Moving into the next phase of development, the historic Mena High School project continues to move forward. Given its prime location within the Ouachita’s, Mena’s natural beauty has become a boon for business from Arkansans, bordering states and beyond. Due to the influx of tourists, visionaries within the community have come together for the redevelopment planning of downtown Mena becoming the “Base Camp for Mountain Adventures.”
Mountain adventures in the region include ATV trails throughout the Ouachita National Forest, hiking and mountain bike trails, crystal quartz digging and clear rivers and lakes.
“Seeing that Mena is already a “base camp” for people looking to experience all the outdoor adventures the region has to offer, a major project to redevelop the former Mena High School is underway,” shared Rick Chrisman, Chair of the Mena Advertising and Promotion Commission and a treasurer of Mena Downtown Partners. “This project is envisioned to become an anchor attraction for the downtown as well as the entire region. A local investor, Walter Deetz, purchased the former school which had been damaged from an F-3 tornado that struck the community in 2009. Deetz has made repairs to the 58,000 square foot building, which sits on seven acres in downtown Mena. These repairs included eliminating some outbuildings, replacing the roof, removing asbestos, and upgrading the elevator to working condition.”
Chrisman continued, “A group of local business leaders have approached Deetz with the idea of renovating this historic building into a mixed-use space. Zach Mannheimer, who is a nationally known consultant on revitalizing buildings for creative community uses, was invited to speak to the community in an effort to promote support for the project. Following his presentation, Mannheimer and his firm, McClure Engineering, were contracted to do a redevelopment study for the property. He brought in Greg Nabholz, with Nabholz Properties in Conway, a developer and placemaking economic development consultant, to collaborate on the initial plan that was completed in 2018.”This rehabilitation plan to turn the former school and grounds into a mixed-use facility includes apartments, an innovation center, co-working areas, a maker’s space shop, and a commercial kitchen shared Chrisman. Other potential uses of the building include an events space that can double as a black box theater and film sound stage, and a component of the Polk County Library. Because this property borders a planned trail extension from Ward Lake, retail spaces such as a restaurant/coffee shop, bike shop/outdoor outfitter are also envisioned.
“In addition, a new hotel and multi-purpose pavilion is part of the preliminary schematic plan. These would be built on the acreage adjacent to the high school building. This project is currently in the next phase of development and on the verge of becoming reality,” said Chrisman. Revitalize Mena, a nonprofit group, is also assisting in the project development and is currently raising funds for the progression of the architectural designs.
“The presence of the University of Arkansas Rich Mountain and Mena Regional Health System strengthen the community and add to the viability of this project and the continued revitalization of downtown Mena. The natural beauty, accessibility to a wide variety of outdoor activities, and access to medical and educational facilities make Mena a much larger tourist destination and a place people are relocating to live. We know we’re truly blessed to be in such a great position. If the last year taught us anything, it is to appreciate the outdoors more and to deeply enjoy our experiences,” concluded Chrisman.