Van Buren approves agreement with Southeastern Freight Lines to improve Bekaert Drive

Wally Bailey, Van Buren planning director, speaks during the Van Buren City Council meeting Monday. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)

VAN BUREN -- The city agreed to improve one of its roads -- with the help of a trucking company -- to encourage economic development.

The City Council approved an agreement between the city and Southeastern Freight Lines at its meeting Monday. The agreement will see both sides joining to do about 2,200 feet of road improvements to facilitate construction of a proposed interstate motor freight warehouse and distribution center at the end of Bekaert Drive south of Interstate 40.

Madison Simmons, who holds the Ward 2, Position 2 seat on the City Council, was absent.

Mayor Joe Hurst said the partnership is a great opportunity for the city to support local businesses and help create jobs, as well as fix some of its infrastructure.

"The agreement there is just giving the company some assurances that this will be a project that we put on the priority list in the next three years," Hurst said. "Whenever we actually put that project 'ready to go,' it'll actually come back to the City Council. The City Council will approve the actual expense."

Southeastern Freight Lines is a regional less-than-truckload transportation services provider specializing in next-day service in the southeast and southwest United States, according to the company's website. Headquartered in Lexington, S.C., Southeastern has a service center at 323 Access Road in Van Buren, as well as other locations in Arkansas including Jonesboro, Little Rock and Texarkana.

Ryan Smigiel, Southeastern's vice president of real estate, said via email Friday building the warehouse and distribution center will enable the company to better serve its customers in the area. He declined to provide specifics, such as how many additional people could be hired after the proposed project is finished.

"We provide staffing that supports our customers' needs in the local community," Smigiel said.

Wally Bailey, city planning director, said Southeastern wants to buy about 350 acres at the western end of Bekaert Drive to build the warehouse and distribution center. However, not all of the land would be used for this purpose. Bailey described Bekaert Drive as being in "pretty bad condition."

The city Planning Commission approved a variance request from the Texas-based Schwob Building Co. on Southeastern's behalf with conditions at its meeting April 4, according to the minutes from that meeting.

A March 24 letter from Schwob states Southeastern is looking to develop about 60 of the 350 acres at Bekaert Drive, which is zoned industrial.

Bekaert Drive is depicted as a "Class I - Collector Street" in the city's street plan, although it doesn't meet the city's current standards for such a street, according to the letter. The street is about 2,800 feet from Lee Creek Road and dead-ends at the 350 acres. This includes about 550 feet from Lee Creek Road that's about 25 feet in width with no curbs or sidewalks and about 2,250 feet that's about 20 feet wide.

"The request is that Southeastern Freight Lines be able to match the existing road construction as it currently exists from Lee Creek Road to the west Bekaert driveway and defer the full collector road improvements to the master street plan/minimum street standards requirements until such time as more development occurs on the 350 acres that would require the improvement of Bekaert Drive to a collector street," the meeting minutes state.

The Bekaert Corp., headquartered in Belgium, has a manufacturing facility at 1881 Bekaert Drive.

Smigiel said the road improvements are essentially a road widening with shoulder improvements, which is necessary to adequately serve the property at the end of Bekaert Drive.

"We plan on commencing and completing design over the next year, then immediately moving forward with construction of the road improvements upon approval," he said.

Southeastern will evaluate the timing of the proposed warehouse and distribution center after the road improvements are finished, according to Smigiel.

The agreement the City Council approved Monday states Southeastern will pay for the design and engineering for the entire road improvement project, as well as the construction of an about 1,300-foot section of the improvements. The city will pay for or reimburse Southeastern for the construction of the remaining improvements, which encompass about 900 feet of Bekaert Drive.

Bailey said the city will have the opportunity to either construct its portion of Bekaert Drive separately from Southeastern or participate with the company in a contractual arrangement. The city's cost for the project will be determined after an engineer evaluates existing condition of Bekaert Drive.

In response to a question from Michael Kneeland, Ward 3, Position 1 alderman, Bailey said the improved Bekaert Drive will have to be reinforced to accommodate heavy truck traffic The road is planned to be 26 feet wide.


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