WM looking at comprehensive growth plan
Sorrell: ‘ We are reaching out with community meetings to try to identify areas of concern, create points of
West Memphis Economic Development and the City Planning and Development Department have teamed up to hire a consultant to produce a new long-term comprehensive growth plan. Economic Development Executive Director Phillip Sorrell provided city council an overview of the planning process during its first meeting in May.
The last plan was 15 years old and city administrators admitted it “collected dust on the shelf.” But with newly announced economic opportunity zones on two census tracts in the city and the International Rail Port Logistics park being developed with a $10 million dollar TIGER grant officials said the new growth and development plan would become an active template for economic growth and community development.
“We’ve been working together to craft a growth and development plan,” said Sorrell. “It establishes a planning vision that has economic development strategies in it.”
Community involvement through public meeting will help sculpt the details.
“This is a comprehensive look at our city,” said Sorrell. “We are reaching out with community meetings to try to identify areas of concern, create points of focus and also to gain buy in.”
The scope of work for the $100,000 consultation fee for the Orion Planning-Development firm had been planned and approved in the annual city budget. The six figure project came at a bargain price according to Sorrell.
“This let’s us do something we’ve really never done before,” said Sorrell.
“The plan will consider land use and zoning. “We are asking a lot to get it under $100,000.”
Mayor Bill Johnson said the previous plan cost $70,000 to produce and was of little use.
“The Hays study has been sitting on the shelf drawing dust,” said Johnson. “Seriously, that won’t happen to this one, we’ve had that discussion.”
Sorrell indicated multiple practical uses for the study. “We will have marketing materials that come out of this, a revamped website that communicates a more positive message for the city,” said Sorrell. “We’ll take hard looks at areas where we have potential for industrial growth as it relates to zoning, the areas along our Interstate 40 corridor and retail. We have more of an opportunity there than along Broadway, old brick and mortar retail is dying out. The consultants will help us with things that work that they have done in other areas.”
Three pilot groups from the community had already been shared impressions of West Memphis to planners.
Seventeen select Academies of West Memphis seniors, Chamber of Commerce leadership participants, and local property owners provided their prospective of the city.
Planners were surprised with the uniform concerns.
“We really came up with interesting comments about how they view the community and what our strengths and weaknesses are,” said Sorrell. “Curb appeal and cleaning up West Memphis was always at the top of the list with those three groups. The first impression is a lasting impression. We’ll use that information and load that into the front end of the consultant’s study to make it more targeted.”
Sorrell desired for the city to become more business friendly and thought the study would show the way.
“We’ll even look at how we issue permits and make the city more business friendly” said Sorrell. “This is an effort to do a self assessment and come up with a way forward that we all buy into.”
By John Rech