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City grants Business Park 4 acres to MK Distributors ahead of $1M distribution center relocation project

by J.D. Bailey on 07/26/22

he Magnolia City Council on Monday approved a measure to grant four acres of city-owned land at the Harvey Couch Business Park to MK Distributors, Inc., ahead of a planned $1 million expansion project for the regional alcohol and malt-beverage distributor.

The project is expected to be completed within five years. It will relocate the Pine Bluff-based company’s south Arkansas distribution center to Magnolia, according to the motion passed this week. 

To complete the project, MK Distributors required additional acreage at the former South Arkansas ICEE Company property. The alcohol distribution company purchased the parcel in May for $525,000, according to Columbia County tax records.

The former ICEE property currently contains a 15,000 square-foot building and 3.25 acres at 105 Harvey Couch Blvd. The city’s adjacent four acres is needed for the wholesaler's planned distribution center expansion and relocation project, according to Magnolia Economic Development Director Ellie Baker.

“We are basically granting them -- through the local economic development funds -- the (city-owned) property,” she said, “in turn for them creating jobs and spending the money locally to build the $1 million facility that they plan to do.”

The property, according to the city, was appraised at $10,000 per acre. In total, the city owns over 200 acres at the Harvey Couch Business Park. The land was granted to the city after the former Magnolia Economic Development Corporation ceased operation in 2018, and local economic development efforts were absorbed into the local government.

According to the motion passed Monday, Mk Distributors plans to expand upon facility already at the former South Arkansas ICEE property. 

For the granted land, MK Distributors has promised to complete its expansion project within five years. The company also cannot flip the land within the same time period. As part of the warranty deed, if these parameters are not met, the property could be returned to the city.

“I spoke with the president of the company last week, and he’s expecting to be able to (complete the project) before the five years is up,” said Baker.

The city’s agreement with MK Distributors also states that the company must increase its workforce at the Magnolia facility by at least 15 employees over the next five years. 

City Council's E-scooter vote fails (for now), 2 more food truck permits approved for Magnolia

by J.D. Bailey on 07/26/22

The Magnolia City Council discussed a variety of topics on Monday and approved motions on multiple local issues. These issues included the following:

E-SCOOTER VOTE DELAYED

A vote to allow an electronic scooter company to operate in Magnolia died on the floor Monday after no member of the Magnolia City Council issued a second nomination on a proposed agreement.

The delay occurred after Alderman Steve Nipper wished to review further the potential memorandum of understanding (MOU) between The City of Magnolia and Bird Rides, Inc., a California-based e-scooter provider that wishes to do business in Magnolia.

The agreement was first proposed in June before the Magnolia City Council, but the position of Magnolia City Attorney was in flux, as Jennifer Jameson McKendree had just been appointed and had not yet had a chance to revise any language in the contract that the Council wished to see.

Magnolia Economic Development Director Ellie Baker was on hand Monday to flesh out a few more details on the e-scooter matter that were not answered in June.

The city official stated that the Magnolia government would be under no liability if anyone under 18 was caught riding the devices and that the company can designate certain areas in town off limits, if so desired, by using GPS technology.

“Let’s just say that, during the Blossom Festival, if we don’t want scooters riding in the crowd, we can disallow the scooters from going into that part of town,” Baker said.

With internal GPS, according to the city official, Bird Rides could program the scooters to slow down and stop before they entered the off-limits area.

As for scooter laws, the same rules apply to the devices as local bicycles. According to McKendree, the city’s only current cycling law states that the devices cannot be ridden on sidewalks.

Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann on Monday said he worried about kids in Magnolia abusing the scooters, but that he was willing to give the company a try since, according to the MOU, either party -- the city or Bird Rides -- can exit the contract within 30 days notice.

Nipper had hesitations on the matter after discussing a similar project with Southern Arkansas University officials.

“Two or three years ago, they did a study on scooters on campus, and they declined them due to the liability,” he said. “Then they went with the bicycles, and those didn’t work, either.”

Nipper also said that he had spoken with business owners in El Dorado, and they did not like the devices being left in front of their shops, and added that mostly 12- to 14-year-olds were riding them.

Baker, in support of the scooters, stated that the devices could serve as a form of public transportation since Magnolia currently does not have that infrastructure.


Even though the motion died before a vote on Monday, it does not mean that the issue will not come up again before the Magnolia City Council. Vann stated Monday that he planned to place the matter on the August agenda for the Council.

TWO FOOD TRUCK PERMITS ADDED

The Magnolia City Council on Monday unanimously approved the addition of two more mobile food vendor permits within the city limits. The move now brings the total number of permits in the city to eight. As of Monday, six permits were filled.

Mobile food vendor permits in Magnolia operate on a first-come, first-serve basis and must be renewed every three months.

In June, one additional permit was added, but the Council held off on adding any more until this week.

Monday’s amendment to the local food truck ordinance also added additional provisions that called for mobile vendor areas to maintain cleanliness of operatio, and that anyone caught operating a food truck within the city limits without a permit can now be fined up to $350 per day and refusal of any future permits.

Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann on Monday stated that a property on Main Street has become available and hopes the city can create a food truck park where all permitted vendors will be based in the future. He noted, however, that the plan is still in the developmental stages.

In other Magnolia city news:

- The Magnolia City Council unanimously reappointed Monty Harrington to the Magnolia Housing Authority Board of Directors, while also appointing Donnarae Powell as a new member. Their terms will last until July 2027 and July 2026, respectively.


- Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann stated that city residents need to begin moving their local trash bins out of the street after pickups. The city official also stated that overgrown grass fines will begin again soon for property owners within the city.


“It’s time we get yards mowed,” he said. “It has stopped raining and we’re going to start writing tickets.”


The mayor also noted that littering tickets will begin being written by Magnolia Police if anyone is caught breaking the state litter laws. The fine is $250, and the violations include cigarette butts.


City Council hears proposal for electric scooter rental firm to operate in Magnolia

by J.D. Bailey on 06/28/22

The Magnolia City Council this week heard and discussed a proposal from California-based firm Bird Rides, Inc., to partner with the standup electric scooter company to operate a rental service in Magnolia. The proposal -- technically called a memorandum of understating (MOU) between the city and the scooter company -- if passed, would allow the devices to be rented and ridden throughout the city and be subject to the same rules, regulations, and travel access as local cyclists.

According to the company’s website, Bird Rides partners with cities across the nation to help implement standup electric scooters as a form of “micromobility.” The business offers rentals via its mobile app platform and collects scooters wherever they are left around a city. According to the app, the company charges a $1 rental fee, plus 39 cents per mile.

Although the Magnolia City Council took no action on the piece of business Monday, the MOU was read aloud and a short discussion on the matter took place.

Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann informed the Council that Bird Rides approached the city via its economic development office. The local leader stated that he did not know much else about the project other than what was in the MOU, but noted that a similar scooter program currently operates in El Dorado. The mayor also thought the Southern Arkansas University campus area would be an ideal place to house a scooter hub.

“We could base them at the university and encourage them to bring them downtown and continue to try to tie SAU into Magnolia,” said Vann.

Alderman Steve Nipper noted that SAU has housed bicycles for students for years, but not electronic scooters.

Other council members added to the discussion and stated that similar scooter programs are popular in larger urban areas in the region, including Little Rock and Memphis.

Most of the topics discussed Monday, however, revolved around possible liability language in the deal, how the scooters would be collected and charged, and how any rules on the scooter travel could be enforced with a limited police force with often more important matters at hand.

“I want to help the citizens that use this with gas being as high as it is, but I also don’t have the police manpower to be policing a bunch of scooters when I’ve got other issues,” said Vann.

The MOU stated that only those 18 and older could ride or rent the scooters, but Alderman Steve Crowell noted that he had seen younger teens riding and renting the scooters via the app.


Other language in the proposed Bird Rides MOU included the following:


  • The agreement with the city would last until Dec. 31, 2022, and have an annual 12-month renewal


  • The 12-month renewal can be voided if the city informs Bird Rides of the matter at least 90 days before renewal


  • Either party can terminate the agreement with 30 days' notice if the operation of the scooters is seen as unsafe or the service is not practical


  • No one else can deploy a stand-up electric scooter sharing system in Magnolia


  • The city will regulate the scooters just as it would bicycles, including granting them the ability to ride in bike lanes and on the roadways


  • Anyone under 18 riding the scooters can be fined by the city for violations


  • Bird Rides will provide easily seen contact information for scooter rentals, relocation, or issues with the devices


  • The city can choose to cease hours of operation between midnight and 4 a.m., but otherwise, the scooters will be available 24 hours per day.


  • Rider education will be provided to renters by Bird Rides


  • Bird Rides will provide data sharing to the city to monitor how much the scooter program is being used


  • Bird Rides is absolved of any damages if the city is deemed to be at fault in an incident


  • The city cannot enter into any injury judgment or settlement without prior consent from Bird Rides and Bird Rides

  • Bird Rides shall provide the city with proof of liability insurance coverage for scooter use


  • Bird Rides negligence compensation obligation does not extend to city agents, employees, or affiliates


  • Bird Rides is absolved from any compensation for loss or damage if the matter was caused by the city’s negligence or maintenance of public infrastructure


  • Bird Rides can use independent logistics providers to facilitate local operations


  • All notices to the city shall be made in writing


  • Bird Rides remains an independent contractor with the city’s partnership

After the MOU was read, City Attorney Jennifer McKendree noted that the city’s bicycle codes may need to be reviewed to apply to the scooters. She also suggested implementing the midnight to 4 a.m. shutdown of scooters.

Although no action was taken on the scooter issue this week, the matter will likely appear on the Magnolia City Council’s agenda for a potential vote in July.


The next 
Columbia County Hayride is 
September 17,  2022!