The latest Arkansas Times-sponsored celebration of food, fun and music is set from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 7 at the Argenta Farmers Market Plaza at 520 Main, North Little Rock.
DRINKS: Arkansas wine distributors will be providing 250 wines from around the world to sample.
FOOD: Reno's Argenta Cafe, the Italian Kitchen, Cafe Bossa Nova, Crush Wine Bar and Argenta Market will provide the eats.
JAZZ: Rodney Block and the Real Music Lovers play from 6 to 7:15 p.m.. The second half program will be Rex Bell featuring Kasie Lundsford.
PRICE: $25 in advance; $30 at the door. The price is all-inclusive — wine and food and music.
You can go on-line at celebratethegrape2013.eventbrite.com to order and print tickets for presentation at the door.
More in this week's issue of the Times, including details on the wines that will be poured. I'm partial to the Bell California wines, which are supposed to be among those in the lineup. If Bell syrah is on offer, don't miss it.
Interesting development in Kentucky, where state official opposition had stood in the way of a merger of a public and a Catholic-operated hospital because of barriers seen in having publicly financed health services controlled by Catholic doctrine, particularly in the area of reproductive medicine.
This is of interest in Arkansas, where UAMS and St. Vincent Health are talking about a combination of clinical operations. From Insider Louisville on a deal affecting the University of Louisville:
U of L officials announced they’ve chose KentuckyOne which incorporates Denver-based Catholic Health Initative’s Kentucky operations and the former Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s HealthCare system for a joint operating agreement over Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Services. CHI and HMS were the two systems that replied to a U of L request for proposal last March.
So the CHI merger is not only back, it’s done, though apparently minus U of L having to abide by the Religious and Ethical Directives of the Roman Catholic Church.
... They apparently gave up demands that Roman Catholic bishops have the final say in treatment restrictions and prohibitions while still agreeing to inject huge amounts of money into the 330-bed University Hospital, as well as into university research and physician training programs.
Dr. David Dunn got credit for seeing to fruition nine months of negotiations. Sources Insider Louisville interviewed this morning believe CHI’s need for a guaranteed pipeline of graduating U of L doctors to its rural hospitals part of the JOA trumped its desire to control U of L’s policy on reproductive procedures.
Moreover, officials conceded that the nitty-gritty details of the deal and how they’ll affect the relationship between the religious hospital system and the publicly-funded safety net hospital are far from resolved.
In Arkansas, UAMS officials have said any resulting deal with St. Vincent would place no limits on its reproductive services. St. Vincent has refused to talk much to the press. But many specific questions remain unanswered and not just about abortion, tubal ligations, vasectomies, emergency room rape treatment and birth control. There are also questions about birth control coverage for shared employees and UA policy that protects its employees from discrimination on ground of sexual orientation, a protection the Catholic institution doesn't provide. Some critics question the infusion of public money into a church-controlled institution that itself would be free independently to impose religious restrictions on its services. Read here about the death of a woman who needed an abortion to avoid complications of a miscarriage but didn't get it because of a Catholic directive.
Kentucky may - may - have worked those issues out. Arkansas is just embarking on the study process. The Catholic church is not known for ceding control on issues of principle so it will be interesting to see if, for example, it stands by while Louisville employees receive coverage for birth control pills. Another difference in circumstances would seem to exist with Arkansas. St. Vincent has not been seen here as a source of new money for UAMS. The institutions mostly seem to believe combining some individual departments can be more efficient (i.e., more profitable) than running competing departments.
The National Park Service reports progress in permitting new uses of bathhouses on Hot Springs' famous row.
Touted today are plans for retail sales by a company planning a future craft brewery in the old Superior Bathhouse, along with a concert June 9.
But Little Rockers can get a taste this weekend at Riverfest.
Kum and Go, the convenience store chain, will be sponsoring pedicabs at Riverfest to pick up and drop off festival goers at a couple of points downtown. They'll be promoting a drink sold in the stores, Nuclear.
They'll operate from 4 p.m. until midnight Friday; 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. until 11 p.mj. Sunday.
Drivers will pick up and drop off festival goers at Louisiana and Markham and at the corner of Cumberland and Markham (also known as LaHarpe and President Clinton.) In short, you can lop three blocks of walking.
An annual ranking from the League of American Bicyclists is out. The state of Washington ranks as the friendliest to bicyclists.
Arkansas, considered one of the least safe places for cyclists based on fatalities, was at the bottom of the list. The league's top recommendation was to adopt a statewide bicycle plan and to establish an advisory committee to oversee its implementation.
Here's the Arkansas report card. Among the recommendations for improvement:
Adopt federal funding project rating criteria that incentivize bicycle projects and accommodations. The state is spending a low amount, less than 0.56 percent, of federal funding on bicyclists and pedestrians.
I was just ranting about our state's reluctance to invest in signature projects that serve as potent symbols about creativity, aesthetics and other qualities that attract newcomers. The Big Dam Bridge and the Three Rivers Bridge, bicycle friendly, are two notable exceptions. Mayor Mark Stodola talked of the power of symbols in an article today about improvements in War Memorial Park. He was right as far as he went. But let's get real. The improvements are nice. But War Memorial and the Zoo are far short of what they could or should be. The park isn't even encircled by a walking path and I'm not sure if all streets through it are fully marked for bike paths. Just for example. A derelict baseball park occupies a big chunk of acreage.
I wrote yesterday of my support for the recent push by Mayors Mark Stodola and Pat Hays for turning the Broadway Bridge into a pedestrian and bike corridor, plus plaza, connecting the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock. This, instead of tearing down the bridge, screwing up traffic for years and replacing it with a ho-hum span of limited aesthetic appeal and expanded use. Naturally, the Highway Department favors the latter course. They don't want to be bothered with delaying the non-emergency bridge replacement to come up with new plans for a traffic crossing farther upriver at Chester Street.
I got a letter today from reader Clyde Snider further endorsing the mayors' idea and elaborating on how this bridge could become sorely needed additional park space for Little Rock.
Before you join the unimaginative bunch at the highway department — and enabler Tom Schueck, who nominally represents Little Rock on the powerful Highway Commission — in the just-move-along chorus, I'd urge you to take a look at what New York City created by converting an abandoned rail viaduct, the High Line, into a masterpiece of an urban park. Good for property values, business, new development and human beings in general. Great cities and great leaders do great things like this. Mediocre public servants tear down a perfectly serviceable bridge to replace it with a yawner of a replacement, cause untold economic losses and offer unsupported claims that this is really good for us.
Snider wonders if any city can claim a park spanning a river. It could be our Hanging Garden of Broadway.
Here's one of the images prepared by Polk Stanley architects for this fine idea and there's lots more at Tim McKuin's MoveArkansas blog. ....
This is sad news that merits more reporting, but following is a letter received by members of the Westside YMCA:
Dear YMCA Members:
After operating the Westside YMCA facility for over 35 years, the Y Board has decided to close the facility. In a recent board meeting, the decision was made to focus available resources on continuing to provide programs within the community including soccer programs for youth, senior wellness programs, and Adventure Guides programs for fathers and their children. These programs will be operated without a YMCA-owned facility.
This was a difficult decision, arrived at after much study and work. It is made harder by its impact on the people; Y members and staff, who have supported Westside for so many years. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point where it simply isn’t sustainable.
Through this action, our Y can withstand the current economy and still fulfill its mission to provide needed programs to our community. The programs that will continue are self-sustainable and it is our hope that the YMCA will offer additional programs in the future.
The Y will issue refunds for unused portions of annual memberships as soon as possible. You may check progress of those refunds by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The last day of operations for the Westside Y will be December 31. I join the YMCA board of directors in thanking you for your participation at the Y.
No more brick-and-mortar Y in Little Rock? Perhaps there will be leased space of some sort. The absence of a Y building is unimaginable to me as a YMCA rat who spent every single Saturday of my youth at a YMCA in my hometown, where a gym, swimming pool, weight room, playing fields, game room and more were my idea of heaven. Is it possible that there were once Ys downtown, out west, at the Carver Y and in North Little Rock — and now, nothing? The Y explained some of its problems in closing the NLR branch in March.
Looking for something to do before 2:30 p.m. besides heating up the cheese dip? You might want to consider "The Art of the Brick," a new exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Center featuring Nathan Sawaya's Lego sculptures.
The Wall Street Journal brings news of a new video game — Tea Party Zombies Must Die! Players use a crowbar or gun to dispatch figures representing the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee and other Foxites.
Huckabee reportedly told FoxNews.com “I’m personally flattered to be included in this young game-makers efforts to be funny.” He added that “I do not support the hypocrisy of the left who scream at all offenses they can manufacture toward conservatives, but turn their backs on the same standards when applied to someone of their own political ilk.”
Yes, but I bet Huck will win the race to the courthouse if there's some money to be coined in the enterprise.
I received an e-mail from the Heights Neighborhood Association about plans to develop a route for an ADA-accessible bike/pedestrian trail from the Heights down to the River Trail. Cantrell Road is no place for safe biking or hiking and the only other close connection, on Overlook, is steep.
City help is promised. Good luck with that. The $500 million tax increase being pushed by City Hall includes a princely $150,000 a year in the capital portion of the budget for trails — not enough to maintain what we have. We've been waiting forever on the city to deliver on its promise to "close the loop" on the River Trail by finishing the portion now diverted to a narrow sidewalk along Highway 10 in front of Episcopal Collegiate School. Then-state Rep. Sam Ledbetter wrung a hard-earned $1 million out of the state for the work six years ago, but the money languishes (the interest going to other city expenses), though that once was more than enough to widen the path on the school (south) side of Cantrell. However, Mayor Mark Stodola won't take on the Stephens family, which opposes any bike trail around the school, built with significant Stephens family contributions. Instead, the mayor favors an expensive plan to build a cantilevered steel and concrete elevated pathway behind Dillard's headquarters along the Arkansas River. This is contingent on federal grant money. Maybe $12 million is needed. Which is probably why nothing has happened.
Anyway, a nice thought about a Heights-to-the-river trail follows:
A cyclist called with concerns about a detour from the existing River Trail between the Big Dam Bridge and the new Two Rivers Bridge. He may put aside worries that somebody plans a feeder street for autos in the vicinity.
Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines explains that the blacktop detour has been built to clear a construction zone for a new $4 million southwest ramp from the Big Dam Bridge. The ramp will allow for an easy split of bike and foot traffic to the east and west as it descends the south end of the bridge. This will eliminate some turn congestion that sometimes occurs there. Villines said the county had been saving money from the road and bridge fund for years to pay for the ramp, which was planned when the bridge was originally constructed but unaffordable in the $12.8 million price tag. It opened in 2006.
He added that construction of the ramp will essentially make it impossible to run a vehicular road into the area.
Tea Partyers have on occasion grumbled about the cost of the bridge, a crown jewel of the local park system and a huge attraction for fitness buffs and sightseers, though road and bridge money paid for the project along with federal grants. Villines has a ready answer for those who'll be riled again by further construction, in addition to the obvious benefits of a better link with the new Two Rivers Bridge and its connection to miles of park trails.
"We've spent less than 5 percent of the budget over the years on the project," Villines said. He added that the county has replaced 83 bridges in unincorporated areas during his tenure and has one of the best county road systems in the state.
Did anybody really believe developers of a proposed NASCAR track had any interest in Arkansas except to leverage approval of their track in Missouri?
The rumor mill is buzzing that the new Two Rivers Bridge for pedestrians and bikers might land on property the county and city don't own.
The city and county say that's not so. But local businessmen, John Ryles and Stephen Whitwell, claim otherwise. Public officials say one has even been heard suggesting he might have the right to charge a toll for use of his property. I've reached Ryles. He'll only say, "It's premature to comment." Naturally, if he has a claim, he undoubtedly has a price he'd accept to clear matters up short of building a toll plaza.
A corporate entity in which the men have an interest (they're also partners in Whitwell and Ryles Real Estate Investments), has been paying property taxes on the land. According to the assessor, they own dozens of parcels in Pulaski County, some purchased at state delinquent tax sales. The parcel in question is said to be a small portion of the roughly 488 acres on what used to be known as Sullivan Island. The city of Little Rock acquired the land through condemnation in the 1970s and won a Supreme Court case on it in 1976.
The county, which built the $5.3 million bridge, said it had to certify the bridge was on public land to qualify for federal assistance. Sherman Smith, the public works director, said the city of Little Rock said, "Yes, we own the land clear and free." The bridge spans the Little Maumelle River to link a riverside trail with Two Rivers Park. The eastern half, where the bridge lands, is on city park property and the western half on county land.
Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter said the city was aware of a claim to ownership of land on which the bridge rests. He said it had arisen periodically for a number of years. But he said he was confident about the city's ownership. It's been used as a park for more than 30 years, he said, and no claim was made during the two years when the bridge was under construction. "Merely paying property taxes doesn't give title to property," Carpenter said. "We think we have title by Supreme Court judgment, if not by adverse possession. It's an untimely claim."
County assessor records show the land in question — 1.77 acres — was sold at a tax sale in 2004 and the tax bills went to Michael Wilkins, in care of Moore-Broadway LLC, a real estate venture for which Ryles' partner Stephen Whitwell is registered agent. The assessor records show Wilkins acquired the land at a tax sale, deeded it to Moore-Broadway, then had it deeded back.
How could it have been delinquent if it was city land, which isn't subject to property taxes? The assessor's office speculates that the court condemnation in 1976 never was recorded with the county clerk. But if it was later sold without challenge or redemption, the new owner might have a claim, potentially against the agency — the assessor's office — that certified the land was available for sale. The land, because it's subject to flooding is valued at less than $10,000 per acre, an assessor's employee said (but the office's appraisal puts it at $30,000 and one of the series of deed transfers claimed a $100,000 sales price paid by Moore-Broadway to Wilkins, then ZERO on a transfer back to Wilkins). The tax bill annually is $172.
LINK CORRECTED: Here's a series of 2010 correspondence on the disputed land, which Ryles and Whitwell say they bought from Wilkins.
My mention yesterday of a gaping problem in the bike trail on the Little Rock side of the Arkansas River brought inquiries and an impassioned call to action from Gene Pfeifer, a recreational cyclist whose persistence helped get the Clinton Library off the dime on completing its bridge link to North Little Rock.
The PsyclePath blog takes you step by step through the problem, including the sidewalk-only portion in front of Episcopal Collegiate School along busy Cantrell Road.
Mayor Mark Stodola, also a cyclist, has been saying for five years now he has a plan. If it's in the tax package, I missed it. Maybe he could carve off some of that $38 million "economic development" slush fund and exercise some eminent domain to widen the way for bikers along this corridor.
Read on for Gene's call to action to fellow cyclists Ed Levy and Tom Ezell (who, it should be added, are innocent bystanders to his remarks). Following Gene's letter, you might be interested, too, in a note from a former Dillard's employee about a deal supposedly struck two years ago on running the trail along the river, on the north side of Dillard's property.
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