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Community more than just in PACA’s name

by James Leigh | May 21, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
David F. Watkins Memorial Park is one of the most recognizable projects that the Park Avenue Community Association, and its chair Cynthia Rogers, has done. - Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record

Community is a big part of what the Park Avenue Community Association is all about.

The organization has been part of Uptown since 1987, and it was founded to help improve the overall conditions of the community.

"We're a 501(c)3, and we have bylaws and a mission statement, and our mission is to improve the livability and sustainability of our neighborhood," Cynthia Rogers, the chair of the PACA board, said. "The organization was started back in 1987. ... It's stayed real active, and it's ebbed and flowed over the years."

Rogers got involved with the organization in 2013, and she wanted to do something for disabled people and children in the community.

"I was working in Benton, and when I'd go to work, I'd see these kids wait for the school bus out in the rain," she said. "I'd see people going down the middle of the road in their wheelchairs, and it was like, 'This isn't right.'"

Mark Toth, who is the current president of the Whittington Valley Neighborhood Association, told the group about the Community Development Block Grant program, which "helped make the most significant changes over the last 10 years," Rogers said.

PACA has taken on many projects over the years, from Light Uptown which has put in lights along Park Avenue to David F. Watkins Memorial Park.

"That whole park -- I mean you talk about a community effort -- that park is a community effort from every club organization, private donation, banks, you name it," Rogers said. "Everybody came together. We were lucky to have Anthony Taylor (with Taylor Kempkes Architects) help design that park and get the engineers to donate their services and Civitan Club put in the playground. Briana Moore is heading our committee to put a splash pad, and we're probably about three-quarters of the way there."

The splash pad is the final piece of the park that started in 2014 after the city purchased the former Kloss Motel, 811 Park Ave., that had been closed in January of 2007 due to multiple safety violations.

Former City Manager David Watkins spearheaded the project to purchase the property and build a park in the community before dying unexpectedly in August of 2015, and the city agreed to name it after Watkins later that year.

"With (former Hot Springs Stormwater Manager) Max (Sestili) and David Watkins and then we roped in Anthony Taylor, we got that park designed, and then we started fundraising," Rogers said. "We raised Community Development Block Grant money to do the amphitheater, the lights, you name it. We had money from our state legislators at the time; they had those General Improvement Grant funds. They did the lighting, Sunrise Rotary did the sunflowers, Arvest donated money, Weyerhaeuser donated money, individuals have donated a tremendous amount of money."

There has been $210,000 raised for the park as well as $994,578.55 for infrastructure improvements, Rogers said. Those improvements include rain gardens, improved pedestrian crossings, reconstructed sidewalks and ramps, streetlights and other improvements to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Rogers said that many people have questioned the need for the splash pad.

"We have a lot of children up here in this neighborhood that have nowhere to go," she said. "The only park is all the way down there to DeSoto, and you would take your life in your hands to get there. So we need something there."

The amount of traffic in the community is a big issue, as well.

"The traffic on Park Avenue, that's a huge focus for us up here," Rogers said. "You get people go in 69, 70 mph. There's up to 24,000 cars a day sometimes going down that road. If you're there in the morning or at 5 o'clock, you can't get out."

There have been several fundraising events the community has held to help finish the project, Rogers said.

"That big soup-off was a great hit," she said of the February event. "Diana Hampo is a great -- she's not in our neighborhood, but she's a great friend of the neighborhood. She came to Briana Moore and I about this idea that they do in Little Rock, and we have a lot of connections with some of the restaurants because we get donations for some of the herbs we grow at the community garden. Through our contacts and Diana's contacts, we got 15 vendors to participate with us, and it was a great success."

Other events have included a block party and a Halloween event.

"Last year, we did a big block party where we closed Reid Street to raise money for the splash pad," Rogers said. "That was a great success, too. But that's a lot of work. Dwayne Ezekiel mentioned that he thought maybe we could do that in the fall, so we might do that again. But we're always trying to raise money. We partner with the city. We couldn't do anything up here without the City of Hot Springs' support and help."

While the community does collect dues from its members, they are $15 for individuals, $25 for families and $50 for businesses, and that money goes toward community events.

"We'll do a Christmas party or a Thanksgiving party," Rogers said. "Courtney Sanders down at Emma Lee's (Kitchen), they've been helping us host for the last couple years. Every restaurant that's been in this neighborhood has hosted it at some point or other. Sometimes you can pay $10 to come, sometimes you bring a dish, but we usually buy the meats and do all that. But really our general fund remains very low. Our money is with our lights and with the splash pad, so those are the two biggies."

Rogers said one of the marks of pride for the community is the low rate of crime in the area.

"We (have) the lowest crime rate in the city, which people don't realize," she said. "I mean, they think Park Avenue -- but I mean, this is a great neighborhood. These people on this street, we all watch out for each other."

Part of the reason for the low crime rate is due to a strong relationship with the Hot Springs Police Department.

"Personally, I feel we have a great relationship with the Hot Springs Police Department up here," Rogers said. "They have never not come to the aid when they have been called. They've always been great. They're very proactive. They come to all of our events."

Rogers said Uptown has a sense of community.

"I think it's a place that has a hipster-type aura about it," she said. "Even the old people that live up here -- the old people that live up here, they're not stuffy. ... We're diverse up here, but they're pretty open-minded. Diversity, I mean, we welcome the diversity, whatever you are, if you rent, you own, you're whoever. Just take care of your place."

The primary hope for the organization is to help its neighbors, Rogers said.

"I think for us, we just want people to take pride in their home whether they own it or they rent it," she said. "Be prideful, be a steward of our neighborhoods. So if you see something -- we've got lots of traffic walking around -- if you see something that shouldn't be there, pick up the phone and call. If you don't call, it's not going to get taken care of.

"Also, we're kind of a life net for some of the older residents. A lot of our older folks are passing up here. We've lost a lot of our older residents up here, and they need that group identity, too. They need that connection. We have a community. I think that's the biggest thing is that there's a sense of community."

photo Cynthia Rogers, the chair of the Park Avenue Community Association, said community is a huge part of what PACA does. - Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record
photo Cynthia Rogers, the chair of the Park Avenue Community Association, has been involved with PACA for approximately 10 years. - Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record
photo Members of the Park Avenue Community Association hold an event on May 5, 2019. - The Sentinel-Record/File photo
photo Anthony Taylor, an architect with Taylor and Kempkes Architects, outlines his plans for the David F. Watkins Memorial Park on June 12, 2019. The Park Avenue Community Association is working to bring the final piece of Taylor's design to life, a splash pad for the park. - The Sentinel-Record/File photo
photo David F. Watkins Memorial Park is one of the most recognizable projects the Park Avenue Community Association has worked to produce. - The Sentinel-Record/File photo
photo Visitors look at the playground equipment at David F. Watkins Memorial Park during a dedication of the park on March 25, 2021. - The Sentinel-Record/File photo

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