Momentum building to revitalize downtown Springdale

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 306 views 

Like a snowball gains momentum as it rolls down hill or a tornado gains strength as it moves across the plains, a similar phenomenon is happening in downtown Springdale. City and Chamber officials agree that “it’s Springdale’s time to shine.”

This one-time sleepy city in the middle of the region appears to be awakening from a decade-long nap and there are signs the growth and revitalization effort are expected to continue behind the growing popularity and use of the Razorback Greenway Trail.

Jesse Core, a former city councilman and Tyson Foods system analyst who started a brewery business several years ago, said he is excited to see the renewed interest in his adopted hometown.

“I am a huge supporter of downtown Springdale,” said Core, who now owns Core Brewing Co. on Lowell Road. He recently added a distillery and plans to open a pub in a portion of the former Ryan’s Department Store on Emma Avenue later this year.

The department store closed in 2013 and last year Downtown Springdale LLC, funded by the Walton family, purchased the San Jose Manor building at 202 E. Emma Ave in 2014. The $1.22 million Walton investment is considered another catalyst in the revitalization of the downtown area. Specific plans for the building haven’t been announced. The building fronts on Emma between Spring and Commercial streets.

Core said he will use about 2,000 to 2,500 square feet for his pub, which he hopes to open this fall but doesn’t have a specific date yet. 

“We’ve agreed it’s going to happen,” he said, although the commitment is only a verbal one right now.

“I have always felt downtown was a winner,” Core said. “Even when I was on the City Council, I said people should invest in downtown.”

“The Chamber has tried several times to deal with downtown issues for the last 25 years,” said Bill Rogers, vice president of communications and special projects for the Springdale Chamber of Commerce. 

What’s different these days is “a passion, enthusiasm, optimism about the potential for downtown,” Rogers said. ”The Greenway Trail has given hope and potential for investment.”

Mayor Doug Sprouse also credited the Razorback Greenway Trail with boosting the momentum in revitalizing downtown Springdale. The trail runs alongside Spring Creek, which was covered years ago by large concrete culverts to control flooding in the downtown area. Those culverts are being opened to expose the creek, work that the city is overseeing as its part of the regional Razorback Greenway.

“The heart of the Greenway Trail is right here in Springdale,” Sprouse said.

The new Turnbow Plaza and park, where the Greenway cuts through downtown is where the officially opening of the trail will be held with a ribbon cutting on May 2, he added.

In addition to the trail, major investments from the Walton, Tyson and George families and others who have invested in downtown redevelopment have been a major impetus. For instance, Tyson Foods announced in January it planned to move its hiring center and company store to the former Orscheln Home and Garden Center on Emma Avenue, across the street from the original corporate office for the company. The building was also home to the former Springdale Morning News operation.

“Tyson has broadly hinted there is more to come,” Rogers said. Tyson’s plan to move 25-26 people to the downtown location is also important because it brings people downtown, he added.

On the other end of Emma Avenue, local businessmen Tom Lunsford and Brian Moore have purchased the Apollo Theater and plan to turn it into an event center. The pair has invested in the building and are spending what Rogers described as a “significant amount” for a new roof. The building stood empty for at least 10 years, Rogers said.

Local resident Phillip Taldo recently purchased the former Watson Furniture building but no plans have been announced for that red-brick structure, Rogers said.

“There has been a definite entrepreneurial movement in the last two years,” he said.

Several sandwich shops have opened or plan to open soon, joining a downtown mainstay Spring Street Grill, famous for its homemade pies served fresh everyday.

Edward Jones Investments recently had a Chamber ribbon cutting at its new location on Emma Avenue.

“Downtown Springdale is a buy, not a sell,” Rogers said.

Sprouse also acknowledged the work of the Downtown Springdale Alliance, which he was instrumental in starting when he was first elected mayor.

“I grew up here,” Sprouse said. “I remember when downtown was the center of everything. It still can be significant. It’s a great opportunity for businesses.”

Sprouse said the City Council recently approved a $150,000 expenditure for a downtown master plan.

“That will really help potential investors,” Sprouse said.

The downtown area goes beyond Emma Avenue, the downtown main street. He said the boundaries included in the downtown area run from Quandt Street on the south to Huntsville Avenue on the north, with U.S. 71B, Thompson Avenue on the west to Arkansas 265 on the west. That area includes Mercy Medical Center and the Jones Center. The Rodeo grounds are just outside that area.

“Five years from now, there will be aspects of downtown we won’t recognize. We’ll go ‘wow, it doesn’t look anything like it used to,’” Rogers said.

He pointed to the changes that have come to downtown Bentonville, saying, “There’s no reason downtown Springdale can’t have the same change of attitude.”

Rogers said other areas of Springdale are ripe for commercial development, namely Elm Springs Road, west of Interstate 49, where Wal-Mart recently opened a supercenter and Macadoodles opened its first Northwest Arkansas liquor store. Miles James, a noted Fayetteville restaurateur, recently announced he would open a pizza restaurant next to the liquor store.

Another area on the commercial watch list is around Arvest Ballpark and the new Sam’s Club store on Sunset Avenue.

Rogers also noted top attractions located in the downtown area, including the Jones Center, the Arts Center of the Ozarks, a top community theater; the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad excursion train and the regional museum at Shiloh Museum.

“Find me a downtown with this kind of infrastructure,” he said. 

Other notable facts about Springdale are it’s the fourth largest city in Arkansas, running neck and neck with Fayetteville, it boasts the second largest school district in Arkansas behind Little Rock, and more jobs have been created in Springdale since 2010 than anywhere else in Arkansas, according to Rogers.

“The (Razorback Greenway) Trail was a start and kicked off a major change in attitude. Now, individuals, longtime residents, the Chamber, businesses and the city, are all pulling together,” Rogers said.