Let’s Join the War on Dirty Coal

ARKANSAS

By

RICHARD MASON

Let’s Join the War on Dirty Coal

First, just to set the record straight, I am a natural gas producer, and dirty coal is a competing fuel.
So I do have a vested interest in putting the few dirty coal miners that are left out-of-work, but let’s consider the reasons to join the war on dirty coal, other than my economic ones.
Of course, the out-of-work miners in West Virginia aren’t ever going back to work mining dirty coal, but it’s not because of environmental concerns; it’s because dirty coal simply costs more to use. That’s right, cheap, clean natural gas is eating dirty coals lunch cost-wise, and over 200 dirty coal-fired plants have closed during the last few years and more are on the list to be closed. The environmental problems have only a minor part in the closing.
The war on dirty coal is one we need to win, because the spoils for winning are lower utility bills, and a cleaner environment. Maybe, you’re a ‘coal miner’s daughter’ and you’re in dirty coal’s hip pocket. If that’s the case, you support the use of dirty, coal-fired generating plants to provide electricity, then you’re on the hook with all the negatives that come with it. Of course, at a minimum, dirty coal plants spew out huge amounts of carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change caused by global warming, but there are a whole host of other problems in the burning of dirty coal. Take a look at major Chinese cities where thousands are wearing masks, and the air is so dirty you can’t see the sun. Of, course their incidences of lung disease are off the wall as well as numerous other ailments. Yes, dirty coal is a big part of the problem! Are you okay with that?
But that’s not the main reason I have in joining the war on dirty coal, and that problem is directly related to what a dirty coal-fired plants put in the atmosphere here in Arkansas. All dirty coal and dirty, dirty, lignite plants spew thousands of pounds of mercury into the atmosphere each year, and that vaporized mercury comes down in the frequent rains we have here in Arkansas. Our weather systems almost always move from west to east, and that brings the mercury leaden air from Texas right over Arkansas. Texas has four out of the top five dirty coal and lignite plants in the nation that emit mercury, and a stunning 4500 pounds of mercury from these plants goes into the atmosphere every year in Texas, and a lot of that drops into the lakes and rivers in Arkansas. But Arkansas has nothing to brag about since around 800 pounds of mercury is put into the air from Arkansas’s three dirty coal-fired plants. As the mercury contaminates the streams and lakes it entered the food chain at the very bottom, and is ingested by the smallest organisms. However, the problem with mercury is very simple. It is not passed through, but stays within the organism, and when the larger fish in the food chain consume these small fish the mercury is slowly added to the larger fish until at the upper end of the food chain in large predatory fish such as bass and catfish it become concentrated enough to be harmful to humans who consume those fish. That’s the real problem with dirty coal as far as I’m concerned. Numerous studies have shown the harmful effects of ingesting contaminated fish, and the Arkansas Department of Health has issued a warning about consuming fish from certain lakes and streams. Studies have shown babies born from a mother who consumed more than the recommended amounts of mercury contaminated fish during the early months of pregnancy are very likely to produce a child with a lowered I.Q. So that’s the big problem with dirty coal fired generating plants.
The combination of the Texas and Arkansas dirty coal-fired plants and industrialization of America in the last 50 years has caused the mercury in fish problem. It’s a tough problem to solve, but a good start would be to convert the dirty coal and lignite burning electrical generating plants in Arkansas and Texas into clean burning natural gas fired plants. Then our mercury in fish problem would begin to slowly disappear.
However, we seem to be taking a step backwards. Arkansas’s attorney general is suing the EPA to stop them from enforcing the new standards that would force these dirty coal-fired plants to add scrubbers to remove the various harmful elements they emit, if they continued to burn dirty coal, or have them stitch to clean burning natural gas, and this week the head of the EPA announced he was suspending the new rules that would lower the coal-fired plants harmful emissions. He announced “The War on Coal is over!” Yes, you guessed it: it’s all about making a buck now and facing the consequences later. What we should be doing is trying to eliminate the use of dirty coal as an electrical generating fuel, and not trying to dodge regulations that would solve the problem, and for God’s sake don’t open National Forests for dirty coal mining as has been proposed.
Okay, I know most of us could care less about what mercury will do to us, since we’re primarily adults passed the child bearing age, but what about the young, country girl in Bradley County who knows nothing about mercury in the fish that she is eating several times a week while she’s pregnant? Consider this: If she hadn’t eaten the mercury contaminated fish, her son or daughter might have become doctor or an attorney, but instead his lower I Q. will turn him into a high school dropout. Shouldn’t we do something to prevent that from happening? What if that child was your grandchild?
Arkansas Department of Health: Fish Notice: Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women, Women Planning to be Pregnant, and Children under 7 Years of Age–General Public 1. Felsenthal Wildlife Refuge – including the Saline River up to Stillions Bridge (Union, Bradley, Ashley Counties) Should not eat largemouth bass (13 inches or longer), flathead or blue catfish, pickerel, gar, bowfin or drum from this refuge. Should not eat flathead catfish, gar, bowfin, drum, pickerel or largemouth bass (16 inches in length or longer). No more than 2 meals per month of blue catfish and largemouth bass (13-16 inches in length) should be eaten from this refuge. 2. Ouachita River – from Camden to the north border of the Felsenthal Wildlife Refuge to include all associated ox-bow lakes, backwater and overflow lakes and barrow ditches (Union, Ouachita, and Calhoun Counties) Should not eat largemouth bass, flathead catfish, pickerel, gar or bowfin from this river. Should not eat largemouth bass, flathead catfish, pickerel, gar or bowfin from this river….

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The World is Flat (Socially)

ARKANSAS
By
Richard Mason

The World is Flat (Socially)
My hat’s off to Tom Friedman and his business focused book THE WORLD IS FLAT. I think Mr. Friedman makes a great point of how goods and services are being bid, contracted for, and the work done by freelance workers around the world. I’ve published over 20 books and 19 of them have been handled by a self-publishing service in Australia that gets the cover work done in Pakistan. Yes, if you want a subdivision in Norphlet plated out, you can put it on freelancers.com and get bids from all over the world to do the work. That’s great, but I want to focus on the social aspects of a ‘flat’ world.
In 1965, Vertis and I were living in Benghazi, Libya, and I had built up enough vacation days for us to spend a long weekend in Athens, Greece. East African Airways had a route from South Africa to Athens that stopped to refuel in Benghazi, and if you didn’t mind boarding at 3:30 A. M. you could fly nonstop to Athens in an hour and a half. We decided to spend our 5th wedding anniversary there and leaving Libya at 3:30 in the morning was a no-brainer. Our wedding anniversary is January 17, so it was cold in Athens when we arrived, but we jumped right into trying to do everything possible in the few days we were going to be there. Of course, we hit the Archeological Museum first and then late in the day, when we were ready for dinner, we asked the desk clerk where he would go for dinner. He seemed surprised that so called “rich” Americans would eat where Greeks would, but since we really weren’t “rich” we weren’t about to stop at a fancy tourist restaurant. He gave us directions and after walking deeper into the old city, we found the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant. We walked in and the Greek customers seemed surprised, but not as surprised as we were when the waiter handed us an all Greek menu. However, the waiter just smiled and motioned for us to come to the front display case where it was to point and pick our dinner. Well, looking around, if we were from Mars, we couldn’t have been more noticeable. Yes, we stood out, and the next night when we ventured deeper into the old city and stopped in a large Greek restaurant with live Greek music. Well, not only did we standout, but every person in a nearly full restaurant was dressed in black. Of course, that was the night Vertis decided to wear all white, but even if we had been wearing black, we would have stood out. Greek clothing and ordinary American wear was miles apart.
That’s not the case today. A few weeks ago we were on a driving trip through western Greece on vacation, and stopped in Patas, a Greek town well away from Athens. Vertis and I walked across the street from our hotel to have a light lunch at just an ordinary local place with counter service, and an all Greek menu. Of course, we were lost as a goose trying to read Greek, but after help from a waiter, owner, and a customer, we dined on lamb k-bobs, fries, salad, and drinks for under $12. However, the lunch was an open display of how the social world has become flat. First the clothes: if you had picked up the crowd of locals who came by while we were eating and dropped them in the Dallas, Texas Galleria shopping mall they would have blended right in with torn jeans and all; and not only the younger ones. After we started really taking notice, we were amazed. But the clothes were only part of the social scene we noticed. Virtually, every customer held a cell phone and seemed glued to it, the television featured a random selection of American fare as American music blared background music. The USA has clearly dominated the social world, and whatever is hot fashion-wise or leading the music charts dominates the tastes of nearly every European and West Asian person. America culture is so all encompassing that there is no second, third, etc. It’s an all American social imprint on the rest of western culture, and that social style is rapidly encompassing the rest of the world. Of course the root of the influence is the American internet that now pervades every country in the world, and our lifestyles are being copied worldwide. That social scene, combined with the use of English as the language of trade and tourism, puts even a stronger American imprint on the rest of the world. If a Japanese and a Greek converse, it’s in English, etc.
Well, it’s obvious, that for better or worse, our country has a tremendous worldwide influence on the social life of the average person. However, it seems to me, it is impossible for that influence to just be regulated to the social aspects of life. American internet, cell phones, and movies are penetrating every corner of the world, and I think, not only is the penetration commercial, but the democratic values of United States are having a global influence that goes far beyond just social, and with all our wrinkles, it makes the world a better place to live. As Thomas Freedman noted in his book, it also makes the world a safer place to live. You are not going to war with your major customer, so the deeper the world becomes dependent upon the United States for commercial and intellectual items, the safer we become, and the less conflict we will have in the world.

We’re Booming Again!

ARKANSAS
By
Richard Mason
We’re Booming Again!
Wow, what a week! If what we received during opening weekend of MAD is any indication of what’s to come, El Dorado will never be the same! Yes, we’re booming again, and the long anticipated grand opening of MAD was certainly worth waiting for, and the folks, who worked night and day for weeks on end, have hit a home run. The opening ran smoothly, considering the huge task of having a quadruple venue of restaurant, cabaret, amphitheater, and music-hall all having simultaneous grand openings. I can only marvel at how the team pulled it all together, and their effort moved El Dorado up, from being just a stop to buy gasoline, into a world-class destination.
If you had talked with some of the thousands who attended the five day grand opening, which by the way, had the largest group of top entertainers together in the state at one time, you would have marveled at how many of the attendees came from, not only out-of-town, but out of state. And after the entertainment spectaculars, the ones I talked with, will carry back rave reviews to Shreveport, Dallas, and Jackson, etc. “We’ll be back!” was the overriding theme I heard from the dozens I interviewed.
Yes, there were a few minor wrinkles, but that’s to be expected, and until you put on a production of that magnitude, it’s really impossible to predict every item that would smooth things out. However, as an overview, I was shocked at how smoothly most all of the attractions ran. Without a doubt, the GRIFFIN MUSIC HALL will become a must Mid-South stop for many of the top flight entertainers in the country. Personally, after seeing the stage lighting and sound, in the Griffin, I can’t wait to attend one of the many Broadway Plays that will be lining up to perform there.
I especially liked the variety of entertainment on tap for the grand opening, and looking ahead at the acts to come, MAD will have something for everyone, and not only just something, but top quality acts. If you want to be entertained by some of the best in a variety of entertainment fields, look no further than MAD.
Of course, since Phase One of the entertainment complex is such an overwhelming success, the forthcoming addition, MAD PLAYSCAPE, which will be the largest, innovative, and attractive children’s play area in the state, will greatly add to MAD.
Well, we’ve been served up a grand opening week, which whets our taste for more of the same top quality entertainers, and make us anticipate Phase Two. Wow, the addition will include The MAD ART GALLERY, a top of the mark three level art museum, with a possible connection to Crystal Bridges. Just think of how many more visitors will be attracted when this state-of-the-art museum opens with world class, quality art. But I saved the crown jewel for last: Yes, the fabulous 1929 RIALTO THEATER will be totally renovated and returned to its original splendor, but with added modern acoustics, lighting, and seating. Upon completion, the Rialto will once again be a venue combination of live music and drama entertainment. Add that to the already runaway success of MAD, and then include MAD FARMERS MARKET in the amphitheater area, and you will have to stretch your mind to fathom the impact the whole package will have on our city.
Get ready folks, it’s only going to get better and better!
But I would me amiss if I didn’t mention one of the sparkplugs who moved the project forward, and couldn’t be with us for the grand opening; Edwin Alderson. Edwin is fighting a serious illness, and those of us who know Edwin, are pulling for him to kick it, and to rejoin us at MAD.

Why I Sent The Check

ARKANSAS
BY
Richard Mason

Why I Sent the Check
Portland, Texas, (a bedroom community of Corpus Christi) August 2nd, 1970
7:00 A. M.
“Hey, Vertis, there’s a tropical storm in the Gulf, and they have just named it Celia…looks like it’s heading this way.”
“How strong is it?”
“Well, it’s getting close to seventy-five miles an hour, which will make it a hurricane.”
“Do you think we should leave? Maybe drive up to San Antonio?”
“No, I don’t think so. Right now the forecasters are saying it might even weaken by the time it hits the coast, and be nothing more than a good rain. I’m going on to work, but I’ll plot up the co-ordinates and let you know what it looks like at noon.”
Noon, August 2nd
“Well, it looks about the same as this morning, and the track is still heading our way.”
“Richard, we have two babies to think about. Are you sure we shouldn’t leave?”
“No, I’m not, but let’s wait until tonight to decide.”
7:00 P. M., August 2nd
“I have some good news and maybe a little bad news.”
“What?”
“The National Hurricane Center says the storm is likely to weaken until it is barely a hurricane. That’s the good news, and the bad news is that we’re right in the projected path.”
“Richard, trying to get these babies in the car and go anywhere is next to impossible. If the storm is just seventy-five mile per hour, it won’t be a big deal, and we sure could use a little rain.”
“Yeah, I’ve talked with Reinemunds and they’re staying, and everybody in the Six Hundred Building downtown said they were staying, so let’s just put the kids to bed and see what happens tomorrow.
9:00 A. M. August 3rd
“Richard, they’re saying Celia may be strengthening in the warm water near-shore, and the first strong winds are going to start by noon.”
“Gosh, that’s only three hours away. I’m going to put up anything that could blow around and shut the garage doors. It’s too late to leave now. We’re just going to ride this one out. Maybe it will weaken by the time it crosses Padre Island.”
Noon, August 3rd
“Richard! I just saw a swing set blowing down the street! I wonder how strong the winds are?”
“I don’t know, but let’s get ready to put the kids in the bathroom, if the wind gets any stronger. I think that room in the most enclosed room in the house, and the kids can get in the tub. We’ll put some blankets in there with them Oh yeah, they said to run some water in a big bucket or something in case we lose water service.”
2:00 P. M. August 3rd
“Richard, I just saw pieces of somebodies roof blowing down the street and look! There’s a whole roof! Something just hit our roof, and the house is shaking! Oh, my God! We’re going to lose our roof!”
“Get the kids and let’s get in the bathroom! Hurry! Our roof is about to go…Damn! Something just hit our roof! Oh, my God! Both of our neighbors roof are ripping off!”
“Richard, I’m so scared, and I feel so bad that we didn’t take our kids to San Antonio! What if something happens to them? I’ll never forgive myself!”
“Vertis, the house is shaking and I think our roof is about to go! Get the kids in the bathtub and cover them with those blankets and then lie down beside the tub! Tell the kids not to move! I’ll lie down against you…and say a little prayer.”
An hour later:
“Richard, the wind is dying down! Maybe it’s over!”
“Stay, here Vertis, and I’ll take a look out the front door!”
“Come here; you won’t believe this! The radio says the eye of the storm is over Portland! The wind has completely quit blowing, and I can see blue sky.”
We’re in the front yard now, and my mouth drops open when I see the devastation on our street. House after house has been ripped apart, and out two neighbors on either side of us who had two story house have lost their entire roofs.
“Vertis, I’m going to drive down the street and see about Bill Floyd. Their house is right on Corpus Christi Bay.”
“My God,” I mutter minutes later, as I view just a few walls that are still standing including the front door. As I pull up the front door opens and Bill runs out.
“Richard, I’ve been holding my front door shut to keep it from blowing off its hinges!”
“Get in the car, Bill. It’s half time and that black wall of clouds out in the bay is heading for us! Our house is still standing.”
We’re back at my house now, and just minutes later the wind, which was out of the north during the first part of the storm is back and it’s out of the south. Bill is exhausted and collapses on the couch as we watch the wind pick up, and soon it is at full hurricane strength. Vertis is keeping the kids in the bathroom, but Bill and I are peaking out watching the storm, and we watch the debris from the first part of the storm is blowing back up the street along with anything else that wasn’t nailed down.
It has been another hellacious hour, but the wind has now slacked off to I would estimate less than 50 MPH, and is continuing to drop. Our best friends, the Reinemunds, live a few blocks up the street and on a street where the storm winds blew directly straight at their house. It takes a few minutes to dodge the debris, but when we turned the corner where we could see their house, our hearts dropped. The house is just a pile of collapsed walls and rubble. Vertis bursts out crying, and I drop my head thinking the family is either severely injured or dead. But a minor miracle has occurred—George, Marilyn, and their two girls just ran out from a neighbor’s house across the street. In the first part of the storm, as their roof went flying off George put Marilyn and the girls in the kitchen against the island, and when the wall fell it left them in a small space uninjured
7:00 P. M. August 3rd.
At last count there are 23 people in our living room and kitchen to spend the night with us. We have no electricity, water, or gas. It will be a week before we have water and gas, and 30 days before the lights go on again.
9:00 A. M. August 4th.
We’ve taken a drive through town and when we turned into the First Baptist Church parking lot tears streamed down our faces. Two weeks before the property committee, of which I was a member, had been disbanded and we had dedicated a new 600 seat auditorium. Celia’s winds had ripped off the huge roof, which we never saw again, and both side walls had collapsed on the pews. Only the foyer and baptistery remained.
August 5th, 10:00 A. M.
We’re back at the church now, and our pastor as just accepted a check from our insurance company for the full amount of coverage, and our building committee has been reformed. After helping to salvage a few items from the church, we’re resting when a large semi-trailer truck pulls up into the parking lot. In big letters it says, The Baptism Men of Texas Disaster Team. In minutes the truck’s rear doors are opened and hundreds of cases of water and ice are handed out to us. It was such an emotional experience that there were few dry eyes as we hauled away what to us was precious water and ice.
It’s noon now and we join our friends the Reinemunds for lunch. We’re standing in line to receive it from a Texas National Guard unit, and I will never forget that moment when a guardsmen handed me my lunch.
That’s why I mailed the check.
Celia’s sustained winds were clocked at 130 MPH with gust to 180 MPH.

Being Civic Minded

ARKANSAS
By
Richard Mason
Being Civic Minded
I think most of us will agree, residents of a community should be civic minded. That’s a simple statement, but I’ve found in almost every town I have visited, many residents have a mindset that being civic minded is primarily the job of community leaders or the Chamber of Commerce. Well, I’m going to expand the meaning of being civic minded to include a lot more citizens of a community than just the leadership. My definition of being civic minded is going to cover every individual in a community.
Of course, it makes sense to expand being civic minded to include everyone in the community, because their involvement obviously improves the community. I think it’s a disgrace to just live in a town and depend on someone else to do all the dirty work. More involvement by more citizens always equals a better community. But we all know there will be those who lead the effort in community improvements, and those who lag behind and actually do nothing or very little. Every town’s success is ultimately depends on the number of citizens who are civic minded. The goal of every community is to have a strong group of civic minded individuals who lead the pack of workers to lift a town up, and increase the quality of life in that community. But to really have a quality community every citizen of that town should join in the effort. However, in every town I have been in, I see weed covered lots, vacant buildings, and trash along the streets. I’ve found out that many times a city must literally force these owners to be civic minded.
The early settlers, who founded the towns in our nation, were successful because of the wholehearted support of virtually every person in these new communities. They gave us a great example, so where do we start?
First, let’s ignore the need for an army carrying weedeaters, which of course wouldn’t be needed if the city actually kept city right-of-ways trimmed and cleaned. Let’s focus on the vacant lots and buildings. Those are the real town killers. Let’s me give you my experience when considering the problem of vacant lots. In 1974 my wife and I were living in Corpus Christi, Texas, and we decided to move back home to South Arkansas. We had plans to build a new house, and we came to El Dorado looking for a suitable lot. Long story short—we couldn’t find one. Oh yes, there were plenty of lots, but they weren’t for sale. Actually, we lucked out, and after almost buying a great house in Columbus, Mississippi, we found an old beer joint attached to 17 acres—the Palace, on Calion Road—bought it, leveled the beer joint, and moved to El Dorado. Those lots that we tried to buy are still available, but not for sale. I believe being civic minded is more than just living in a town. There are responsibilities and contributing to community growth is one of them.
Of course civic responsibility is everybody’s business. The businessman, attorney, or doctor who lives in the community and makes his living from the people and business in the community has a civic obligation and responsibility to support and actively participate in civic improvements. Not only that, but these individuals have a responsibility to be active promoters of businesses that they aren’t directly involved in, and if they have unused land and buildings, and someone wants to build on or renovate and improve the buildings and land they should sell to them and not inhibit community growth.
A community of people who encourages growth and improves the quality of life in their town will naturally do many altruistic things. Altruistic means “for the good of others without gain for themselves”. A town with no altruistic individuals is a sad place to live because it’s the altruistic people who give towns the spirit of community and pride. However, before we place all the blame or credit on the professional people in our community, we would be amiss not to consider the actions of every resident. When we do that, we will see the quality of life in a community doesn’t depend upon a few civic minded individuals. Obviously, the more civic minded people you have in a community, the better the quality of life their town’s citizens will have. Involvement can be as small as picking up trash in front of your house, or refraining from tossing a beer can out the window. I guess you might say “trash litters” and realize that statement has a double meaning, and of course, the definition of trash needs to be on everybody’s mind. Yes, cigarette butts are trash, and according to most experts, they are major contributors to liter. Of course, I could go on and on about how being civic minded improves a town, but I think you get the point.
Yes, it’s easy to nod in agreement when someone endorses being civic minded, but becoming active is a lot harder to do. Just think of what our town could be if we doubled the number of people who are civic minded?

First Impressions

First Impressions
Well, the buzz is spreading. Yes, the MAD (Murphy Arts District’s) opening week buzz is taking off. Folks are scrambling to get tickets, and they’re flying off the shelf. We’ve loaded up, and I can’t wait. The buzz is already spreading through the mid-south, and after the MAD promotion group’s advertising recent soiree through New York City, national publications will pick up the story, and we can expect the September 27th grand opening to be eagerly awaited by thousands from all over the country who will roll into El Dorado. And it will continue week after week, as top flight entertainment and great food pulls in the crowds.
Of course, as I have said before, these several hundred thousand guys and gals coming to the entertainment district will bring a healthy boost to the overall state’s economy, and a real uptick to South Arkansas. Yes, El Dorado will be the destination for thousands, and we hope some of those several hundred thousand festival goers will like El Dorado so much they’ll move here, and up-tic the economic growth and reverse our population decline. I’m convinced, if we take advantage of this influx, South Arkansas will see a new boom that will rival the 1920s oil boom.
However, we may have a little problem as we try to give our visitors a good first impression. Uh, well maybe more than a little problem. So what about first impressions? Do they matter? I met Vertis, my wife, while swimming in the Smackover Swimming Pool. Did she make a good first impression? Well, we’ve been married longer than I can remember, so I would say Vertis in a swimsuit made an excellent first impression. Now, let’s just do a “what if”. What if Vertis had looked like North West Avenue in that swimsuit? Well, I would probably have ended up a confirmed bachelor living in a Greek Monastery. So just for a moment let’s say Mabelle and Billy Ray Jones from Tulsa arrive to see ZZ Top, and they drive into El Dorado on North West Avenue. I can hear them now: “Look, Billy Ray, they have a giant, abandoned Wendy’s sign. I wonder if they have a historical marker, and oh, look; I’ll bet they don’t have to worry about mowing all those blank parking lots.” “That right Mabelle, and see all those electrical lines. I’ll just bet all those stores have electricity, and just check out this turn lane. It’s a turn lane as far as the eye can see. Wow, this looks like a town we might want to relocate to.” Or maybe they might say, “My God, Billy Ray, have you ever seen anything so ugly? Speed up and check this eyesore off our list.”
Okay, now we’ve seen the good, bad, and the ugly, so how can we turn ugly North West Avenue into Vertis in her swimsuit? I guess that requires some action by the Mayor and the City Council. Yes, of course it does, and that begs the question: If North West Avenue is such an eyesore why hasn’t the City, and/or the City Council done anything about it? Yes, they will mumble something like “We don’t have the money.” But I’ve offered to buy 50 crepe myrtle trees, and all the city has to do is plant them in the green space along the street. Nope, they won’t take me up on my offer, and I would just bet, with a little work, I could line up several hundred trees to be donated. The city owns the right-of-way on both sides of the street, and nothing can keep the city from planting trees or other landscaping, which will cover up some of the ugly. But it’s not just the Mayor and Public Works Director; the City Council can pass a sign ordinance, similar to the one that disappeared from the books, and they can also take a page from Fayetteville and pass a landscaping ordinance to green up those blank ugly parking lots.
Of course, killing the endless turn lane on North West Avenue is almost just too much to hope for, but what if the turn lane was landscaped all the way from Hillsboro to the bypass intersection, with just a few breaks across it? Yes, that’s a big job, but it’s the right thing to do. If El Dorado Festivals and Events can spend a hundred million dollars to add 500 jobs and thousands to our population, it seems the city could at least give us a fighting chance to attract permeant residents by sprucing up the eyesore of South Arkansas, North West Avenue. If you agree that North West Avenue need a face lift, then every time you see the Mayor or a City Council Person, tell them to get busy and do something about the eyesore of South Arkansas.

Make Hot Springs Great Again

ARKANSAS

By

RICHARD MASON

Make Hot Springs Great Again
Well, I guess some folks think Hot Springs is still great, but if it is, then why does Rex Nelson, the Dem-Gaz columnist keep writing about how Hot Springs is turning things around and pretty soon Central Avenue will once again shine? If you’re not familiar with Hot Spring, somewhere along downtown Central Avenue is the center of town. So if we’re going to make Hot Springs great again, we need to start with the center of town.
Okay, now let’s be brutally honest. What are the things Central Avenue would have it were great? That easy; a great downtown must be people friendly, have good entertainment, great restaurants, and quality shopping. How does Hot Springs’s Central Avenue stack up? On a scale of one to ten, I’d give it a five, and I’m being generous. But Hot Springs does have the potential to move up. Here’s the major problem: the center of town—Central Avenue—is not pedestrian friendly. Let me tell you how I know: I was invited to speak to a group of Hot Springs leaders, merchants, and other interested individuals a couple of years ago about how to invigorate downtown Hot Springs. Well, I wanted to get a close view of the shopping, restaurants, and other amenities, so I started from the Arlington Hotel and slowly drove down Central, in the inside lane, where I could get a good feel for what downtown Hot Springs has to offer. I guess I was going 15 to 20 mph, but wow, horns started honking and talk about some bad looks as drivers passed me. Folks were obviously using four lane Central Avenue to get across town, and shopping, restaurants etc weren’t on their radar. Central Avenue has something in common with Oaklawn; they are both raceways, one for horses and one for cars. That in a nutshell is the overriding problem with downtown Hot Springs. Unless Central Avenue is made pedestrian friendly, Hot Springs will never reach its potential.
That’s the problem as I see it, and I have traveled extensively across our country parts of Asia, all of Western Europe and most of North Africa. The ideas I will put forth to make Hot Springs’s downtown what it should be have been distilled and used by hundreds of other cities. I’m not proposing anything that hasn’t already worked in hundreds of downtowns.
First, the traffic on Central Avenue must be diverted to another street. I’m no traffic engineer, but it seems Malvern, one block east, could be converted into a four lane street by removing the parking on either side, and with a very limited number of stop signs or red lights, give the commuters who across town a better route to get from one side of town to the next. That’s step one.
Now, let’s look at Central Avenue today. It’s, a four-lane raceway. Remember, the plan is to make Central pedestrian friendly, and you start with the attitude that not only do you want to make Central friendly to pedestrians, but unfriendly to vehicles. You do that by doing several things. First, you make it a boulevard, which of course means you get rid of two lanes of traffic. Step two, take the space those lanes took up and plant trees down the middle of the street, and use the other space to make the sidewalks wider to encourage sidewalk dining. Then, every 200 feet put in a pedestrian crosswalk with stop signs. I’ll guarantee you one thing, if that happens, the crosstown commuters will line up to go down Malvern rather than Central.
But we’re not there yet. In order to get the quality businesses and restaurants to occupy commercial space on Central Avenue, the city must strongly enforce electrical, fire, and structural zoning codes, and mandate enhanced landscaping along the street. The commercial space on Central must be improved to equal the best in the town. Any property owner who refuses to renovate their space should be forced to place their property on the market.
The goal should be to have a series of 25 foot retail or restaurant tenants along the opposite side of the street from Bathhouse Row. The 25 foot retail spacing not my idea. Disney did a survey and found shoppers preferred that spacing of retail stores, but not just any retail stores. Hot Springs must decide who they want as a customer, and every store should cater to that customer. If they decide to be a discount mall type street, every store should be of that nature. Or, if they decided to cater to middle and upper income shoppers, every store along the street must serve that customer. Of course, it means only retail or restaurants on the ground floor; no accountants, lawyers, or yoga studios.
If Hot Springs does the above, they will ready to add landscaping and other pizzazz items to draw pedestrians. Just remember this: you can’t have too much stuff, and if you don’t believe me, check out the successful downtowns around the world. Every successful downtown is patterned after the items mention above.
I know what I have suggested is a tough nut to crack, but progressive towns with great downtowns across this country are proof it can be done. So Hot Springs—get started by putting the needle in the Central Avenue Raceway.