Friday, July 12, 2013

TOP STORY >> Cities here vying to get vets home

Leader staff writer

The deadline has passed and now a three-person committee must narrow down the choice for the state’s new Veterans’ Home.

Jacksonville hopes to be among the finalists and eventually the winner.

In all, the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs received 36 proposals offering the department 61 parcels of land for the new home.

Among the choices are two proposals from Jacksonville, two from Cabot and one from Sherwood.

The proposals are scattered across the state from Chaffee Crossing to Dumas to Mountain View.

The criteria for the site is that it must be zoned for residential or light commercial use, have utilities, easy public access and be near motels, hospitals, restaurants, shopping and public transportation.

Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock), the head of the Veterans’ Home Task Force, hopes a decision will be made by late August. The group met Tuesday, but the focus of discussion was on the design of the new facility.

She said the task force has to treat building the veterans’ home like a business rather than just an emotional project because legislators want it to be sustainable.

The state has applied for a federal $18.1 million matching grant to construct the facility, while Arkansas lawmakers have agreed to use $7.5 million in surplus funds to match the grant.

Arkansas has only one veterans home open in the state and that’s in Fayetteville. It can hold up to 100 residents. The state’s other home in Little Rock was closed more than a year ago because of abuse and mismanagement.

The city of Jacksonville sent in a proposal under the flag of the chamber of commerce offering the state about 60 acres of land off General Samuels Road near Swift Road. The parcel is close to the air base, the hospital, shopping and eateries.

Mayor Gary Fletcher believes the city-chamber proposal is the only one offering the land for free.

“We did it in 1954 to bring in Little Rock Air Force Base and would like to have history repeat itself,” he said.

Fletcher said, “We are a natural fit. We think we’ve got the best site. It’s a very centralized location with easy access. I can’t think of a better place.”

If the city’s site is selected, Fletcher said, “We’re going to do all we can to make it a first-class facility and we’ll treat it like a gem in our community.”

The Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs and a legislative task force announced last month that they were seeking 20 acres of level and, preferably, free undeveloped land.

Wednesday was the deadline for cities to submit proposals.

The center, wherever it is built, could house up to 150 veterans and help create up to 100 jobs.

Jacksonville’s other proposal was sent in by William B. Collins of Lilac LLC, part of Cypress Properties in Little Rock.

The Cabot sites are being offered through Jeff Hathaway of Coldwell Banker. His proposal also included sites in Maumelle, Mabelvale and North Little Rock.

The two Cabot sites that Hathaway is asking the state to consider are both for sale. One is a 16- acre tract on Hwy. 5 near Greystone and the other is a 30-acre tract on the east side of Second Street, just north of Hwy. 67/167 Exit 16.

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert said no one has approached him for help or assistance in bringing the veterans home to Cabot.

“It is certainly welcome, but I haven’t heard anything about it,” he said.

The Sherwood site is part of an eight-property proposal sent in by Melanie Gibson of Colliers International. Other sites in her package included Little Rock, Roland and Maumelle.

The Sherwood parcel that Gibson has submitted for consideration is a 45-acre tract on Trammel Road near Trammel Estates.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said the real estate firm had not talked to her about bringing in the veterans home, but she would love to have it in her city. “We would do everything we could to support it,” she said.

Sen. English said a three-person committee, including a representative from the American Legion, one from the VFW and the chairman of the Arkansas Vet Centers, will review the proposals individually.

“They will have a checklist and make sure the proposal meet the criteria,” English said. “From there we will narrow it down to three or four possibilities and go out and check the sites and talk to the community leaders.”

Cissy Rucker, director of the state’s Department of Veterans affairs, said this may be the last time the federal government will fund a brand new center.

“We want it to be state-of-the-art and something people in the state are proud of,” Rucker said.