"We are coming back," said Highland Mayor Jerome Norwood.
The tornado destroyed 26 businesses in town and damaged another 17, according to city documents. Many homes were also destroyed or damaged. In addition, one church was wiped off the map while the front of another was completely missing.
While the destruction caused some businesses to close for good, others simply relocated to vacant stores inside Highland or other nearby towns. Homeowners have worked on their properties and the churches have as well. Now some businesses have began rebuilding.
"We are coming on back. We've got a good many of them coming but we'd like to get more retail," Norwood said, adding that he would like another restaurant to open in the city along with a gas station/convenience store.
According to Highland Code Enforcement Officer Ralph Sharp, All About You is relocating next to Ivey's Automotive. Highland Hills Baptist Church rebuilt the front of the building and is remodeling the back of the building although the remodel isn't related to the tornado damage, Sharp said. ALCO received new siding and a new roof as did Ladonna's Furniture. Homestead Abstract received a new roof as did Abele Law Firm. There have also been building permits issued for two homes to be rebuilt, Sharp said.
Ann's Flowers, Highland Pawn and Hardy Insurance is rebuilding along with Mr. Oily and China House. First Missionary Baptist Church is also rebuilding.
The church had been standing since the early 1970s. Church members and contracted workers were at the site in the days following the tornado conducting cleanup efforts. The workers eventually took away 100 dump truck loads of rubble and debris.
Pastor Carl Faulkner said the rain the area received after the tornado prevented dirt work from being performed until early April. The concrete slab foundation was poured about two weeks ago. Then construction on the actual building began May 27.
The new church will be about the same size as its former building but everything will be located on one level this time, Faulkner said. The total square footage is 6,300 feet. Faulkner said he hopes the congregation can begin meeting in the new church building this September. Until that time, church members continue to meet in a small office building on Big Creek Lane near FNBC in Highland. The building where they now hold their Sunday services is a former dentist's office that was donated for the church's use.
While there are several businesses rebuilding, the future of others remains uncertain.
Sharp said he has received no official word on the future of Wing Shack. The former building that housed A Rose Garden remains untouched with debris still scattered about the property.
Norwood said most of the cleanup seems to be taking place all along one side of Highway 62/412 and not the other.
"The south side (of the highway) is going good. We just need the north side to pick up," Norwood said.
The property that once housed Timberline Restaurant has been purchased by a private individual and the cleanup process has began. Sharp said the new owner told him he plans to open a business but not a restaurant. In addition, Alderman David Harris' business, Highland Window and Door, also plans to rebuild later in the year, Norwood said. In the meantime the business is operating in an alternate location in Highland.
The sites of the two former car lots, Pap Beardsley and Conley Ford, remain for sale and needing cleanup. Norwood said he has been informed that there are three serious entities interested in purchasing the former Conley Ford building. He said he anticipates activity at the site within the next 60 days.
Midway Plaza is also for sale. It was the site of a two-story strip mall. At one point it housed 19 separate businesses, Norwood said. Although many of the businesses moved out of the shopping center and into White River's North Complex when it opened in Cherokee Village last summer, a large number, 12 to be exact, still existed when the tornado hit.
"A big percentage of our businesses that were destroyed were in Midway," Norwood said.
Many of those businesses, such as Davis Drug, Triplet Hearing Center and Eagle Pest Management, have relocated in other nearby areas.
The city of Highland has submitted a $200,000 bid for the four total acres of Midway property. The city council hopes to eventually build a new fire station at the site and possibly build other city offices on the property in the future. The city's fire station on Louann Drive was also destroyed in the tornado.
Norwood said the city has applications in with several federally funded organizations for grants to help purchase property for the fire station and build a new station. He said he expects to hear back from those organizations sometime during the summer.
The city has $181,000 to work with for construction of the fire station by way of 75 percent from FEMA, 12.5 percent from Arkansas Department of Emergency Management and 12.5 percent from the city; however, that price does not include the cost of a foundation, Norwood said.
It is imperative that the city begin construction on something soon. The city is currently paying $715 a month for rent on a temporary fire station; however, reimbursement from FEMA soon runs out, Norwood said. The city's architect is currently looking at plans for a fire station.
"We are coming back and we want to get something going," Norwood said.