$130k tree upsets some Conway residents

    9:44 PM, Nov 26, 2013   |    comments
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    CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) - It stands at 54 feet tall, has more than 19,000 lights, and it's visible from I-40. The City of Conway hopes its new Christmas tree in Rogers Plaza will bring a lot more business downtown. But some locals are stuck on the sticker price.

    It cost the city $133,000.

    "It's the centerpiece now to the entryway to Conway," said Kim Williams, Executive Director of the Conway Downtown Partnership.

    Many residents have questioned why tax payer money was spent on a large Christmas tree.

    "The money for the tree came from the city's portion of the Advertising and Promotions tax," said Mayor Tab Townsell.

    Called "A&P" for short, the tax takes two cents from prepared food purchases at hotels and restaurants.

    "As we ended up about $80,000 short for the plaza, we decided to go ahead and buy the Christmas tree to kick off the first year with the plaza," Townsell said.

    Townsell said A&P funds can only be used for advertising and promotion and parks and recreation.

    "It can't be used for police salaries, it can't be used for health care, it can't be used for potholes, and that has been a popular suggestion," he said.

    Chris Jennings owns the Cross Creek Sandwich Shop on Oak Street. Her business has been open for five years and she said paying the A&P tax has been worth it.

    "During that five years, we've seen a lot of improvements for downtown, the beautification of downtown, and I think it makes it a more attractive place to come," she said.

    Back in August, Conway's City Council voted to waive the traditional bidding process. Conway residents weren't happy about that either.

    "We do that periodically; the state requires a bid unless you take the steps towards waiving it," Townsell said.

    Usually, the best price comes from companies trying offer a better deal than the next. In this case, the city did its own research to find the best deal. And they chose Get Lit, a company based out of Northwest Arkansas.

    "They actually manufactured the interior of the tree here in Arkansas," Williams said.

    Ornaments and maintenance service was included in the price with Get Lit. Townsell said the recent electrical issues have already proven that the city made the right decision. The company assembled the tree in Conway in three days, but didn't have time to work out all the kinks.

    "That's part of the benefit of a local firm, that they were able to make it back down here and fix everything," Townsell said.

    Williams said the tree was an investment. A good one that she's pleased with.

    "It has a 25-year guarantee and we are going to use it for 25 years plus," she said.

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