It’s no secret that numerous changes in residential, commercial and traffic patterns during the past several decades have resulted in the decay – if not abandonment – of thousands of downtowns around the U.S.
Downtowns in Northwest Arkansas have not been immune from such decay even with the historically strong area economy. The City Wire recently documented efforts in several area cities to either build upon downtown improvements or reverse the effects of decline. (Link here for a story about efforts in downtown Springdale and Rogers, and link here for the story on downtowns in Bentonville and Fayetteville.)
Now comes a welcome move by the Northwest Arkansas Council to provide support to the ongoing downtown work in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs and Springdale.
The Council has contracted with Daniel Hintz, who most recently worked as the executive director of Downtown Bentonville Inc., to provide consulting services and other resources to mayors and downtown leaders in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs and Springdale. The effort is part of a five-year plan that outlines the Council’s work. Part of that plan requires the council to “coordinate and elevate the work of downtown organizations.”
The Council is best known for big project work – Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, Bella Vista Bypass funding, etc. – and political lobbying at high levels. The hiring of Hintz is clear, if not definitive, proof that vibrant downtowns in any region have a positive socio-economic effect. Indeed, the Council statement noted that strong downtowns help a region recruit and retain talented employees. Hintz correctly and alliteratively noted in the statement that downtowns are the “crossroads of culture, community and commerce.”
It should be noted that downtowns in Northwest Arkansas have had an advantage not available in many regions across the country. Residents, city officials, chamber officials and others are – or should be – grateful for the gifts from Alice Walton (Crystal Bridges), Walton Family Foundation, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt, Jones Trust and many other corporations and groups.
It would be easy for the communities and the Council to just sit back and watch the organic and relatively slow downtown growth from direct and indirect corporate support and university investments. After all, the big-ticket infrastructure needs in the area are enough to keep the Council active 24/7.
But they aren’t willing to be comfortable. Hintz comes with an impressive track record, and with the Council’s backing he could help maximize some of the ongoing efforts and/or help create new growth opportunities.
Please know that individuals and groups in the various Northwest Arkansas downtowns have worked hard and successfully in most instances. This move by the Council is not and should not be seen as big brother coming in to save the day. Our hope is that the effort and Hintz’s input will be a turbo-charge boost to what is already happening in the important downtown areas of Northwest Arkansas.