“We wanted to give you an overview of the 80 acres under development across from Woodland Heights Baptist Church,” Bob Largent, Chamber president/CEO told leaders on the economic development tour Tuesday, Oct. 8. “We are here in the parking lot, directly across is the proposed Community Center project. Next to those 40 acres, is 20 acres designated for a high-end apartment complex. This is one of our needs right now — high end, quality, affordable apartments. We have an investor who moved a company here, to invest in this complex. To the far left is a 75-bed unit assisted living facility that takes us up to Rock Springs Road.”
The group had just completed tours of WestRock and Wabash on Industrial Road. Visual aids were set up to show those on the tour the proposed plans for the Community Center and the other businesses going in on Gipson Drive. Largent asked for some explanations of what was being shown.
Wade Phillips, City of Harrison, COO said, “One of the components of the project is a multi-use trail from downtown Lake Harrison park to this facility. It will be about three miles long, and estimated cost is about $3 million. We want to tie this project to our downtown area so people have good easy access to get there without using streets and motorized traffic. The trail passes by the Links, FedEx Freight and the youth complex. They can easily ride a bike to work if desired.”
Parks and Rec director, Chuck Eddington said, “We will have four multi-purpose courts, with an eighth of a mile long elevated walking track. On the courts, we will be able to seat 3,000 people for any community event. Classroom space will be available for meetings. The facility will have a fitness center, outdoor pool areas, multi-slides, a diving well, zero entry pool for therapy, water aerobics, birthday parties and more.
City of Harrison finance director, Luke Feighert said, “We’ve done our research on other facilities and have tried to discover what other communities did wrong, and learn from their mistakes. The indoor pool will have a three sections for swim meets and water aerobic classes. All the ones we’ve toured, have had 30 or more seniors in each water aerobics class. Third, we will have an 85 degree wellness pool, with a wheelchair ramp. It’s something for everyone. A small indoor pool will also be available for winter birthday parties.
“With all the lakes and rivers around us, we want to teach every kid to swim. Safety is always a big importance,” Feighert said. “So we’ll have classroom space available.”
“We’ve run all the numbers and there will have to be a sales tax on the ballot plus reasonable membership fees for this project to happen,” Feighert said.
The tax will also include improvements for the softball complex, new turf, covered bleachers, ADA restrooms and updates to the existing sports complex.
“The 0.75 percent proposal would pay off the project in about 12-15 years, and that is assuming no growth in revenue,” Feighert said. “What we’ve seen around the state is that they pay it off quicker because the economic development part of it creates more jobs and businesses moving to the area.”
There is also a 0.25 percent tax proposal that's on the ballot to operate and maintain the Parks and Rec facilities. With the money to maintain the upkeep it will be valid for 50 years. “We want it to still look brand for a long time,” Feighert said.
The question was asked about how many might use the facility. City of Harrison Mayor, Jerry Jackson said, “We reach about 100,000 people who come to this area. What we’ve learned for companies like WestRock and Wabash, it will attract families and add to your workforce. That should be a big boost for local industry.”
Director of Economic Development for Entergy, Danny Games, said, “You can easily underbuild one of these things. Arkansas is underserved by these facilities. Don’t underbuild, or cut corners. It’s a 20-40 year plan. What this project can contribute to your community equals lifestyle and the health of your citizens. That will save your community money.”
“This is really expanding the city,” Largent said. “It’s not moving away from downtown. Because we have a historic courthouse on the national registry and historic places, great events, venues and businesses all downtown. But growing out with business and industry is a big step for us. Wade has a master plan for the city road system that will be tweaked to accommodate this expansion. In a matter of months you’re going to see this 80 acres under construction for about two years.”
Largent continued, “The assisted living facility is hoping to break ground next week and open in the Fall 2020. The apartment complex is hoping to turn dirt the first quarter of next year. This is something we need for our economic development.”
Feighert added, “Wade has a good product in place with the master street plan. We’re also hoping to do the same thing with the trail system. We hope to eventually connect all the schools in town as part of the ‘safe routes to school’ initiative. This will also let us get from one end of town to the other and not get on the roads. We desperately need this in Harrison.”
“The last three years Parks and Rec has brought in about $2 million from our leagues and tournaments,” Eddington explained. “If we get this new turf in we can easily double or triple those numbers. We’re also planning to use our youth center, too. Having more facilities to use brings in more people.”
“We host 40 tournaments a year, and hope to add 20 to that. We lost an 80-team basketball tournament this summer because we didn’t have enough air conditioned facilities. We did the math on that, and we lost about $ 250,000 that could have come in to the city in one weekend.”
Eddington said local hotels are looking forward to expanding. “When we host 64 high school teams for state tournaments we hit our max as far as current hotel facilities.”
Largent, “Our hotel owners are already looking for additional land to build more facilities.”
Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston asked what the response from the community has been.
“Every time we do a presentation, people tell us to keep it up,” Feighert said. “For the most part they don’t talk to us about the negative, because they know we are for it. We had a booth at Harvest Homecoming and most were for it. Probably just a handful wasn’t. We feel good about the temperature. We are going to keep pushing till Nov. 12. Early voting begins on Nov. 5.”
“This is a game changer for Harrison,” Jackson said. “It’s something they’ve been asking for, for decades. We’ll see now if it’s something they really want.”
Largent asked, “John does this have a potential impact on WestRock might consider and do for your team? “
John O’Neal, WestRock EVP said, “I certainly think this becomes part of their recruiting process in attracting new talent. ‘Come to Harrison, we have a great place for you to work, live and spend time with your family.’ I think it’s attractive to employers.”
Largent asked Games, “You deal with projects like this across the state with Entergy. Is there value in this for a community?”
“Absolutely. Quality of Life. Economic development,” Games said. “‘How do you get people here?’ are the first words out of a company’s mouth. If you don’t have the amenities the younger generations are looking for, they won’t come. This is almost a given if you don’t have it — you’re already behind. I commend you for this proposal. You are on the right page and taking a leap of faith to do it. This area is growing and if you want to capture that growth, you’ve got have these types of amenities.”
“This is a start,” Largent said. “The Chamber started this process 2.5 years ago. We’ve been looking at what we can do to develop the impact the economic and business development and prosperity of the community. We’ve established the building blocks and are putting them in place.”
“Just since Jan. 1, 2019, we’re looking at $ 87 million of investment, and that’s not any major development,” Largent said. “That’s pure Main Street businesses who understand the value of coming to Harrison and Boone County. With that, we think that’s a solid foundation. We’re gaining new businesses and vibrancy of the community. That says volumes for us. When you look at the Harrison Public Schools, North Arkansas College and the workforce development programs — it’s what this is all about. Now we have the focus to pull the whole team in the same direction.”