story by Ryan Saylor
Van Buren residents will have a contested mayoral election this year and the race is going to look an awful lot like the 2010 election after Van Buren Alderman Max Blake confirmed Tuesday (July 29) his entry into the campaign again incumbent Mayor Bob Freeman.
The two men previously faced off in 2010, with Freeman taking 56% of the vote to Blake's 44%.
Speaking to The City Wire, Blake said he was running for mayor to make a difference in the community and to "move Van Buren forward," adding that he was not running due to anything specific Freeman had done or not done in office during the last nearly eight years.
"It was laid on my heart four years ago and it's still there. And I have a lot of people encouraging me, people who voted for me last time. This time, I looked at it harder. I wanted to do it for the right reasons and I believe I am."
Blake said his campaign would focus on economic development in the city, adding that even though a large number of Van Buren residents work and shop in Fort Smith, there was no reason the city could not develop areas including the downtown and Lee Creek Road to draw more spending and tax revenue to the community.
He said in the case of Lee Creek Road, its location intersecting with Interstate 40 was a prime location for commercial development of some sort, including a truck stop. Blake said such an establishment would be convenient and would allow Van Buren to take advantage of the nearly 9 million vehicle movements along the interstate in a given calendar year.
The Drennen Scott House, a Van Buren historic site managed by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, is located near downtown and he said the city should be fully marketing the facility in order to draw visitors looking for culture who may visit Crystal Bridges in Bentonville or the planned Marshals Museum in Fort Smith.
But he said the key with targeting an area for development or trying to market one of the community's historic sites is to make the pitch to investors and business leaders, something he said has not been happening.
"It's just going out and you know, knocking on some doors and representing ourself and representing the citizens of Van Buren."
Blake not only envisions commercial growth, but other growth including the possibility of an aquatics center like the facility open in Alma and the other larger facility under construction in Fort Smith. He said sidewalks and other basic amenities are in need, as well. As for how to pay for such projects, he said once new businesses open and sales taxes start rolling in, the projects would be funded without having an increase in sales taxes.
Other development areas that demand attention from city leaders include the riverfront and U.S. Highway 64 on the east side of town, which he said will take cooperation from the public and private sectors to see full realization of any river developments.
In announcing his run for mayor, Blake said his platform on jobs and economic development in the community was not simply about challenging an incumbent mayor but about taking a vision and trying to make it a reality for a community that he has been a part of for the last 28 years.
"I've tried to tell everybody that this isn't about somebody being bad or good. I just want everybody to understand that this isn't about me saying somebody's bad or good. It's just something that I feel like that I can do and it's been laid on my heart to try and I'm committed to it. I've lived here a long time. And you can ask most people (who have) lived here this long. It's time."
Blake and his wife have two daughters. Prior to serving on the Van Buren City Council, he served on the Van Buren Housing Authority Board of Directors.