“I can see it more for special uses,” Brumett said of the armory, “maybe as a training facility, a special weapons and tactical unit headquarters or to house a gym and exercise equipment, but not for the overall department, and I thought that’s what the ordinance was calling for. I need to talk it over with everyone. Whatever decision I make will depend on what happens with police headquarters in the civic center.
“I’m not ready to say I’ll support it, but I’m not saying I won’t,” he went on. “I just need to assess it more before I make up my mind.”
Brumett said he anticipates the ordinance will be referred to a committee after its second reading.
“That will give us a better opportunity for an in-depth discussion,” he said.
Alderman Wayne Easterly said he would back the notion of the division’s move “if that’s determined to be the best way to go.”
“It was originally my idea to transfer the patrol division to the armory building,” he said. “I wasn’t for sure that’s what the intention was for this ordinance. If it is, I think everyone’s on the same page. There may be a couple of other options we need to consider, but I just want us to get the most we can out of our monies. We need the biggest bang for our bucks.”
Mays assured that the proposal is simply misworded as written and ought to read that the armory should serve as the new site of PBPD’s patrol division, not the entire “department.”
“The armory is a nice, nice building,” Stepps said. “Several council members recently toured it together and we came away feeling like it has a whole bunch of potential. There’s plenty of parking space already there, and the building is sound. I think we could appropriate about $400,000 or $500,000 to renovating the armory and then devote the remainder of the bond monies to the Joe Thomas (Public Safety) Building,” the current civic center facility that houses the police department’s administrative offices.
“Taking care of the Joe Thomas Building isn’t an option,” Walker said. “That’s spelled out in the bond issue, and we certainly want to keep it up since it’s the downtown connection to the police department. I think this is a win-win situation. The armory belongs to the city and will free up some monies for us after it’s renovated, and we’ll still have a great, historic downtown presence.”
Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks agreed that renovation of the should be a priority with some of the bond money, and said he is not sure if using the armory is the right fit for the department.
“We’re looking at several different options and the armory is one of them,” Hubanks said. “What I don’t want to see happen is what happened when we moved the patrol division to the old county nursery. That didn’t work out.
“I’m in support of this,” Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. said.
“I assume this is going to work out,” Alderman Charles Boyd said, indicating his favor for the division’s move.
“This would be good for the city’s north side,” Brown said. “I think it would be good for everyone.”
Ray King of The Commercial staff contributed to this report.