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$13.2 million spent.


The city of Little Rock is three years down the road after embarking on a $40 million capital improvements program, and the pace of activity has picked up considerably.

"It was sold to the people that it would be done sometime in their lifetime," quipped tax activist and businessman Tom Ferstl in April 1989 regarding the 10-year program's slow start out of the blocks.

Construction delays caused by weather, slower than anticipated fund appropriations and reprioritizing projects by the city board all prompted some reshuffling of the program's timetable.

"Everybody gets out in the beginning and looks at this with rose-colored glasses and says let's get out here and get this done," remarks Bill Anderson, city programs engineer. "But there are pitfalls out there that affect the timetable. It's a big project, but it's proceeding along pretty well."

In terms of actual spending, the city has doled out more than $13.2 million, or about 32.6 percent of the overall bond issue proceeds as of Dec. 31, 1990. Officials have appropriated an additional $7 million for projects that are under way but incomplete.

Finished projects totaling almost $9 million include:

* Constructing the Terry Branch Library on Napa Valley Drive in west Little Rock, $2.26 million.

* Widening East Taylor Loop Road and linking with Hinson Road in west Little Rock, $1.55 million.

* Reopening Main Street to automotive traffic between Third and Seventh, $1.5 million.

* Improvements to the Robinson Center Auditorium and Plaza, $1.5 million.

* Improvements to the Arkansas Arts Center, $950,000.

* Remodeling Fire Station No. 10 on Kavanaugh Boulevard, $522,000.

* Improvements to South Main Street between I-630 and 17th Street, $300,000

* Transferring right-of-way acquisition funds to the Arkansas State Highway Dept. to widen Baseline Road, $300,000.

* Drainage Work on Old Forge Road, $98,836.

Some of the projects may have gotten off to a slow start, but in the bigger picture, the delays have worked to the city's advantage. The bond issue generated $33.1 million for the city, and forecasts called for the remaining funds to be created by an estimated $7.3 million in accrued interest.

A Windfall In Interest

At year's end, more than $1.38 million in additional interest had accrued on the bond money. That windfall allowed the city to funnel an extra $260,000 to the Terry Branch Library for book acquisitions.

The balance is held in reserve for unexpected developments like an extension of the jogging path along Rebsamen Park Road. That amenity was included in the $1.77 million project to link Rebsamen Park Road and River Mountain Road in west Little Rock after joggers took issue with the omission.

"The project should be finished by September, weather permitting and if nothing unforeseen happens," observes Bill Anderson.

The extension of Rebsamen Park Road is one of 10 projects scheduled for completion this year. The $5 million list includes:

* Remodeling Dunbar Community Center, March ($500,000)

* Repairs to War Memorial, Rebsamen and Hindman Municipal Gold Courses, May ($90,000)

* Improving the railroad crossing at Mabelvale Pike, June ($797,000).

* Widening Chicot Road between Preston Drive and Melford Drive, September ($1.1 million).

* Realigning 7th Street between High Street and Battery, November ($82,500).

* Installing decorative street lights in the Quapaw District, December ($250,000)

* Riverfront Park East, with the riverfront amphitheater complete, the project is essentially finished except for some land acquisition and amenities ($500,000).

* Constructing sidewalks along Kavanaugh between Markham and Van Buren, whenever utility companies relocate their poles ($250,000).

More Money, More Projects

The city has $296,000 that hasn't been allocated for grants to spruce up building facades in the central business community.

Four other properties are currently vying for grants - the Woman's City Club Building, Capitol Hotel, the Ward-Heiskell House and the gutted structure at 12th and Main dubbed the "Beirut Building."

There has been three facade grant recipients so far: Arkansas Repertory Theater, ($250,000) 300 Spring Building ($29,050) and the Audio Communications Building at 1123 W. Third ($14,778).

"We're hoping to complete this project by the end of the year," remarks Mike Dooley, city economic development administrator.

Even after modifying the timetable, the acquisition of a metropolitan park site in west Little Rock is a year behind schedule. The $1 million proposition has become a highly politicized issue regarding what city officials did or did not promise regarding location.

"It's simply a board policy decision, whenever they decide to reopen the selection process," says Bill Bunten, assistant director of Parks and Recreation. "We haven't heard anything yet, but the delay hasn't hurt the city because land values haven't increased significantly."

The project to improve Baseline Road seems behind schedule, but the city has done its part by funding $300,000 for right-of-way acquisition. The Arkansas State Highway Department, which is supposed to implement the construction, is held up by utility relocation problems and its own funding problems with the weight-distance tax issue.

The $1.5 million budgeted for the construction of a Little Rock detention center has become an uncertain proposition at best since county voters approved a one-cent sales tax increase to fund a county facility.

"There's two possible ways that money may be used," reports Earl Paul, deputy city manager. "First of all there will be some renovation of the downtown police station for some temporary holding facilities. Of course that won't cost anywhere near $1.5 million."

The money may also be used to help fund the construction of the new county jail. That's a ticklish legal question though because the money was intended for the construction of a city facility.

In the end, the money is likely to go towards retiring the bond issue in 1993 or 1994.
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Title Annotation:Little Rock's $40 million capital improvements program
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 18, 1991
Previous Article:Life in the Fox lane.
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