January 24, 2007 Edition

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WR considering taking over
spec building from Chamber

Gloria Wilkerson
TD Staff

Walnut Ridge Mayor Michelle Rogers and the city council lost little time in getting down to business at their first meeting on Jan. 16 at city hall. Mayor Rogers welcomed visitors State Reps. John Paul Wells of Paris, Monty Davenport of Yellville and JR Rogers of Walnut Ridge, as well as Ron Thomas of the Americans With Disabilities Act. She told them that she and the council appreciated them being present and thanked them for their interest in the city.

Mayor Rogers then asked Clay Sloan, chairman of the board of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, to address the council concerning the spec building in the city's industrial park. The 40,000-square-foot building is located on five acres of property.

"The spec building has been an issue on our books for a long, long time," Sloan said. "In 1999 the Chamber borrowed $350,000 from local banks and $250,000 reuse money from the city. The idea was to recruit a business to locate here and sell the building to them.

"We've been trying to sell the building since 2000. We have had no buyers and the bad economy isn't helping. The banks have been very understanding, but they need their money, and we would like to see the city buy the building."

Regions Bank President Keith Brand and First National Bank President Milton Smith were present to answer any questions the council might have.

Sloan told the council that the Chamber met with the bankers and Mayor Rogers a couple of weeks ago and the understanding is the Chamber will convey the title to the city if the city will pay the $200,000 to release the banks' mortgages. The city would then own the building for its own use or to sell.

"I feel we don't need to pass up any opportunity to recruit businesses here," Mayor Rogers said.

"We already have a quarter of a million dollars in it. If the banks decide to foreclose we'll get nothing out of our investment."

State Rep. JR Rogers asked to address the council and told them that the building was built when he was mayor. He explained that the building has no floor because the Chamber and the council decided not to put one in at the time it was built in order to save money and also because they had no way of knowing what type of business might locate there. If an existing floor was not what the prospective business might need, it would have to be taken out and replaced to their specifications. Not having a floor was more advantageous than having one, he said.

Mayor Rogers told the council that the city needs to move on this quickly, look at the city's options and see what it can do. "The banks are waiting," she said.

The council agreed to go forward with a committee to look at financing options while City Attorney Larry Steele checks into getting an appraisal, a title opinion and the state auditor's approval for the purpose of spending the money.

Rep. JR Rogers asked permission to approach the Arkansas Department of Economic Development to see if they might have funding in the form of grant or general improvement funds that he might be eligible for as a state representative.

"No one has asked me before now, but I'd like to talk to ADED and let them know what Walnut Ridge has already invested in that building," he said.

Permission was given unanimously.

Mayor Rogers told the bankers and Sloan that the city would act as quickly as possible, and the issue was tabled until next month.

In other business the council:

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