By Joel Phelps
A building that once housed a grocery store in downtown Arkadelphia is now set to become a police station after a unanimous decision from the voting members present at Tuesday’s City Board meeting.
The property in question is 801 N. Main St., which for years has sat vacant after Sav U Mor closed its doors. In a 5-0 vote, the city can now purchase that building for $350,000 and, once building costs are at a level administration is happy with, another $1.2 million will be spent to remodel the building and make it the next home of the Arkadelphia Police Department.
The decision to relocate the police department is in line with a combination of the 911 service presently shared between APD and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Emergency calls made from a landline within the city limits are channeled to a dispatcher at APD, while mobile calls land at the sheriff’s office. In the near future, a centralized dispatch station will be able to funnel all emergency calls to a team of dispatchers in one location.
City Manager Gary Brinkley told board members he had considered several options to help streamline the process of moving the 911 service, and decided the best option would be to sell the current police station, located at 514 Clay St., to the county and purchase/remodel the vacant building at 801 Main St.
The $350,000 figure settled on, he said, was not an appraisal but a market evaluation, and that during negotiations the seller settled for $14,000 less than the asking price. But it will take some time before the Sav U Mor building will be the place where law enforcement officers interrogate suspects and file police reports.
“This is a slow process,” Brinkley said. “This will take a few years to complete.” Eyeing the market for building costs, he said his administration “has no appetite for using all our available cash for a new police station” and is “in the process of building up cash” for the remodeling cost. “We [plan to] hold the facility until the economics are right to remodel.”
Following his plea to purchase the building, Brinkley fielded questions from city directors.
Assistant Mayor Roland Gosey asked how much time there was to give the county an answer. Brinkley said the city had to have a plan in place by the first weeks of 2022. “[The county] hasn’t told us when it has to be completed, but we have to have a plan,” he said.
Ward 5 Director Jason Jones asked if a price has been negotiated on the present police station. Brinkley said there hadn’t been. Admitting he didn’t know the real value of the police station, he noted it is “already set up and ready to use” and that remodeling it would “cost next to nothing.” Brinkley said he doesn’t expect settling for anything less than $750,000 on that building.
Mayor Scott Byrd asked for a timeline from the time of purchasing the 801 Main St. building until it became a police station. Brinkley said he hoped to close on the building by 2022, and has initial plans drawn up for the new station and is watching the market before proceeding with remodeling.
The current price to remodel is roughly $250 per square foot, Brinkley said, and he hopes to wait until that drops to $125 per square foot before proceeding. “If we have a plan and we own the property, we’re in the driver’s seat,” Brinkley said.
Ward 1 director Chris Porter inquired whether the Sav U Mor building is what the city needs for the future. “Absolutely, unequivocally,” Brinkley replied. In line with Porter’s question, Ward 1 director Taylor Cheney asked about the challenges the current police station presents. Brinkley noted the present police station is undersized and, once the Sav U Mor building is remodeled, it will provide ample space for APD to conduct necessary investigative work, pull seized vehicles inside, train and have bunk space in the event of inclement weather when officers need to stay over for another shift.
There are also parking issues at the current station, as well as storage space for evidence, Brinkley said.
Byrd asked how the city would purchase and remodel the building. Brinkley said sales tax revenue from Move Arkadelphia Forward would cover the cost.
Gosey inquired whether the building was up to standard and city code. Brinkley said that, while the awnings are in poor condition, “We’ll fix that. It’s a minimal expense.” Aside from that, he said, the building is in good condition.
Jones asked about the total cost after renovations. Brinkley’s $1.2 million figure (in addition to the $350,000 for the building itself) would be substantially less than the estimated $2.5 million once building prices drop. The $2.5 million figure, Brinkley noted, isn’t going to happen. “We’re not gonna do that,” he said. “We don’t have the cash to do that. If we did, we would use up all our cash and all our flexibility. We’ve worked so hard to get to a point of flexible financing, we don’t want to do that.”
Referring to a high tax revenue of late, Jones said, “In a perfect world, if we continue with the revenues coming in at the rate they are, every year we’ll be able to spend a big chunk of that money to put toward renovating” the new station.
Brinkley pointed out that, by 2024, the city will “roll off almost all of our debt” except for the Youth Sports Complex, “so we can take on $1.5 million in debt. … We’re so blessed to have flexibility with our borrowing, because we haven’t borrowed much money, that when things start rolling off it gives us a lot of flexibility.
“And maybe, if we’ll renew that tax in four years, you’re going to have a bunch of projects that you want to bond, and you’ll do a 10-year bond.”
Byrd asked for a “worst-case scenario” of purchasing the Sav U Mor building.
“You purchase it, decide to do nothing with it, and in four years you sell it at a loss,” Brinkley replied. “This is one of those opportunities that we sought out, it came our way … There’s a lot of wins with this, even if we don’t immediately go and turn it into a police station.”
With no further discussion, the board unanimously opted in favor of purchasing the building.
Directors Keith Crews and Reo Cummings were absent for Tuesday’s meeting.