The measure of most any community is its quality of life as determined by services and amenities, and in this regard, Searcy checks many of the most important boxes. From educational institutions to recreation to a sparkling new library, there is a lot of justified excitement over life in this vibrant White County town.

 

“As a resident, I’m beyond excited to finally see these things come. I think it’s really overdue,” said Richard Stafford, planning and community development director.  “I really see these projects as game changers for the community. In a lot of ways, they will put us on a level playing surface with other communities our size who may already have some of these things. I’m so proud just to be a part of the process, helping however I can to get to the finish line.”

Stafford’s role is a central one given the city’s recent passage of a long-range plan that loosed the floodgates on a variety of new amenities for the city’s residents. The city council announced in March it was moving forward with the #MySearcy Master Plan after the proposal received overwhelming support from the community.

 

“This vote represents a pivotal moment for Searcy’s future,” said Mayor Mat Faulkner at the time. “It underscores our community’s shared vision and commitment to building a vibrant, inclusive and thriving city for generations to come.”

Searcy

Mayor Mat Faulkner

Among the new amenities coming online are a new community center on Main Street, which will house sports courts, an indoor walking trail and climbing wall, exercise spaces, a senior center, and outdoor trails, to name a few features.

 

Also part of the plan is the creation of an outdoor water park to be built next to the city’s existing swim center and a splash pad at Berryhill Park. Improvements to and expansion of existing ball fields, including five new fields and upgrades to the soccer complex, are also on tap, as are new paved and single-track mountain biking trails. Extensive upgrades to Riverside Park and Berryhill Park complete the plan, which has a total investment of $93 million.

A new community center and parks improvements are on the horizon.

Stafford said the changes are both a response to current needs and a forward-looking move to accommodate future growth.

 

“I think Searcy is on the cusp of a significant growth boom,” he said. “With the interest we’re seeing in commercial development and the collaborative effort between the city, chamber, universities, hospitals, school districts and the business community to do whatever it takes to make Searcy a special place to live, I think these projects are the catalyst to really taking that jump.

“[The improvements] serve both our existing population but also will impact decisions to attract more residents. These proposed amenities are things our current population travels to other communities to enjoy, so having them here locally is important to keep them here. Also, when people are looking to relocate, these are the types of amenities folks look at to aid in those decisions.”

 

Part of the allure of Searcy lies in its educational system, which is home to excellent public and private schools from preschool through college. Centermost to the educational system is Harding University, a Christian liberal arts school that is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year.

 

Founded in 1924 by the merger of two junior colleges, Arkansas Christian College and Harper College in Morrilton, the school relocated to Searcy in 1934 and steadily grew its roots as a major cultural, educational and spiritual center in the community.

One reason for Harding’s sustained influence is the stability of its leadership. When current president Mike Williams took office in 2022, he was just the sixth individual to hold the job. Williams, a graduate of the school, served Harding for 28 years in various capacities before serving seven years as president of Faulkner University in Alabama and returning to Harding as president.

 

He said he can relate firsthand to the allure of the community that has nurtured Harding for many years and which today emboldens the university to think big about its future.

 

“Given the seismic changes in our culture, the world needs Harding to be spirit-led, robust, relevant and aspirational,” he said in a message to alumni. “This consequential moment in our history provides us with a time to be introspective as we envision a bold and productive future.

 

“I pray that the Harding Nation will lock arms with us as we become architects of a contemporary design and build bridges of faith and culture, our collective dreams and aspirations coming together to raise up a new generation of leaders. Most importantly, I pray that God will grant us wisdom and discernment as we exalt him in all that we do.”

Searcy

Events and public art also enhance Searcy.

If current enrollment trends are any indication, Providence appears to be responding to the president’s prayer. The school is home to about 5,000 students from 47 states and more than 50 countries, but that number is likely to expand. Last year, the Bison football team capped an undefeated season by winning the NCAA Division II National Championship. The exposure boosted the school’s profile nationally and set off a flood of interest among new pockets of prospective students impressed by the school’s excellent academic programs and Christian underpinnings.

 

Williams said the university’s thriving culture evolved side by side with the dynamic community in which it resides, Thus, while he considers the influx of new faces gratifying, he is also on a campaign to spread a simple message to alumni — come home.

 

“Searcy is an outstanding community with a lot of opportunity to build a career and raise a family,” he said. “My message to any and all alums looking for a great place to live and work is we’d love to welcome you back.”

 

Those who take Williams up on his invitation will be treated to even more ambitious amenities in the form of a spectacular new main library. The facility, due to open this fall, will serve as a city showpiece and a center for community life and activity, said Darla Ino, director of the White County Regional Library System.

 

“I’ve been working here for 26 years, and in all the time that I have worked here, we have always had to deal with space issues,” she said. “With this new library, we feel like we’re setting ourselves up to serve the community for a long time to come.

 

At 33,000 square feet, the $8.2 million Janett and Larry Crain Memorial Library will be substantially larger than the previous library. The two-story structure will be home to a coffee shop and an art exhibition gallery, and it will serve as a U.S. passport acceptance facility and boast meeting room space sufficient to accommodate up to 200.

 

Other next-level amenities in the new building include a maker space, a recording studio and a greatly enhanced computer area. Outdoors, the library will open onto a park, allowing patrons to access the outdoors, as well as sit inside to read.

 

Ino said the new space represents a long-held dream for the city and a journey that has endured a series of twists, turns and start-overs covering decades.

 

“This library shows our community recognizes the value of having a community center,” she said. “It’s more than just a place to find books; it’s a place for civic groups to meet or for public programs or just a place for people to come together. We’re thrilled to finally see it become reality.”

 

Hip Happenings

Searcy may be known as Southern Living’s “The Most Magical Christmas Town,” but it is also a city where people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy family-friendly entertainment. Whether the event is planned by Main Street Searcy or Beats and Eats, there is usually something going on for guests and residents to enjoy.

 

“With Beats and Eats, we focus on music and food while also focusing heavily on bringing new and unique opportunities to Searcy,” said Jenna Friday, Beats & Eats Co-Director. “You can always expect good, quality, family-friendly music, whether it be a national headliner or a showcase of local music, and many different kinds of food trucks from all over the state.”

 

Check out these events during the second half of the Beats and Eats and Main Street Searcy schedule for 2024.

Beats and Eats events:

July 4

United We Stand

Searcy Event Center

Sept. 27

Arts and Life

Harding University’s Heritage Park

Dec. 31

Seventh Annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop and

Laser Show

Downtown Searcy

Main Street Searcy Events:

Sept. 27-28

Get Down Downtown

Downtown Searcy

Late November to December

Holiday of Lights

(in collaboration with city of Searcy)

Various locations

 

Screenshot