Bentonville to welcome a downtown movie theater thanks to Walton family investment

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 3,672 views 

Image of the planned new movie theater planned for downtown Bentonville.

Investments continue to pour into downtown Bentonville. The latest is a planned single story 15,761-square-foot movie theater to be built five blocks southwest of the town square at the corners of Southwest A and SW 4th Street in the city’s Arts District.

Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin recently told Talk Business & Politics that rumors of a theater had been brewing and hopefully the Bentonville Film Festival would benefit in the future from this and other developments such as the event space renovations going on in the old Benton County Daily Record newspaper office.

The movie theater plans are now before the city planning commission.

A group known as Northwest Arkansas Downtown Revitalization Fund is behind the new theater, which is backed by Tom and Steuart Walton. They are grandchildren of Helen and Sam Walton, and they have made several investments in downtown Bentonville, including the new Midtown retail center just off the square.

The proposed movie theater will have two large screens and four smaller screens and will be leased by DuOpt Bentonville, according to the release from Ghidotti Communications. More details about this project will be released later this year once construction is underway.

The city also gave the green light to the extensive remodel plan for the former newspaper office downtown, which will become an event center, expected to reopen next spring, according the release from Ghidotti Communications.

“Downtown Bentonville is exploding with new growth, and these two projects will be excellent additions to serve both businesses and visitors to the area,” said Brenda Anderson with the investment group NWA Downtown Revitalization.

Officials with the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) often joke that Bentonville, its host city, doesn’t have a movie theater. Geena Davis, co-founder of BFF recently told students at the University of Arkansas that the festival is expected to grow to 100,000 patrons this year — it’s second anniversary — which is three time the number as last year. She laughed at the fact that the city doesn’t have a theater, but said that didn’t stop the entire town from fully embracing the festival.

She credited Wal-Mart Stores with idea of a local film festival that championed diversity and it’s the only film festival in the world with guaranteed distribution thanks to Walmart and its partners AMC and Lifetime Television.

While the new movie theater won’t be open until the spring 2017, developers expect it will be ready for next year’s BFF event.

BUILDING ‘GREAT PLACES’
Kalene Griffith, director of Visit Bentonville and a member of the Arkansas Parks & Tourism Commission, said a theater was needed in the downtown.

“Over the last several years, the public has been asking for more entertainment options in Downtown Bentonville. A movie theatre is such a great fit because it serves all age groups. The theater will also provide evening entertainment which is needed in the downtown area,” Griffith said.

Daniel Hintz, CEO of Velocity Group, said Bentonville continues to glean benefits from its master plan vision that required the city to work with the private sector. He said all the five major cities in the region now have master plans in place and while individually the cities work to create their own identity, when added together they are greater than sum of their original parts.

He said places like downtown Bentonville, make for strong economies. The same could be said for downtown Rogers, Siloam Springs, Springdale or Fayetteville, Hintz added.

“Great places can attract talent, investment and new businesses created and fueled by big vision,” Hintz said. “Once the vision catches on the work is constant, hard and always. Just like a business must reflect upon itself, update and innovate then so must a downtown.”

He said investments come in all sizes and it’s the cumulative value that is important.

First National Bank NWA is in the midst of building a new branch along Southwest A that will include a small art gallery, and the former Kraft cheese plant will be transformed into a new performing art center managed by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

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