The sounds of hammering and sawing may not be music to some ears but in downtown Springdale, it spells re-emergence of business along Emma Avenue. Or at least that’s the view of Mayor Doug Sprouse.
Things are happening on the main street of the city, once the hub of shopping, dining and entertainment in this city of 60,000. It may be several years to see results, but local residents, including Sprouse and others, are encouraged by the investment of local dollars, backed by familiar names like Walton and Tyson.
“The recent Tyson announcement and other local entities adds a legitimacy to the revitalization,” Sprouse said.
Tyson Foods recently announced the planned construction of a 44,000-square-foot two-story office building on Emma Avenue and a long-range plan to move 300 employees to the downtown area in the next two years. The new building will be on the site of the original company headquarters at 319 E. Emma Ave.
“We hope others will join the effort to help make downtown Springdale an intersection where commerce, food, the arts and families meet,” John Tyson said at the announcement earlier this month. John Tyson is the grandson of the company founder.
Last summer Tyson Foods announced plans to relocate some employees to the downtown to support the city’s revitalization efforts. That was followed in January by a $1 million donation to the Downtown Springdale Alliance to help jumpstart that effort. A week after the Tyson announcement Rob Kimbel, owner of Kimbel Mechanical Systems, paid $1 million for five buildings on Emma Avenue, one of which will be converted to an office for his real estate business, Spring Creek Rentals. The new office should be ready by late spring 2016. That building is at 101 W. Emma Ave.
The other four buildings, at 105, 109, 111 and 126 W. Emma Ave., are occupied. The immediate issues of roofs and HVAC systems will be addressed on those four buildings in the coming months, KImbel said.
“Part of the reason for investing is to help with the cause for revitalization,” he said.
Tom Lundstrum, a lifelong resident of the Springdale area and a 1981 graduate of Springdale High School, said, “The investment of local dollars tells me the chances for success are significantly greater than ever before.”
Lundstrum and a partner, Brian Moore, purchased the Apollo Theater, a few blocks west of the Tyson project, last year. They are working to create an event center and to have it ready by next spring, in time for Lundstrum’s 35th high school reunion, he said. He described the interior renovation as “jaw-dropping” when completed. With dinner seating at round tables, the room will accommodate about 320, he said. The room will accommodate about 500 with theater style seating. There will be a catering kitchen, and office space will be developed on the second floor.
More than a year ago, Walton family interests, doing business as Springdale Downtown LLC, purchased the Ryan Department Store and the San Jose Manor Building at 202 E. Emma Ave for $1.22 million. The building, on the north side of Emma, between Commercial and Spring streets, is now vacant.That purchase was seen by many as the first of several catalysts in revitalizing downtown.
Another catalyst has been the path of the Razorback Greenway, which crosses Emma Avenue on its route between Bella Vista and Fayetteville. The trail through Springdale runs along Spring Creek, which was covered years ago with large concrete culverts to control flooding. The next phase of downtown development by the city will be to uncover the creek, officials have said.
Sprouse, who grew up in Springdale, remembers when downtown was the center of everything.
“It still can be significant. It’s a great opportunity for businesses,” he has said.
One of those watching as Emma Avenue is transformed is Connie Gardner, who opened the Mix Manor at 103 W. Emma Ave., more than a year ago. The store specializes in consignment and used upscale home décor and furniture.
“I am excited to see what’s next,” she said. “It’s a great vision.”
Her business has been good by word of mouth advertising especially in an area where there is “a lack of people and not a lot of traffic.” Gardner wants to see more events scheduled to bring people into the downtown, like a craft fair last spring.
“It was good to look out and see people,” she said.
Lisa Ray, vice chair of the Downtown Springdale Alliance and an employee of Arvest Bank, said the renewed interest in the downtown area is exciting to see and a familiar theme. She worked in Bentonville and Siloam Springs as they moved from sleepy downtown areas to vibrant downtowns which have become shopping, eating and entertainment destinations for local residents. The transition in those two cities “blows my mind,” she said, adding, “I’m absolutely confident” the same is happening in downtown Springdale.
Bill Rogers, vice president of communications and special project for the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, said the significance of the Tyson announcement is that more people will be downtown and that spawns restaurants, dry cleaners, gift shops and other service businesses.
“The process of revitalization happens one storefront at a time,” Rogers said.
In an interview several months ago, Rogers said the chamber worked for years to deal with downtown issues but lacked the “passion, enthusiasm, optimism about the potential” that is now evident. Added incentive has come from investments by Walton, Tyson and George families and other investors, he added.
The city is paying a St. Louis-based H3 Studio $150,000 for a downtown master plan, which should be finished in a few weeks. Sprouse said city officials should receive the report from H3 Studio by the end of the year. The plan will then go to the city council for adoption.