Anthony Penix, left, and Chris Ramsey, in the hole, employees of McCracken Industries of Bigelow, work on a sewer on Spencer Street in downtown Conway. David Gustafson of Mallard Ready Mix, standing at left, and James Walthall of McCracken Industries, standing at right, are also shown. The streetwork is being done in conjunction with a proposed apartment complex, JLofts, planned for a location west of Malvern National Bank.
CONWAY — A survey of young professionals that the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce conducted a few years ago showed many of them would live downtown if they had more options — now they will.
Salter Properties plans to build JLofts, a four-story complex with parking on the ground level and 21 one- and two-bedroom units on the top three floors. The structure will be on a narrow lot on Spencer Street, west of Malvern National Bank on Markham Street.
“To have brand-new construction in the heart of downtown is a big thing for us,” said Brad Lacy, president of the chamber and Conway Development Corp. “It’s that next step in seeing downtown develop like I think everybody wants it to.”
Jason Lyon, assistant director of planning for the city of Conway, said, “It’s a very, very tiny property right behind the bank. It’s essentially going to be a zero lot line. You go behind the bank — from their curb over to the power poles — that’s where they’re fitting it in. It’s maybe 60 feet wide, max.”
However, he said the design works, based on preliminary drawings he has seen. The city has had meetings with Brent Salter, vice president of Salter Properties, and his crew, Lyon said. Beth Reed, interior designer for Salter Properties, said last week that Salter was not available on Tuesday or Wednesday, before press time, to discuss the project.
“They haven’t formally submitted anything for review,” Lyon said. He said preliminary site work can be done, “but before they can pour footings and foundations, they have to go through development review.”
Drawings will be reviewed by the Conway Planning Department, along with the Sanitation, Street and Engineering, and Fire departments, as well as Conway Corp., the city’s utility.
“Specific architecture is required because it’s in the Markham Street Corridor,” Lyon said. Markham Street is being redeveloped to connect Conway and Hendrix College. “As properties are turning over, any new development — that’s where the Markham Street plan comes in. We’re going to encourage closer to the street, … almost an extension of the downtown area. Shops close to the street, on-street parking, tree-lined streets — we’ll encourage mixed use, maybe retail on the bottom with residential on top.”
Streetscaping, including trees planted within a well in a sidewalk, will be done for the JLofts project, Lyon said, similar to Arvest Bank and CVS Pharmacy near downtown. In addition to the parking in the bottom floor of the building, Lyon said on-street parking will be utilized.
Lacy said JLofts “is going to be the first big example of downtown housing and will probably test the market very well.”
“A few years ago, we did a survey of young professionals,” he said. “We really reached out to Acxiom and HP and put it online to figure out how many people would want to live in downtown if those options were available, and the results were pretty strong. We had, I think, nearly 500 people who participated, and over 50 percent of them said if those options were available, that would be their preference.”
Some of the respondents did not live in Conway at the time.
“That’s the big question mark — how many people don’t live here because those options aren’t available?” Lacy said. “That’s sort of the great unknown — how many of these do we have? I think we have a lot of them, demographically, but it’s hard to determine that ceiling.”
Lacy said that because the apartment complex will be just steps away from Kings Music on Front Street, restaurants and other venues, “I think [the complex is] going to really appeal to young professionals, maybe some young marrieds — people who want to walk out their door and have all these amenities.”
He said the first inkling that a project was underway was Conway Corp.’s work on Spencer Street. “They’ve been burying power lines, redoing sewer, redoing the water,” he said.
Lyon said work has also been done on Smith Street between Front and Spencer streets because it was in “pretty bad disrepair.”
Kim Williams, executive director of the Conway Downtown Partnership, said JLofts are “brand new — that’s something we haven’t had.”
“[The apartments will] have their own parking area contained underneath, and they’ll become more of the fabric of downtown, really. They’re truly urban apartments,” she said.
Downtown Conway has eight loft apartments on Front Street, she said, and one on Oak Street.
A few years ago, Steve Strange remodeled the 16,000-square-foot building he owns at Locust Avenue and Caldwell Street. The University of Central Arkansas leased the 16-apartment building for eight years for student housing, but now the building is open to anyone.
Lance Johnston renovated a two-story 1930s apartment building to create four apartments called Faulkner Flats, which is in a residential area near the downtown core.
Williams said she doesn’t count apartment buildings on Front and Spruce streets that are filled with Hendrix students.
JLofts will “make it truly more of a neighborhood” downtown, Williams said. “Everybody likes a more walkable neighborhood.” She said leaders of downtown companies, such as Metova, have expressed interest in downtown living.
The complex is scheduled to open in summer 2017, Williams said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.