Northwest Arkansas downtown investments continue among region’s largest cities

by Rose Ann Pearce ([email protected]) 352 views 

Designed by all 568 students at Parson Hills Elementary School in Springdale – and documented by Springdale’s Helen Tyson Middle School EAST Initiative students – this mural is now on the east wall of First Security Bank in Shiloh Square in downtown Springdale. It faces the Razorback Greenway Trail, as well as what will become public gathering green space.

Like a snowball packs on more snow and momentum as it rolls downhill, downtowns in Northwest Arkansas’ four largest cities have seen major changes this year. Springdale’s City Council was the most recent to join the pack when it adopted a new master plan to guide downtown development.

Fayetteville recently opened a 236-space parking garage adjacent to the Walton Arts Center a block south of Dickson Street. Rogers adopted its downtown master plan earlier this year that calls for a blending of residential and commercial establishments harmoniously.

Fayetteville was the first of the four largest cities’s to adopt a downtown master plan, doing so in 2006. Bentonville followed soon after while Springdale and Rogers adopted their plans this year although the conversation was underway for years in all four cities. Following is a summary of development in the downtowns of four Northwest Arkansas cities.

A $20 million three-story complex, including retail space, offices and a parking deck, opened as the Midtown Center in November. It is anchored by the Walmart Neighborhood Market, which brought a grocery store into the center of town. Walton Enterprises Inc developed Midtown Center.

Development in downtown Bentonville has been driven by the opening of Crystal Bridges and the needs or desires of people living in the city of more than 41,000 people, — not to mention the rebuilding of city square in 2008, said Mayor Bob McCaslin. Rebuilding of the city square in 2008 and the opening of Crystal Bridges in 2011 have been the impetus for the development now going on in downtown, McCaslin said.

“We’re creating a place where people want to invest,” he said. “It’s driven by the people.”

Once a “sleepy little town,” as described by McCaslin, downtown Bentonville is bustling with activity around new restaurants, new retail space and new residents in apartments and homes in and around the downtown area. McCaslin said the Midtown Center was a critical step to keep the city and the downtown square on the road to continued prosperity. City Planning Director Troy Galloway said the Midtown Center aligns with the city’s vision for its downtown, keeping the city’s historic patterns in a pedestrian-oriented plan.

In 2014, the city adopted the Southeast Downtown Study Plan which included the identified two experience districts — the Arts District and the Market District — to encourage a variety of residential development and create a unique urban living and work environment.

The first art installation was recently unveiled in the Arts District. “Three Feathers” transformed an unused utility pole into an enormous arrow, towering six stories above the Downtown Bentonville Inc. office on A Street. Rogers artist Dayton Castleman created the sculpture.

“People are moving to Bentonville for good jobs, a good education system and a good quality of life,” McCaslin said. “The city made the initial investment of $2.2 million in the square but it was the buy-in by the public” that has led to the success of downtown.

“We’re now enjoying the fruits of our work,” McCaslin said.

“Downtown Rogers is getting more and more exciting,” Mayor Greg Hines said recently, pointing to the future opening of a year-round Farmer’s Market and improvements at Lake Atalanta as the eastern gateway into the downtown. “We’re seeing movement in investment, a significant number of property transfers and a significant increase in property values along with road and park improvements.”

The city adopted a downtown master plan earlier this year to guide development of a blend of residential and commercial development. Additionally, about $17.5 million has been allocated for redevelopment and expansion of green space at Lake Atalanta. The improvements at the 236-acre park include 10 miles of mountain bike and hiking trails, a creek for wading, a bike park, boardwalk, fishing piers, new playgrounds and pavilions. The whole project is expected to be completed late next year or early 2017.

The future of the Lane Hotel has been the subject of much speculation since the building sold last June to KLS Leasing of Delaware, a company affiliated with the Walton Family Foundation. The city issued a permit to Snyder Environmental for interior demolition at the 1928 building. The permit, issued in November, is valued at $384,993.

Sources have said the hotel, a five-story Spanish Colonial design, is to be renovated to accommodate Haas Hall Academy, a charter secondary school with campuses in Fayetteville and Bentonville. The school for seventh through 12th grade students focuses its curriculum on science, technology, engineering, mathematics and fine arts, often referred to as STEAM education. The school has been ranked by Newsweek magazine as the 19th best high school in the country.

The momentum in downtown development appears to be shifting to downtown Springdale, where old properties are being transformed and where Tyson Foods plans to move about 300 of its headquarters staff to the company’s original site on Emma Avenue.

Bill Rogers, vice president of communications and special projects for the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, has 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,” he said.

The City of Springdale adopted its downtown master plan on Dec. 16 at regular monthly council meeting and just one day after a standing-room-only crowd packed the council hall to speak in favor of the long-term plan. Misty Murphy, the newly appointed executive director of Downtown Springdale Alliance, said, “The conversation (about downtown revitalization) finally has legs. It has happened at a time when we’ve had other revitalization efforts that have had success. All the right people are on the bus.”

Murphy said her job would focus on working with the city, businesses and investors to focus on downtown development.

“Everybody wants to see Springdale do well,” she said.

Several catalysts have sparked downtown Springdale revitalization including the Razorback Greenway Trail coming through the center of downtown, which connects Fayetteville to Bella Vista. The creation of Walter Turnbow Park and the expected uncapping of Spring Creek are also driving interest in downtown.

Mayor Doug Sprouse said for the first time in many years when people mention downtown Springdale, “eyes don’t roll.” He said the work on Turnbow Park and unearthing the creek came in under budget and work will begin in the next few weeks.

Before the Tyson announcement, Walton family interests purchased the former Ryan Department Store and San Jose Manor building at 222 E. Emma Ave. Since the Tyson announcement, local businessman Rob Kimbel has invested $1 million in the purchase of five buildings on Emma.

Springdale native Tom Lundstrum and partner Brian Moore purchased the former Apollo Theater and are transforming the building into an event center to be opened in 2016, in time for Lundstrum’s 35th class reunion. He is a Springdale High School graduate.

The city opened the Spring Street Municipal Parking Deck adjacent to the Walton Arts Center in late October, five years after the city implemented paid parking in downtown and the entertainment district to pay for the $10.5 million project. The deck added 236 spaces to the city’s parking inventory.

“Today is a tremendous example of why we do the things we do. It’s an accomplishment of the great citizenry that we have in this city,” Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan said at the opening of the deck.

Meanwhile, a $23 million expansion at Walton Arts Center continues. Some of the backstage storage areas for costumes and wigs and instruments have been completed as well as new administrative offices. The renovation of the lobby and Starr Theater are expected to be completed late next year. The new glass façade and enlarged lobby accommodate a sit-down event for 300, said Erin Rogers, spokesman for the Walton Arts Center.

Link here for a five-minute virtual tour of the improvements.

Daniel Hintz, owner of the Velocity Group and former executive director for Downtown Bentonville Inc., is excited to see Springdale take the next step to revitalization of downtown.

“All the major cities in the region will now have well-done master plans that works for their individual growth priorities. I am excited to see how these cities will work together in the future through these downtown plans to further the regional growth as well.”

Bentonville continues to work on the 8th Street widening project which is a combined effort with the state and federal governments. The 8th Street extension, when completed will create another route to Wal-Mart Stores’s corporate home office and the center of town on South Walton Boulevard.

The $53 million 8th Street widening that runs from Walton Boulevard out to a new interchange at I-49 is expected to be completed over the next two to three years. The city continues to negotiate right-of-ways along parts of 8th Street.