June 18, 2014 Edition

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Plans to demolish
WR building underway

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Progress has been made to demolish the condemned property, located at 116 West Elm Street in Walnut Ridge, owned by J.R. Rogers. During the June 10 city council meeting, Mayor Don House said that Rogers has met with a contracting firm that has agreed to do the work.

House explained that permits are still needing to be approved and the building had yet to be inspected for hazardous materials such as lead paint and asbestos, which if found could delay demolition.

The mayor said he was assured that the three-story structured would be taken down as safely as possible. No adjacent businesses are expected to have to shut down during the demolition, including Workforce Service Center, located next door to the condemned building.

The most dangerous part of the demolition will be done during weekend hours to prevent putting Workforce Service Center employees at risk. Another safety precaution to be put in place will be to close down one lane of traffic on West Elm for about a two-week period.

Once work begins, the firm will have until the end of the contract period, 60 days, to clear the lot of all debris and leave only a concrete slab.

In addition to discussing work to be done at the property on West Elm, councilmen discussed addressing many of the derelict and abandoned properties around the city when Chamber of Commerce Chair Fran Cavenaugh spoke about ways to improve Walnut Ridge.

Cavenaugh said beautification is the first step to economic growth. She has spoken with Denisa Pennington, director of community development for Arkansas Economic Development Commission, about developing the some of the abandoned areas.

Councilmen agreed that work needed to be done in preparation for the influx of people Peco and other developments will bring to the area. City Attorney Adam Weeks said that Walnut Ridge has a golden opportunity because it has time to plan before new residents arrive.

Cavenaugh said her hope is to tackle the city a block at a time, so that surrounding blocks can see the development and a snowball effect will take place. Moving forward, the Chamber plans to work with the city to initiate this development as soon as possible.

"I know if we work together and seize this opportunity, we can increase economic growth," she said.

In other business:

  • councilman Rob Combs requested the council consider ending health insurance benefits for aldermen on the grounds that is was costly and rates were about to increase further. Currently, only two alderman receive these benefits. Alderman Wendell Jones requested to table the discussion until next month to allow them time to look at alternatives.

  • the council rezoned property at 3555 Highway 67 to commercial property. The property is the site of the old Campus Cove Bowling Alley.

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