How should Conway say welcome?
That’s the $250,000 question.
City council members this week agreed to include a quarter of $1 million in their upcoming budget for improving the gateways to the city. The money would pay for signage along major thoroughfares such as U.S. 501 and U.S. 701, but also for lighting along U.S. 378.
“It needs to be a bit of a priority,” Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy said of the welcome signs. “What we have now is pitiful.”
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I see it as an investment. If we’re not investing, what in the hell are we doing here?
Conway City Councilman Tom Anderson
City officials don’t have a defined plan for spending the money, but they said the funding should pay for some large $25,000 signs as well as smaller ones costing $10,000 to $15,000.
“We don’t need to hammer all the details out tonight,” councilman Tom Anderson said, adding that city leaders didn’t have to spend all of the money budgeted for the project.
Council members hope the signs will pique the interest of visitors, who might stop by the river town before continuing on to the beach.
“I see it as an investment,” Anderson said. “If we’re not investing, what in the hell are we doing here?”
Other city leaders agree. They spoke of traveling through small towns that had large, ornate brick welcome markers.
They said Conway’s signs should include the date 1732, the year the city was founded.
Whatever we do, we need to get it right. … Let’s make a statement with them.
Conway City Councilwoman Jean Timbes
“Whatever we do, we need to get it right,” councilwoman Jean Timbes said. “Let’s make a statement with them.”
Councilman Ashley Smith said some of the money should pay for markers that point to specific destinations, such as the Riverwalk.
“Something that pops,” he said. “[A sign] that says … Riverwalk here. Rec center here. Just kind of have it throughout the city and have the arrows pointing. Have it where you don’t have to be in one spot to know where everything’s at.”
Along with the gateway money, the city’s proposed budget also includes a 1.2 percent cost of living raise for city workers and $150,000 for a Christmas lights tour.
City officials have said they would offset the startup costs for the lights display by selling corporate sponsorships and charging tickets to the tour. They hope to eventually net enough money from the lights program to help pay for maintaining Lake Busbee.
“That’s going to be an income producer,” councilman Randy Alford said of the holiday lights.
Council members plan to approve their nearly $35 million budget in May. The draft budget does not include any tax or fee increases.