story by Kim Souza
BENTONVILLE — The city of Bentonville became a destination in 2011 as more than 125,000 people visited the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in its first 100 days of operation. But local businesses sense the best is yet to come as Bentonville remains committed to its ongoing downtown development.
Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin gave his annual “State of the City “ address tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 24) and summed up 2011 as both historical and memorable, “From record cold, record snow fall, record rainfall and record heat to wonderful news – 2011 had it all,” he said.
Simply put, there are hundreds of cities across the country that would love to be in Bentonville’s shoes. Despite a 4.5% dip in sales tax collections last year, those proceeds exceeded the city budget by $1 million. There is also a $9 million surplus fund set aside to insure the city’s ability to provide uninterrupted service in the future, McCaslin said.
This firm financial footing has kept the city’s workforce stable at 385 for the past four years. And development around town continues to rebound from the historic downturn seen in 2008 and 2009. Bentonville’s city planning division reviewed 15% more projects in 2011, than 2010. The city’s 2011 building permits accounted for 58% of the 593 total issued in Benton County’s five largest markets, according to McCaslin’s address.
He said 456,000 square-feet of new commercial development was approved by city planners in 2011, representing a 28% increase over 2010. A fair portion of that went to downtown infrastructure linked to Crystal Bridges, such as the 21c Museum Hotel now under construction and the expansion of Walmart Visitors Center on the downtown square.
Don and Jenny Wallace, owners of Laughlin House Bed and Breakfast located in the downtown historic district, have seen a steady stream of guests since Crystal Bridges opened Nov. 11. The couple purchased the classic Victorian home in 2010 and turned the residence into a bed and breakfast with three guest rooms.
“We are nearly booked solid in March and are getting more multiple night bookings from out-of-state visitors. We recently had a couple from Dallas visit and they have sent six friends who reserved the whole place,” Jenny Wallace said Tuesday night.
Laughlin House has a rich history and served as a boarding house and eatery in the early 20th Century where Phoebe Laughlin served lunch to workers and patrons downtown, according to Wallace. She said all these years later it’s still an exciting time to be located near downtown.
“I think it’s only going to get better as more folks experience Crystal Bridges and the Walton Arts Center is built,” Wallace added.
The Downtown Bentonville Inc., a non-profit group helping to fuel the development, reports six new eateries opened downtown in 2011. These businesses generated more than $32,000 in Advertising and Promotions tax, a 54% increase from 2010. These business also provide 80 local jobs.
Recently Travel and Leisure magazine named Bentonville one of the Hottest Travel Destinations in 2012 — it was the only American site to make the prestigious list thanks to Alice Walton’s remarkable gift of Crystal Bridges.
Walton was quoted as saying, “When you give a gift, you want to give something that you hope greatly enriches and transforms other lives.”
McCaslin said Walton’s gift will be the catalyst of future economic growth for this entire region.
“I know of no city with a brighter future. We are entering a period of unprecedented growth and development, and all measures of the city’s health are remarkably strong,” he said.
McCaslin cited a list of accomplishments within the city during 2011. Those included:
• $20 million: Walmart’s gift to cover admission costs to Crystal Bridges.
• 4 million pounds: Trash Bentonville residents recycled in 2011.
• 1.5 billion gallons: Wastewater treated.
• 3,741 calls: Emergency Medical Service runs by the city fire department.
• $200,000: Seized in narcotic-related investigations.
• 277,000: Visits made to local library.
• 6,000: New library cards issued.
• 11,535: Community volunteers.
• 221,000: Volunteer hours logged.
• $4.6 million: Value of volunteer service
• 2,000: Tulips planted on downtown square.