Welcome to the Fairfield Bay Conference Center!
It was Greers Ferry Lake that brought land developers to its north shore in Van Buren County. As the Little Red River’s valley became flooded with the new 40,000-acre reservoir, businessmen began buying off parcels from a lumber company that operated in the area. The land would then later be incorporated into Fairfield Bay Communities, a resort company that focused on scenic destinations, the type of place where you could even live out your retirement, such as the one growing by Greers Ferry Lake.
Throughout the 1970s, Fairfield Bay grew in populations both permanent and non-resident. The town offered visitors hillside lots with views overlooking the new lake, wooded scenery, boating and fishing opportunities, golf courses, and the tranquil pace that comes from living in the Ozarks. The then-novel concept of time sharing attracted new visitors from across the Midwest and other parts of Arkansas while retirees found a home to spend their golden years.
Fairfield Bay Communities finally saw its bubble burst in the 1980s and declared bankruptcy in 1990. The town, which had been thriving with a permanent population of over 2,000, incorporated in 1993. It was no longer just a community, but was now a full-fledged Arkansas city.
The centerpiece of the resort company’s presentation to Fairfield Bay had been its Conference Center. This was the building where visitors would check in, enjoy the indoor swimming pool and health spa or meet inside one of its large conference rooms. It was located across the street from the town’s main shopping center, a landscaped village containing the town’s grocery store, post office and even a bowling alley. Condominiums were nearby.
After the bankruptcy, the Conference Center was sold to a new owner, Herman Waters. The center stayed open for a few more years, but closed its doors in 2002. It would remain empty for the next eleven years. Time took its toll on the facility, and by the time a massive storm hit it in 2011, it was already a shell of itself.
“The outside of the building was water damaged and rotting away,” said Bob Thompson, the director of development for the conference center. “The roof had been leaking for years and the inside ceilings had fallen in. The walls were water logged and covered with mold. Animals were in the building.”
In 2011, Waters donated the building to the city of Fairfield Bay. Mayor Paul Wellenberger and the city council sought and received a GRIEF grant of $20,000 from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to the city for repairs on the conference center. Another grant from the federal Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration added another $550,000. Construction — and a second life — was set to begin.
An inspection of the foundation and of its core components revealed that despite the time that had passed, the building was still structurally sound. Conditions inside were a different story. “Walls, ceiling tiles, flooring, stages, the kitchen, parking lot lights, the roof, HVAC units,” according to Wellenberger, were all things that had to be either repaired or replaced.
“Construction began by replacing the roof and installing all new siding outside the center,” said Thompson. “After the center had the new roof and we were able to keep out the rain, work began to replace the total inside of the building. It took a little more than two weeks to de-mold the inside so workers were in a safe environment. The work included all new ceiling tile, air ducts, wiring, carpeting, doors, and flooring.”
Garver of North Little Rock oversaw the construction while Doyle Scroggins, a city councilman, volunteered his time as the project’s general contractor. Over 40 percent of the work was done with volunteer help, the number of volunteer hours exceeding 5,000 during the construction period. While the money from the grants helped fix the structure, funds to replace the furnishings, sound systems, theater lighting, tables, chairs, and computers came from donations.
The new Fairfield Bay Conference Center held its grand opening in the fall of 2013. It is now the site for theater performances, art galleries, weddings and receptions, children’s programs, proms, town hall meetings and weekly welcome breakfasts for the visitors to Fairfield Bay who still come for the water and natural recreation. This year, judges of City of Distinction named Fairfield Bay the winner in the Quality of Life category for cities its size.
“It’s hard to put into words the pride everyone takes in seeing our city come back to life and the excitement we now have in our city because we have a special place to go everyday to view art, meet for coffee and use the free Wi-Fi,” said Thompson.
“It was a corporate entity. Now it is owned by the citizens,” said Wellenberger. “The conference center demonstrates what extraordinary results can happen when ordinary citizens get engaged and involved. I call it the Power of Us.”