WM Council approves water tower art project plan in a split vote

WM Council approves water tower art project plan in a split vote

City will invest nearly a quartermillion dollars into tourism draw


Split votes rarely occur at West Memphis City Council. But the first meeting in April saw two. In one, the council moved to withhold revenue from the L.R. Jackson Girls club pending a hearing over financial reports. Another split vote, one approving $241,000 for a project designed to make an East Broadway water tower the centerpiece of a modern art treatment, divided council members. The vote tallied seven “for,” two “against,” and one abstention.

In the ordinance to waive competitive bidding Walker Art Studio was retained to create the “large-scale three dimensional public artwork” from the tower. Wires will stream from a rim near the top adorned with medallions. The blue ornamentation dotting the top and bottom fastened guy wires is designed remind visitors of water drops and the original service of the tower. Also the round blue medallions hearken to city role in the development of the blues and rock. At night the whole water tower will be bottom lit with a blue light. No coats of paint are called for. Finally, a park like seating area beneath the tower provides bottom up perspective.

Work is scheduled to begin at the end of June and finish by year end.

Maintenance on the blue LED lighting was one of the issues Wayne Croom expressed before casting his dissenting vote. He pointed out that the maintenance clause estimating upkeep cost and responsibilities was left blank with details expected to be filled in later. Croom remembered the burned out Gateway project LED lights under the Missouri Street Interstate bridge and at Ingram Boulevard and College Boulevard on the Interstates. Repairs on that lit art proved insurmountable for the city with disputes between the installer and manufacturer. Attempts by city crews to flip the switch on beneath the underpass also proved fruitless.

“There is going to be issues with maintenance, and who is going to do it” said Croom. “There is nothing in the agreement about maintenance. Now $241,000 is a lot of money to be spent on a water tower. The lights are out at the overpass. How much did that project cost-over $300,000?”

Croom provided another example and swayed Councilor Lorraine Robinson from a yes vote to an abstention.

“How about the bayou walk way,” asked Croom. “I never saw it used and now it is so deteriorated that you can only see segments of it. So we want to do these projects and got nothing out of them. That’s an awful lot of money. Now we have this quarter of a million dollar water tower and I just don’t think it is going to do what some think it will.”

Councilor Ramona Taylor said that Main Street would take responsibility for maintenance.

In the meeting Robinson responded to Croom comments pointing to saga of maintenance issues at the Lakes of Richland and the MLK memorial on the service road. After the meeting she explained holding hopes despite abstaining.

“I was prepared to vote yes, but after much discussion, I chose to pass,” said Robinson. “I think it will make Broadway better.

City Councilman Wayne Croom

City Councilman James Pulliaum

Submitted image I hope the beautification of the tower will encourage business leaders with property on Broadway to make needed improvements.”

Croom summarized all his reservations before Councilor James Pulliaum provided a positive spin and the vote was called.

Croom felt the local DeltaARTS was shut out of a role participation leading to the artist choice. He expressed doubts that it would attract visitors or improve revenue from Big River Crossing visitors. He found fault with comparisons made to Broad Ave. water tower improvements in Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis. Finally, he shared his informal poll of adjacent business owners in favor of demolishing the tank.

“It’s a landmark and I want to see it beautified,” said Councilor Helen Harris. “We have no landmarks in West Memphis but that.”

Perhaps glancing toward Marion, the longtime Councilman James Pulliaum provided input, “Anything we do to give our city a facelift is good,” said Pulliaum. “If you take a look a lot of smaller cities are coming up with ways to beautify their cities. Anything we come up with to beautify our city, I think we should go with it. We can start here. In the big picture it will connect with the river crossing and a lot of other things too.”

All ten councilors were present. Croom and Catt voted against waving the bid to name the artist and proceed. Robinson abstained with the other seven giving the nod of approval to carry the measure.

Photo by John Rech

By John Rech