Over the summer, Harding University experienced some major changes to a few of its popular destinations. The additions arrived to campus amidst talks for growth within the greater Searcy community.
The updates at Harding are making students like sophomore Sierra Heasley happier to stay on campus, but still wanting more from the surrounding community.
“The updates on campus are great, but I always have to go to Little Rock if I want to get any shopping done or eat anywhere different,” Heasley said. “Yeah, we have great boutiques and the same old restaurants, but that doesn’t really give students any variety.”
Although progress on major improvements to the city have not been seen by the public, Searcy Chamber of Commerce has been working privately with developers to expand what Searcy has to offer. In 2016, meetings began to discuss an opportunity for a shopping center, and now those plans are coming to fruition.
According to Buck Layne, president of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce, everyone from students to older citizens have been wanting more shopping opportunities in our community.
“Our thinking is that this is the beginning,” Layne said. “This is not the end or where it’s going to stop, this is where it’s going to start and as more companies see that we can support these kind of companies, we think that more will come. We are very excited about that.”
The shopping center will be located at the corner of Beebe Capps Expressway and Janet Drive, just west of I-67, according to Layne. Several national retailers have negotiated leases for locations in the shopping center, including Hobby Lobby, T.J. Maxx, Shoe Carnival and Petco. Ulta Beauty has submitted a letter of intent with a lease to follow.
The shops are due to open in October 2017, and in their first three months are projected to bring an estimated $114,956.25 back to Searcy.
“Money is not just going out, it’s coming back too,” Layne said. “That’s what the city has to take into consideration: What is their return on the public’s investment?”
The roughly $30 million project will result in an addition of 250 jobs for the community, giving students not only more opportunities to spend, but to earn as well.
“We are just so thankful that our city council has been so progressive and aggressive in this regard, because it would have been really easy to say no to this project due to the risk,” Layne said. “I think our city council is very visionary, they see the potential for this, and opportunity for future growth.”
The shopping center is not the only project in the works for the chamber of commerce. Layne said that he and his team have been working on plans for a water park that is due to open in the summer of 2017. Race Street will continue to see changes, with a larger Sonic that will be located at the corner of Race and Benton, replacing the old Wendy’s.
While discussing the impact Harding students make on the commerce of Searcy, Layne said, “(Harding students) have a huge positive economic impact on our community. You guys probably can’t tell the impact you make on our community because many of you go back home during the summer. You just can’t imagine the change in the traffic and the business generated by you guys. I can’t say enough positive things about you to our community.”