NWA downtown appeal, development continues

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 102 views 

Downtown areas continue to attract investment across Northwest Arkansas. Springdale and Rogers are actively working to boost their downtown exposure as retail growth has moved westward toward to Interstate 540.

When driving down Emma Avenue in Springdale, there’s a mix of old and new, but mostly old. Obvious efforts have been made to start sprucing up the downtown Springdale area but plans are about to explode. 



BOLD MISSION

The Downtown Springdale Alliance is comprised of business, civic and community leaders and the mission is to “create excitement for a diverse community to gather, shop, play and live.

The Historic Springdale District extends from Huntsville Avenue to the north, Maple Avenue to the south, Old Missouri Road to the east and Pleasant Street to the west.

In May 2013, the association approved a Springdale Downtown Revitalization Master Plan that contains four phases. This summer, the Springdale City Council approved the initial phase of that plan. Kent Hirsch, president of the association, said the $100,000 needed to complete the study came from the A&P Commission, Springdale Public Facilities Board and the City of Springdale.

The rest of the funds for the various phases are intended to come from almost entirely private resources, however. The initial cost estimates are about $20.6 million, not including paying for property acquisition, according to the master plan documents.

According to the plan documents, the master plan calls for several key features including:

• An open creek north of Shiloh Square;

• Closing Mill Street; 

• Removing the buildings on the west side of the Shiloh Square Block;

• Changing the traffic on Emma and Meadow avenues to one-way couplet and changing Johnson Avenue to one-way eastbound;
• Construction of a new town square south of Emma and east of Spring Creek;

• An open creek south of Emma Street;

• A new arch bridge south of Meadow Street for the Razorback Greenway; 

• Access to Spring Creek south of Meadow with stairs, ramps, terraces and planting; an
• Opportunities for new development along the creek and around the newly developed Square.

The various phases will be completed as funding is raised and the appropriate traffic and parking studies are conducted.

Over the years several groups have tried to beautify and restore downtown Springdale.



“If we don’t do it, we will have blight,” Hirsch said. “We need footsteps. We need people coming here to eat and for entertainment.”

The hope is to establish districts, including places of residence.

“This will drive the Springdale economy and improve the overall image of downtown,” he said.

SOULFUL DOWNTOWN

Nov. 15 was Kerry Jensen’s last day as director of Main Street Rogers as he resigned to be able to find a job where he could spend more time with his family. Dana Mather has been named interim director. 

Before leaving his post, Jensen took a few moments to discuss progress in Historic Downtown Rogers with The City Wire. 

The goal was to make downtown more attractive and therefore to attract more businesses, Jensen said.

“Downtown now has a soul,” he said. “It’s taken on a whole new life.”

In 2010, 26 new businesses came to the region and that number has remained steady or grown each year. As of late October, 23 new businesses had come into downtown. This is a gross number and does not include businesses that have left.

“We have very reasonable rent rates so we attract a lot of Mom & Pops and also lots of entrepreneurs,” Jensen said. “It’s normal to have some turnover. We’re pretty much filling up businesses downtown.”

Sometimes community members express concern over empty buildings but Jensen said most of the times those buildings are not available for lease either because they are being renovated from the previous tenant or the owner does not want to lease the property.

Rogers is another Northwest Arkansas community that does not have a centralized Square. That’s a double-edged sword at times, Jensen said.

“We have a larger area to claim as downtown but there’s also the issue of where to meet,” he said. “During Oktoberfest and (other events) we closed off a part of Elm Street and that gave people a starting point.”

Jensen said the downtown Rogers community has focused on what it has, not what it doesn’t have.

“We don’t try to be like anyone else,” he said. “We’re focused on what we do have and promote that.”

COOPERATIVE EFFORT

Mather said having a robust downtown area is the result of many years of cooperation with the city making substantial investments over the past five years.

“The city has invested in significant streetscape improvements including the removal of asphalt from historic brick streets, renovation and repairs to the brick streets, the intersection improvements that include flower beds for traffic control and beautification, and installation of period-appropriate modern street lights to improve safety and appearance,” Mather said.

The removal of the wooden awnings was undertaken through grants and private investment, Mather said, with significant input and oversight from several city departments.

“Downtown Rogers consistently runs above 90% occupancy of all available buildings for lease in the historic district. Interest in the downtown business district is high, but with few available spaces, things move quickly,” she said.

Steve Cox, vice president of economic development for the Rogers-Lowell Chamber, said new companies reaching out to Rogers often want to see downtown on their tours of the city.

“They know a city who cares about preserving downtown is one that not only cares about history and community and is going be a good partner for years to come,” Cox said.

FUTURE GROWTH

Although beautification efforts have already taken place in Rogers, the city plans for future development and growth in the area. Steve Glass, Rogers' planning and transportation director, said the city is in the process of hiring a firm to develop a downtown future growth plan.

“It will include a lot of public meetings and economic research,” Glass said regarding the plan.

Glass said it's important maintain a healthy downtown economic district, despite the burgeoning growth toward westward toward I-540.

“Downtown has a rich history and viable businesses,” he said. “It’s our gateway from the north. There are many historic buildings there and you just can’t get that in a new development.

“(Downtown Rogers) is already doing well, we are trying to look at what we want it to be in the future.”