Editorial: Develop Weir Road or fall far behind

As cities like Conway, Little Rock, Fayetteville and Fort Smith continue to develop at an accelerated pace, Russellville lags far behind despite being home to the state’s third largest university, a far lower crime rate and a comparatively high standard of living.

Our city’s decisions not to capitalize on development opportunities cause our consumers to travel elsewhere to spend their money. And when a consumer market is dependent on surrounding cities and metropolitan areas other than its own, the chance at proactive development diminishes more and more.

Wait around too long, and then you’re playing a game of reactive catch-up.

At one point, before the 2008 recession was in full swing, a large shopping center at Interstate 40 and Weir Road was supposed to serve as the crowning jewel of the Russellville economy.

Other businesses showed interest in developing the area that now lies dormant along Weir Road, but when the nation’s market spiraled downward, developers and the City Council alike clung tight to their pocket books.

Seven years and an improved economy later, and there’s still no development to be heard of or seen on Weir Road.

The major prohibiting factor is the lack of water and sewer service in that part of town. Russellville City Corp does not currently have pipes that feed the few businesses dotting the roadside near I-40.

According to an article from The Courier, initial estimates range from $2.5-$3 million to serve the properties in the area with pipes for water and sewage. The city doesn’t want to spend the money without assurances that businesses will come to Russellville to reciprocate the costs incurred through extensive pipe laying and groundwork.

The problem is only exacerbated by the common sense notion that businesses won’t purchase permits and set up shop until the city provides these basic services.

Thus it becomes a waiting game of who will budge first. In this case, it’ll have to be the city. The real estate off I-40 and near Walmart has too much potential to leave fallow, and the city cannot afford to have its consumers shop elsewhere.

Groups of retail recruiters have made pitches to the City Council and local officials, and every plan for growing Russellville beyond playing second fiddle economically to other cities involve developing Weir Road.

Although the chunk of money doled out to provide the necessary water and sewer services to the area will be considerable, the benefits of large retailers settling in Russellville are too attractive to ignore.