Whose responsibility is it to find a good tenant for the former Walmart building? 

Walmart moved to its current location years ago, leaving behind a vacant building that shares a roof with Harps on Lee Street. Initially, the building was used for storage, but last spring, the building went on the market, listed for $1.7 million. 

A few months ago, local resident Jonathan Formanek, who has owned the Faubus house for 25 years, proposed an idea of having a foundation, which he set up, acquire the building, sell 20,000 of the 37,000 square feet of it for $1 million to the Huntsville School District for it to refurbish the building for the Career Technical Education Center. The other square footage would be refurbished with the proceeds and turned into a community space for perhaps the Madison County Library.

The school board has said that it is not interested in purchasing the building, but rather it is going forward with plans of building a new facility, which were already in place when Formanek made his proposal. 

We applaud Formanek for his vision. He wants to utilize what he calls a “black hole” for community good. His idea of revitalizing the building and adding a community aspect to it is a good one. Over the last few weeks, he’s tried to engage the community by starting a vibrant discussion about what the building could be used for.

We don’t disagree with the school board’s decision, though. Many unanswered questions remain. For instance, since the Harps store and the Walmart space share the same roof, Harps would have to be in compliance with Arkansas Department of Education standards.

We called Harps to find out what they thought of possibly having to do some things to be in compliance with the building codes. But Sarah Hopper, who works in the real estate department of Harps, said no one had reached out to Harps and she was not aware of Formanek’s proposal. Formanek told us that he “may be speaking from the point of ignorance since I haven’t checked it.” But, he also stated that, “It is incumbent on the school board to list those requirements.”

We disagree and understand the school board’s reluctance. So many questions remain, such as what if the board purchased the building and the regulations were such that the building was not usable? Does Harps’ fire and safety code match the guidelines of the Department of Education? Does the fact that alcohol is sold at Harps impact the regulations? Are the utilities at Harps up to the Department of Education standards?

Those requirements shouldn’t place a burden on Harps, a private business. 

In addition, the library has not agreed to move to the building, leaving the school board to question who it would share space with. And those who do choose to share the space would then be under strict building standards and construction costs in order to be compliant with the Department of Education standards. 

The school board is under pressure to get the new CTE buildings constructed in a timely manner. School Board President Danny Thomas has said by taking Formanek up on his offer, the district would be starting from square one with design and construction and that would lengthen the time it would take to get the CTE programs in their new buildings.

Formanek says by purchasing the building, the district would actually move faster because renovations would take less time than constructing new buildings.

We’ve heard many people say that if the school board doesn’t get this building “right,” the possibility of having another millage pass will be null. We asked Thomas about that and he said the perfect advertisement for the success of the millage will be new CTE buildings that the community can be proud of, as well as its new activities center, which the district is also building.

We do applaud Formanek for his vision of utilizing an older building. He’s visited with many community groups in Huntsville to promote his idea: the school board, the chamber of commerce, city council, the library board, the Madison County Genealogical Society, to name some of the groups. He’s encouraged them to write letters. So far, the school board has received two letters in support of his idea. 

We encourage Formanek to continue the discussion of finding a good tenant for the building and advancing the discussion of rehabilitating the building. But, this is not Formanek’s job alone. He attended the city council meeting and no one offered any comments after his proposal at the meeting. We’ve noticed that the Mayor Darrell Trahan has been silent about this proposal. We would encourage the city council members and the mayor to work with Formanek to come up with an alternative plan that will work to bring the community together.

Formanek has done more to find a solution to removing a black hole from the city than anyone in our community has. The city has an obligation to work with him.