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  • As printed in The Daily Record

Economic Growth Based on Public— schools, safety and works

Have you seen the flock of cranes on the Arkansas River? Downtown has been inundated by cranes. No, not cranes with feathers. Steel cranes have gathered around the Broadway Bridge. It has been reported that 2015 flooding delayed progress on replacing the bridge. So, presumably, you’ll be able to watch the Travelers and the cranes all summer.

It has been reported that Regions Center at Capitol and Broadway is for sale. That’s not breaking news. The food-for-thought moment is that after the development of the bank buildings on Capitol Avenue in the 1970s, more buildings were built downtown in the 1980s. The pro formas (Latin for guesses) is that some of those properties had rents starting at $18 per square foot with 3% annual increases, for 20 years. Yes, rent that twentieth year would be about $31.50. What is the average Class A office building asking rent rate downtown today, 30 years later? It is about $16.75. What’s the point? If you have ~$40,000,000 burning a hole in your pocket to buy Regions Center, your pro guess ought not program a lot of top-line rent growth.

On the north side of Arkansas River, McCain Plaza has been on the market and is under contract again. McCain Plaza is the 300,000 shopping center at the southeast corner of McCain Blvd. and US 67/167. It was under contract in 2015 to a group from Atlanta. A group from Dallas is currently reviewing it. Here’s hoping they can find a successful formula for redevelopment of the chronically vacant small shops portion of the center.

Speaking of shopping centers for sale, those of you with income tax refunds coming to you in the range of $18,000,000 might want to take a look at the Conway Towne Center. It is for sale. Conway Towne Center is home to JC Penney, home to the newest movie theater in Conway and home to an extra “e” in “towne.” Apparently, when you spell town, midtown, center or other ordinary words with an extra “e”, or a misplaced “e,” you get to ask more than if you spelled it the ordinary way. See, you learned something today after all.

Commercial real estate and economic development are inexorably linked. Without economic growth, without job growth, without people moving to a community, then commercial real estate is a really expensive game of musical chairs. In the minds of most people, people like employers and employees, three things are at or near the top of the list of decision-making criteria regarding investing their future in a city or town. You can argue over others to be included. These are three. They are public schools, public safety and public works.

Discussions of public schools lead to talking about private schools, parochial schools and home schooling. Still, the linchpin of the discussion about educating children is public schools. The conversation starts there. And for most people in most communities, the conversation ends there. Most people can afford only to utilize public schools their tax dollars already pay to operate. And statistically, most communities don’t have any school choices other than public schools or home schooling.

Part of public safety is most certainly an adequate police force and the opportunity of residents and visitors to feel safe from personal and property crime. It is also protection from fire, availability of emergency services (think swift water rescue last week) and even code enforcement and other services.

Public works is, to me anyway, most anything that is used by the public and provided by some entity of regulation. Streets, roads and highways may be the most obvious public works (especially when not working well). Water service, sewer service, parks, bike trails and many other things fall into the broad category of public works.

As important as these things are to the well-being of a community and the well-being of the residents therein, it is incredible how little attention these things get from any given resident on any given day. The story about four people named Anybody, Everybody, Somebody and Nobody is generally in effect. Reasonably, it is difficult for most people to make a marked difference in public safety and public work beyond self-responsibility. Side note of personal opinion—if you are walking into the store from the parking lot anyway, take a buggy with you. Let the buggy-gathering guy get a higher-paying job!

However, all of the “bodys” above can make a difference in public schools, or in education of children, somewhere, somehow, sometime and someway. Some people who don’t “get it,” never will. Some people “get it,” however since they are one of the four people above, no change is seen. Don’t expect Someone Else to do what needs to be done. Do something to help a kid learn, and to raise the performance and the perception of all schools, especially public schools, in your community.

And finally, just to irritate a few friends (and people who don’t think of me as a friend too, I guess), aren’t all streets, roads and highways technically public? And if these roadways are public, then doesn’t that make all the transportation on those rights-of-way public transportation? And if driving on public roads built with public dollars is public transportation, then isn’t there a conversation to be had about how to be most efficient with public transportation and what the highest and best use of those tax dollars might be? I’m not taking sides. I’m just stirring conversation. Take a buggy in store with you though. Really! Let the buggy guy get promoted.

Tips and suggestions, well most of them anyway, are appreciated. Hope you found something interesting in the column this month. Check back again next month for the things that didn’t get included here this time and that pop up between now and then.

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