Northwest Arkansas Council CEO Touts Downtown Redevelopment Strategy

by Talk Business & Politics staff ( 22 views 

A few weeks ago, our content partner The City Wire reported on a story involving the Northwest Arkansas Council and its efforts to promote more downtown redevelopment in the region.

For the cities of Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville and Siloam Springs, the effort to spark more downtown reinvestment is tied to building a better quality of life as well as economic activity.

Mike Malone, CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, was a recent guest on Talk Business. He said that his group recognized the need to help those cities with the effort in any way possible.

“We engaged Daniel Hintz and his new consulting practice to offer them as a resource,” Malone. “He’s going to work with each of the cities – if they’re interested – to the levels that’s needed to create a downtown organization to make sure they’re structured and organized in a way to be effective.”

Malone, whose video interview appears at the bottom of this story, added that vibrant downtowns are crucial to the workforce of the present and future for the region.

“We’ve had dramatic job growth in northwest Arkansas and a lot of our employers are desperate for talent,” Malone said. “We’re working on some projects and initiatives that help ensure that Northwest Arkansas remains a great place to live and work so that we can retain talent and make it easier to recruit more talent. Downtowns are a key component of a vital community.”

Here is more background on the effort:

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.

Main Street Rogers has been working for several years to keep its historic downtown area active. Kerry Jensen, who recently worked as director of Main Street Rogers, said the group’s goal was to make downtown more attractive and therefore to attract more businesses.

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.

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

Downtown Bentonville saw more than 600,000 visitors last year with a vibrant Farmer’s Market and First Friday events adding to the steady stream of patrons to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. That success is proof to many that long-term plans can come into fruition and can succeed.

Bentonville has also invested in a trail system around the city that connects to the downtown. Since 2006 the city has built more than 20 miles of trails at a cost of roughly $1 million per mile.

For Fayetteville, the revitalization the downtown area happened a decade ago and now the mission is expansion and promotion, said City of Fayetteville Chief of Staff Don Marr.

“We’ve always been focused on downtown,” he said. “Our goal is to continue doing that. Downtown is the core of a community and that’s why we’ve been committed to it as long as we have.”

Continued expansion requires the help of taxpayers and Fayetteville voters continue to support these efforts recently approving $10.9 million in bonds that will retire $1.5 million in remaining debt on the Town Center, $6.9 million to fund expansions at the Walton Arts Center and $3.5 million to help build a regional park.

Read more on the subject here.