For the first time in 25 years, North Little Rock has an open mayoral election because long-time incumbent Patrick Hays opted to not seek re-election in 2012.
With about four months left to his current term, Hays was asked recently to speak to the North Little Rotary Club to address what he feels have been some of the major accomplishments in the city since he first took office.
"I can’t tell you how mixed the emotions are," Hays said, reflecting on the end of his final term as North Little Rock mayor. "When I was asked to point out some of the major things I am proudest of it was really hard to pick one thing."
Hays said one of his first challenges as mayor was wanting to make people want to live in North Little Rock.
"When I got here 23.5 years ago, the city of Little Rock passed an ordinance mandating all future employees of the city live in Little Rock," Hays said.
He said he didn’t want to follow Little Rock’s example, even though the year was 1989, and the 1990 U.S. Census was on the horizon.
"We were flat to losing population," Hays said. "I thought about it for 30 minutes (mandating city employees live in North Little Rock), and I thought if I had to make people live in my city then we had lost the battle. We needed to make them want to live in the city."
He looked at North Little Rock’s strengths and tried to build upon them while admitting the city had some challenges to face, such as being a city close to being landlocked by communities like Maumelle and Sherwood.
Another major strength he tried to take advantage of was North Little Rock’s location in the central part of the state as well as being close to many major population centers in the country.
In his promotion of the city, he also adopted a "Four R’s philosophy" of touting its river, rail, roads, and retail.
McCain Mall continues to be a draw for many Central Arkansas shoppers, although communities such as Conway are getting more of their own retail development.
"About half of the city budget is gained by sales tax, so retail is a big part of our economic engine," Hays said.
Hays said there were times in North Little Rock’s history that it was losing population. The city’s 1980 census showed a population of 64,388, and the total dropped in 1990 to 61,741.
"What I felt we needed to do in the city was make it as livable as I knew how," the mayor said. "That is what we started doing, looking at assets."
He said he was trying to move North Little Rock into the direction of becoming a sustainable community before city leaders here heard of that term. It has been his goal to make North Little Rock an urban community friendly to the environment.
Human activity is causing global warming, and he wanted to do his part in helping North Little Rock become part of the solution, Hays said.
Last year, the city brought one of three Condensed Natural Gas fueling stations to Arkansas. CNG stations power vehicles with natural gas instead of gasoline. The fuel is considered more environmentally friendly plus can help make the United States more energy independent, the mayor said.
An important project that took place during the Hays years was the development of the Riverfront Park.
"It was a cow path before it was made into a park," he said. "In my growing up days, it was a shanty town on the north side."
Other large city developments included the construction of the Alltel Verizon Arena, condominiums along the river and developing downtown Argenta.
Hays recalls the time when city leaders decided to make Main Street a one-way thoroughfare instead of two ways. He added the community invested a tremendous amount in redeveloping the downtown area.
A penny sales tax was passed during his tenure, which led to the construction of the Dickey Stephens AA Baseball Park.
Other projects he highlighted include the development of the city’s senior citizens center, Big Dam Bridge, Clinton Library Bridge, Broadway Bridge, and the city’s activity in bringing more bicycle trails to North Little Rock. He said the city has done a lot to develop its parks system, such as Burns Park.