Public Wi-Fi, parking lot improvements approved by Council

In this 2015 file photo, construction work is performed at the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium. The auditorium parking lot will be re-paved this month. (News-Times file)
In this 2015 file photo, construction work is performed at the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium. The auditorium parking lot will be re-paved this month. (News-Times file)

Local residents will soon see an improvement to the parking lot of the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium and have access to wi-fi in some city parks, thanks to a package of funding requests that was approved Thursday by the El Dorado City Council.

Greg Downum, chairman of the El Dorado Works Board, presented the funding proposals nine days after the requests were OK'd by the EWB, who administers the city's one-cent sales tax of the same name.

The El Dorado Works tax is dedicated to economic development, municipal infrastructure and quality-of-life projects. The tax will sunset in 2025 after 10 years.

EWB members heard the pair of funding requests and a third from the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce during a meeting on Jan. 31.

The Wi-Fi project, an initiative from Mayor Paul Choate, will cost $260,619 and will spread to five city parks -- Mattocks, Mitchell, Old City, Mellor and Mitchell --, downtown El Dorado and the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex, Downum said.

The aim of the project is to provide public Wi-Fi in underserved communities, he said, noting that students who live in surrounding neighborhoods will be able to use the service to do homework.

On Jan. 31, city Council Member Vance Williamson, also chair of the city's Finance Committee, said the network will be public and will come with firewall protection.

The EWB approved the request with the stipulation that the city look into consolidating the service with existing Wi-Fi capabilities in downtown El Dorado.

EWB treasurer Sara Coffman said the existing service dials into an ambient sound system that was installed downtown in 2021 and was largely funded ($37,110) from the El Dorado Works tax, per a request from Main Street El Dorado.

Downum said consolidating the services could possibly reduce monthly fees of $18,000 the city will be required to pay with the new service. Main Street pays the $10,000 monthly licensing and Internet fees for the existing service downtown.

The council also voted in favor of a $237,000 funding request to repave the municipal auditorium parking lot, a project community members have been requesting for a number of years.

Downum said the cost includes $183,000 for materials and $54,000 for the labor.

Much of the work will be contracted out, while the Department of Public Works will reportedly perform some of the prep work and the restriping.

City officials have said they hope to have the project completed before the Arkansas Governor's Conference on Tourism, which the city will host Feb. 26 - 28.

Council Member George Calloway Jr. asked if the job will cover the entire parking lot. Downum said yes.

Council Member Frank Hash asked if the parking lot will be asphalted and Downum said, "It's a surface mix, yes."

Downum said funding for the two municipal projects will be taken from the construction, maintenance and non-designated category of the El Dorado Works tax initiative.

The council settled on another $45,000 annual contract for the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce to continue to provide economic development services for the city.

The scope of work provided by the chamber includes planning, marketing, advice and counsel to the city about such topics as job recruitment, development, retention and expansion.

The chamber also serves as the single point of contact for economic development activity in the city and works with state and local entities to coordinate development projects.

The contract will be paid out in quarterly installments of $11,250.

Chamber officials have said they plan to ask for an increase in the contract next year, noting that the amount of the contract has been funded at the same level since 2017.