In its first meeting of the year Tuesday evening, the Little Rock Board of Directors was presented with recommendations from two task forces on the futures of Hindman and War Memorial parks and the Little Rock Zoo. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. also pulled an ordinance from the agenda that would have allowed the city to enter into a two-year contract with Ace Glass Recycling for curbside glass recycling services.
Directors originally heard Ace Glass’s proposal at a meeting on Nov. 13, but a vote on the ordinance was deferred twice by directors, once at its Nov. 26 meeting and again at its Dec. 6 meeting. On Tuesday, Scott said he was pulling the ordinance because constituents had expressed concerns, and he wanted to “get it right the first time” before presenting a recycling ordinance to the board. He also referenced the city’s existing contract with Waste Management that will need to be renegotiated by April 2021.
“We want to take time, from a management perspective, to get it right as it relates to sustainability. Clearly, sustainability is a positive, but also we have to understand that even with sustainability, it has a cost impact on our citizens,” Scott said. “We want to always be very sensitive to that cost impact on all of our citizens, particularly those that are of a lower income and elderly on fixed income. We want to figure out what we can do to get it right the first time, and not make any changes going forward until we get it right, when we present it to the body for a vote.”
Scott emphasized that he originally drafted the glass recycling ordinance because it was something the board “wanted us to look into.”
Ace Glass was the only respondent to a Request For Proposal issued by the city earlier this year for glass recycling services, which were removed from the city’s contract with Waste Management when the city negotiated an extension of that contract in 2018. The city stopped providing curbside glass recycling services in March 2019. Scott said he wanted to acknowledge that Ace Glass CEO Courtney Little “spent a lot of time and effort” on the company’s bid in response to the Request For Proposal, but said the ordinance’s potential financial cost to lower-income citizens needed more consideration.
Under the ordinance, a $3.39 fee for curbside glass recycling would have been added to city residents’ $28.90 monthly solid waste fee, totaling a monthly cost of $32.39. During previous discussions about the ordinance, at-large director Joan Adcock and Ward 6 director Doris Wright shared concerns about how the glass recycling fee would affect low-income residents who already have difficulty paying the solid waste fee, which directors voted to increase from $22.02 per month to $28.90 per month in September.
Little spoke briefly after Scott’s comments. He reminded directors that Ace Glass conducted a survey of Little Rock citizens that found that 64 percent of city residents supported glass recycling and “wanted to pay for it.”
“Every ward, every race, creed, color, gender [was included in the survey],” Little said. “We didn’t want anybody left out, because I don’t want to be up here asking you to do something that my fellow Little Rock citizens did not want.”
He also told directors that Conway and Fayetteville, which he described as “two of our biggest competitors in the state,” both have curbside glass recycling services.
“We’ve lost a number of great opportunities for Little Rock to other regions,” Little said. “Other cities have gotten our jobs, our companies, people that would have moved here moved there because we don’t have good recycling in Little Rock. It’s being held against us.”
Ward 4 director Capi Peck thanked Little for his work on the ordinance and said she “would be lying if said I wasn’t disappointed.”
“I’m not gonna give up,” Peck added.
Directors also heard recommendations from two task forces: one appointed to study potential plans for the futures of War Memorial and Hindman Golf courses, which the board voted to close in June, and the other appointed to study planning and development for the Little Rock Zoo. Each task force supported the recommendations of the other, including the parks task force’s proposal that the zoo expand its area to include a three-hole portion of the former War Memorial Park golf course, north of the zoo and east of Fair Park Boulevard.
The R3 Parks task force — the three Rs being “revitalize, reimagine and reinvest” — was assembled by Scott in June. Members are Pamela Bingham, Jodie Carter, Kevin Crass, Andrea Cummings, Jim Dailey, Chris East, Quincy Edwards, Johnathan Goree, Shash Goyal, Suzanne Grobmyer, Ada Hollingsworth, Stacy Hurst, Jordan Johnson, Jane Kim, Janna Knight, Dr. Riley Lipschitz, Jessie McLarty, Alejandro Ortiz, Steven Phillips and Kara Wilkins.
The Zoo task force, assembled by the mayor in July, includes members Brad Cazort, Lisa Buehler, Joyce Elliott, Kathy Webb, Jessica Poynter, Chad Causey, Dr. Andrew Rogerson, Hank Kelley, Tab Townsell, Rhonna Wade, Gretchen Hall, Brandon Bibby and Nate Coulter.
Dr. Riley Lipschitz and Chris East said the parks task force recommends the city divide War Memorial and Hindman parks into different districts, each with an emphasis on connecting the parks with the neighborhoods that surround them. The “War Memorial District” would extend from Pine Street to University Avenue and from West Markham Street to West 12th Street. This proposed district would also include an expansion of the park to the south of the zoo near the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center, and it would also incorporate biking and walking trails that are planned as part of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ restructuring of Pine and Cedar streets.
Task force members also recommended the golf course space be converted into an athletic complex to accommodate baseball, football and soccer, or to let the golf course space become additional greenspace with a community garden, or to allow the park to be reforested. The task force also proposed the addition of an amphitheater to the space, and repurposing the former clubhouse into a restaurant.
East said the task force recommended Hindman Park become the “Hindman Adventure Park” district, which would begin at 65th Street. The district would include greenspace and facilities for disc golf, pickleball, grass volleyball courts, open pavilions, a small amphitheater, and a system of multi-use trails and boardwalks.
Jesse Gibson, chairman of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, also spoke at the meeting, saying that the commission fully supported the recommendations of the parks task force. He shared six improvements that he said were key to the futures of Hindman and War Memorial parks: more commercial activities available in parks, such as the proposed restaurant in the former War Memorial golf course clubhouse; the creation of softball, baseball and soccer fields; a “championship level disc golf course” and other responses to “emerging sports;” improved “connectivity” and accessibility for the city’s entire parks system; professional mountain biking trails; and the recommendations of the zoo task force for the future of the facility and organization.
“I think that the citizens of Little Rock, when they see this idea, when they see what War Memorial can become, when they see what Hindman can become, I think they will support this whole-heartedly,” Gibson said. “In fact, I think they won’t suffer these ideas. I think they’ll demand these ideas. I think that the public would want them, it will be a desirable thing, it will enhance their city, it will enhance their opportunities for leisure and recreation, and I think it will be something that is a net positive for everyone.”
Chad Causey, a member of the zoo task force, told directors that the task force worked with Relevant Strategies & Solutions, a management consulting firm, to help determine a plan for the zoo’s future. The Zoo Foundation paid for the firm’s fees. Causey said the zoo’s “facility master plan,” written in 2014, had compelling goals for improvements, but due to a lack of capital investment, the zoo’s annual attendance is decreasing, and no new major exhibits or programs have opened at the zoo in the last several years.
Causey said in addition to the lack of capital investment, an “unbalanced mix” of full time and part time employees has created employment “instability” at the zoo. This then puts the zoo’s accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums at risk. Causey added that the zoo’s annual budget is currently underfunded by $2 million, excluding the facility’s capital needs. He said that in order for the zoo to achieve its vision for the future — which includes new facilities, exhibits and programming — the zoo will need at least $5 million in operations revenue and at least $10 million capital annually.
In order for the zoo to meet these goals and maintain accreditation, Causey said zoo needs a new “dedicated source of revenue,” and the task force recommends a city referendum with the Parks department. Causey said the sales tax initiative could generate $25 million annually if a half-cent sales tax is passed, or $55 million annually if a one cent sales tax is passed. He also shared examples of several other cities that passed ballot measures to fund their zoos, including St. Louis County in Missouri and Tucson, Arizona.
Both the parks and zoo task forces emphasized the importance of public money, dedicated funding sources and public-private partnerships in the successful futures of the parks system and the zoo.
As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, directors approved two resolutions relating to the city’s renovation of the McFadden Building at 615 West Markham Street into the new Little Rock Police Department headquarters. The LRPD headquarters at 700 West Markham Street is currently housed across the street from the McFadden Building. The board voted to purchase the 15,000-square foot building in 2017 for $956,000.
On Tuesday, directors authorized City Manager Bruce Moore to enter into a “construction management services agreement” with Baldwin & Shell Construction Company for work on the LRPD headquarters project. The city issued a Request for Qualifications in March 2019, and it selected Baldwin & Shell to provide design assistance and “pre-construction services,” including demolition services, for the building’s renovation. A contract fee for the construction services was not included in the resolution.
Directors also approved a resolution allowing Moore to enter into an “architectural services agreement” with architecture firm Wittenberg, Delony and Davidson, Inc. for work on the LRPD headquarters project. The contract fee for the services to be provided by Wittenberg, Delony and Davidson — which include furniture design selections, delivery coordination and the installation of all furniture chosen for the space — is “anticipated not to exceed” $479,000. The resolution also notes that city staff will present the “guaranteed maximum price” for the LRPD headquarters project to the Board of Directors once a “firm” construction budget has been created.