Walton Family Foundation grants in Northwest Arkansas exceed $27 million

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 351 views 

The Walton Family Foundation, funded by the world’s richest family, continues to share the wealth across its home region of Northwest Arkansas. The foundation made local grants of more than $27 million last year in the areas of education, quality of life and environment, according to its 2014 Annual Report released April 3. 

The local grants were part of $375 million given last year around the country by the Walton Family Foundation. Executive Director Buddy Philpot said the foundation continues to move forward with greater intensity, focus and commitment to expanding opportunity for more people growing its grants sevenfold from $50 million over the past two decades.

“In 2014, we collaborated with more than 1,900 partners on initiatives across the U.S. and the world,” Philpot said. “We are challenged to think big. … Nobody thought bigger than Sam and Helen Walton. They had an unshakeable belief in the power of individuals to transform their lives.” 

Quoting Sam Walton, “There’s no limit to what plain ordinary working people can accomplish if they’re given the opportunity, the encouragement and the incentive to do their best.” Philpot said the foundation employs that “no limits philosophy” today.

Last year, the Foundation pledged to give $302 million to its home regions of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas Delta over the next five years. The grants are designed to create and sustain long-term economic development opportunities that will measurably improve the quality of life in the two areas.

Philpot said the Northwest Arkansas grants will focus on expanding arts and cultural amenities, strengthening coordinated regional development and preserving a sense of place. In the Delta, the grants will support Pre-K-12 education, improve public safety and engage and develop young people.

The largest gift in Northwest Arkansas was a $5.374 million grant to the Amazeum, a children’s discovery museum slated to open in Bentonville July 15. Sam Dean, executive director for the Amazeum, said recently The Walton Family has its handprints all over this one-of-a-kind center located at the entrance of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The land was a gift from Alice Walton, and the Foundation was one of the original funders in the Amazeum’s $28.5 million capital campaign, contributing $10 million in matching grants since 2012.

Another entity that continues to benefit from Walton Family Foundation giving is the Jones Trust which oversees the Center for NonProfits in Rogers and the Jones Center for Families in Springdale. In 2014, the Walton Family Foundation funded $1 million, the third phase of a $3 million, 3-year installment for the Jones Trust capital expense projects.

“This allowed us to bring our facilities up to what the public expects them to be, and it allowed us to replace our almost 20-year-old heating/cooling system in the Jones Center with a modern cost effective system saving us significant utility dollars which are now being used to improve and increase activities at the Center,” said Ed Clifford, CEO of the Jones Trust and Jones Center for Families in Springdale.

The Walton Arts Center also received a $1.6 million grant last year to help with the expansion of the Fayetteville facility. The foundation came back in March and pledged $5 million more toward the Center’s $23 million expansion costs which will add 30,000 square feet of space.

Walton Arts Center CEO Peter Lane said the extensive renovation will include a new and expanded atrium lobby that connects to Dickson Street, expansion of the Starr Theater, expanded space for back of house technical and theatrical equipment, and new administrative offices. The enhancements will modernize the facility and create a destination for more arts, special events, community gatherings and educational programming in the Fayetteville facility.

Lane said the Walton Family Foundation grants “represent a strong vote of confidence in our future in Fayetteville and the future of arts in Northwest Arkansas.”

In the area of business expansion, the Walton Family Foundation helped fund Startup Junkie, a venture of Jeff Amerine in conjunction with Winrock International and the Small Business Administration. Amerine said Startup Junkie, a consulting service in the lcoal startup ecosystem, received a $1.9 million grant that is being used to boost startup programs in Northwest Arkansas.

One of the largest projects in the region funded by the Walton Family Foundation in recent years is the Razorback Greenway, a 36-mile bike trail that connects Bella Vista to Fayetteville. The Foundation pledged $15 million to help kickstart the project in the cities of Springdale, Fayetteville, Rogers and Lowell. Bentonville was already receiving support from the Foundation on its trail system. The trail dedication is slated for May 2. 

Springdale Mayor Doug Spouse said if not for the Walton Family Foundation grants the city would not be where it is today in terms of trail development. Admitting that the city is playing catch up to its neighbors to the north and south. He said the early pledge by the Foundation helped to spur other investments by the city with outside development also falling into place. 

In 2014, the Foundation made the following grants to area cites for quality of life or economic expansion projects: 
• Bentonville: $2,053,304
• Fayetteville: $1,855,185
• Rogers: $2,703,401
• Siloam Springs: $638,510
• Springdale: $400,000

Link here to the report a complete list of 2014 Home Region grantees.