Van Buren, Crawford County receive grants for downtown projects, park improvements

by Tina Alvey Dale (tdale@talkbusiness.net) 869 views 

Downtown Van Buren

Van Buren has received a $492,000 boost for its downtown streetscape project thanks to a Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grant from the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

The 80/20 split granted the state provides includes federal funds. It will be used to improve sidewalks and add landscaping and new irrigation and electrical making downtown more walkable, said Van Buren Mayor Joe Hurst.

“We’re trying to beautify part of the area,” Hurst said. “We’ve had a plan put together for a few years, so we were really excited to receive this grant.”

Specifically the project will look at enhancements on a portion of Main Street in downtown Van Buren to add other areas as well, Hurst said. The city’s streetscape plan continues the whole downtown development project the city has been working on over the past few years.

“We’ve received so much attention to our downtown these days with new restaurants, new businesses, and parks that we’ve built from tax payers investments. It’s been really amazing. It’s really kind of stimulated the growth downtown and we just really want to continue doing that. Knowing that we have limited funds to have almost $500,000 to go to this is amazing,” he said.

The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) provides funding for programs and projects defined as “transportation alternatives” for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized forms of transportation. It was authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a press release from ARDot said. Projects eligible for program funding include “the construction of on-road and off-road trail facilities that include sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, pedestrian and bicycle signals, lighting and other safety-related infrastructure. Conversion of abandoned railroad corridors for pedestrian and bicycle trails is also eligible,” the release said.

For 2019, ARDot awarded grants totaling $8 million to 30 TAP projects. Van Buren received the third largest grant. Vilonia and Springdale each received $500,000. Vilonia’s grant is for its Church Street sidewalks and Main Street lighting. Springdale received a grant for phase 3 of the Dean’s Trail in Springdale.

Van Buren also will benefit from a $40,000 grant Crawford County will receive from the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA). The grant, meant to increase access to high-quality, close-to-home parks and public green space, is given in coordination with 10 Minute Walk – a campaign dedicated to improving access to parks and green spaces while positively transforming communities, press release said.

Crawford County was one of 10 locations across the country selected to receive the grant funding. Only 19% of the county’s population live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

Because parks are essential to the physical, social, environmental, and economic health of a community, the National Recreation and Park Association, The Trust for Public Land, and the Urban Land Institute began a nationwide movement to “ensure there’s a great park within a 10-minute walk of every person, in every neighborhood, in every city across America,” the NRPA website states.

Crawford County in partnership with the City of Van Buren, Western Arkansas Planning and Development District and Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization will examine access to Diamond Center Park. Located on 20 acres on Kibler Road in Van Buren, Diamond Center Park holds a softball complex with four fields and a parking lot that comprise 15-acres of the park. The county’s goal is to redesign the park to include walking/hiking trails interspersed with exercise stations, said Crawford County Judge Dennis Gilstrap.

“There are already picnic tables scattered around the park, but it just isn’t used that much,” Gilstrap said. “We want a place that provides fitness and well-being opportunities for our citizens.”

The Diamond Center Park is the only county-owned park in Crawford County. The grant will allow the team to start on the design portion of the project. Along with grant funding, Crawford County will receive support from NRPA through technical assistance, professional development and access to park and recreation professionals, the release said.

“We are elated to begin this important work with NRPA and our partners … to help design and plan for a public space that the community can enjoy and be proud to call it their own,” said Gilstrap.

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