North Walton Boulevard has largely been an abandoned commercial district ever since the hospital moved to its new health center off South Walton Boulevard in 2003. City and business leaders in Bentonville are vying to change that with a new redevelopment plan unveiled to the community on Thursday (Jan 29).
Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce President Dana Davis announced that eight area banks are putting $2 million each into a loan consortium that will make $16 million available to businesses seeking to spruce up and build new projects along a 1.5 mile stretch from Central Avenue to Ridgefield Street.
Those banks are Arvest Bank, Bank of Gravette, Centennial Bank, First Security Bank, Grand Savings Bank, Iberia Bank, INTRUST Bank and Simmons Bank.
Davis said the city leaders adopted a plan to redevelop North Walton Boulevard in 2013. The city’s and chamber’s economic development teams met with businesses along the 1.5 mile stretch to access their interest in redevelopment of this corridor into a destination that might rival downtown, which is just a half mile away.
He said the chamber then met with the lending community about ways to entice investment to the somewhat neglected part of the city. The eight banks agreed to the loan consortium creating a $16 million pool of funds to help spur investment. The loans can be obtained through an application process to existing business who want to revamp their facility or to new businesses seeking to locate to the northern corridor.
Davis said the lending period is set to run through Dec. 31, 2017 unless the money is used before then. The loans, which will be approved by the consortium, will generally have a term of seven years with rates tied to the Wall Street Journal Prime or the Federal Home Loan Bank Secured Connect ballon rate.
Jason England, a commercial loan officer with Arvest Bentonville, told The City Wire after Thursday’s press conference that Arvest is happy to be part of the city’s new faces.
“Arvest Bank in Bentonville was the first property reworked on the square and when we saw what the city was planning to do along North Walton Boulevard we knew we had to be a part. It’s great to see such a combined effort to take the tired properties and add some investment in hopes of drawing more business to Bentonville,” England said.
Troy Galloway, Bentonville’s community development director, said new trails are already going in on both sides of the street. The intersections of Tiger Boulevard and others will be reinforced with crosswalks for safer pedestrian traffic.
“All we had to do was look at the bold move Harp’s Foods made when they built their store on North Walton a few years ago and already others have stared to follow,” Galloway said.
Wal-Mart is in the midst of a $5 million investment in its fourth Neighborhood Market, fueling and convenience station along the North Walton Boulevard. La Palmas Restaurant is finishing up a new facade. Mach 1 Financial Group recently purchased the Triad Investigations building at 408 N. Walton Blvd. for $375,000. The deal closed in October and Mach 1 said it plans to complete renovations to the building and relocate from Bella Vista by this summer.
Galloway said the city has in its budget this year the funds to plant trees along the trails on both sides of the street. He said the feel for the North Walton corridor should rival that of downtown and market and arts districts adjacent to the downtown square. That area is already drawing investment and taking shape not yet one year after those plans were announced.
“Never say never in Bentonville. Who would have ever thought Bentonville would have a world class art museum or a 5-star hotel located on the square?” Galloway added.
Given that the Razorback Greenway and the dog park are located in this North Walton Boulevard corridor there is already pedestrian traffic. He said there are some preferable residential neighborhoods in the area that could support more restaurants and shops. He said there is also ample space for vendor and other offices that could make the North Walton Boulevard district a walkable area.
“There are some people who can never afford to live downtown, but there are some affordable homes in this northern area that are an easy walk or bike ride to Crystal Bridges and downtown but a quicker walk to the grocery market or perhaps one of the other entertainment venues that could pop up in the coming months,” Galloway said.