About two years since downtown Springdale saw an influx of private investment on and around Emma Avenue, a few property owners have brought their projects to fruition and others are starting to divulge their development plans.
It looks like the early stages of something people have long fought for — a development boom in downtown Springdale.
Previous revitalization efforts have fizzled. But this one is bolstered by investments from Tyson Foods Inc. and a Walton family interest, and the consensus in the neighborhood is that, this time, it’s the real deal.
A 2015 Walton Family Foundation study showed the Razorback Greenway paved bike trail funnels about 1,000 people per week onto Emma Avenue, and Tyson Foods will employ about 300 staff downtown, once construction is completed on a 40,000-SF office, where work is underway and scheduled for completion next summer. The city has begun implementing a downtown master plan, the Downtown Springdale Alliance is sponsoring programs and building economic development strategy, and business owners are excited about the prospect of healthy competition.
In other words, everyone involved seems to be tuned into the effort, and that coordination, some say, will be the key to its success.
“Everyone’s getting on board. That’s the cool thing about it,” said Rob Kimbel, who in September 2015 bought five properties in downtown Springdale for a collective $1 million with business partner Don Struebing.
Kimbel is the former owner of Kimbel Mechanical Systems Inc. and a 15-year resident of Springdale. Struebing, operations manager at Kimbel’s Spring Creek Rentals, is a longtime Springdale resident and former high school football coach.
Kimbel said he and Struebing made the buys, in part, to keep momentum going.
“There’d been this push for Springdale redevelopment, but it seemed like it was struggling a little bit,” he said.
“I always felt like the investment would pay dividends. Any time the Waltons and the Tysons get behind something, you know it’s going to be good — but I knew it would be a long-term deal,” he said. “I also felt like if people like me jumped on board then it would encourage others to do it as well.”
Now, Kimbel is one of a few leading the charge for development and new businesses.
Kimbel’s efforts will begin with the redevelopment of 116 W. Emma Ave. as a craft beer bar and bottle shop called The Odd Soul.
Operations manager Jeffro Brown says the venue will offer 19 brews on tap, in addition to a variety of bottled beers, a pool table, live music and a traditional soda fountain.
The current tenant, the Photographic Society of NWA, is relocating to Bentonville soon, and if all goes to plan The Odd Soul will open before the end of the year.
At 101 W. Emma Ave., Kimbel is planning a development called Downtown Blend, which might include a new concept — a shared space for a café and restaurant, with a common area in the middle.
No deal has been made yet, but Kimbel said Onyx Coffee Lab owner Jon Allen and chef Jason Paul, owner of Heirloom restaurant in Rogers, have both looked at the property.
Modus Design Studio of Fayetteville has designed the space, but Kimbel said he will wait to pull the trigger on the renovation project until the timing is right, contingent on the completion of key projects, including the Tyson Foods offices.
“We want it to be vibrant and be cool. I’m willing to hold the building for six months, if I need to,” he said.
Kimbel and Struebing also own the property which houses The Steam restaurant, open since last spring, in addition to 109 W. Emma Ave. and 111 W. Emma Ave., but they did not announce plans for the latter two properties.
The buildings are adjacent to a key piece of property owned by the Tyson family, the old Famous Hardware building at 113 W. Emma Ave. The Tyson family has not yet announced its plans for the hardware building.
Meanwhile, Philip Taldo, a co-owner of Weichert Realtors — The Griffin Co., is weighing several options for a piece of property he bought in 2014, the Watson Furniture building on Main Street, where his father worked for 45 years.
Taldo remembers, as a student at Springdale High School, walking down to get a cherry limeade after football practice at Joyce’s drugstore in then-bustling downtown Springdale.
He planned for years to buy the property. It was coincidence for him that the Watson family was ready to sell around the same time that other investors began purchasing property downtown, he said.
Taldo is working with Burris Architecture of Rogers on potential plans for the two-story, 11,000-SF building.
The exterior, he says, will look the same. He is planning office space upstairs and looking at various restaurant and entertainment concepts for the ground floor, but no plans are set.
“I’ve been taking my time,” Taldo said. “I want to do something right, that adds to the downtown experience.
“The building is 70 or 75 years old,” he added. “I want to do something that’s going to extend its life for another 75 years.”
Private Money Preferred
Around the corner and down the street on Emma Avenue, longtime Springdale residents Tom Lundstrum and Brian Moore are putting into action their plans to renovate and reimagine the old Apollo Theater as an event space called The Apollo on Emma.
The two paid $50,000 for the property in 2014, in order to save it from demolition.
Constructed by Bill Sonneman in 1945, the Apollo was the first movie theater built in Springdale.
Work has started on the property and Lundstrum, president of ChemStation in Springdale, said the project should be completed in April, unless it is delayed in some way — a plausible occurence when renovating such an old property, he said. “You knock a hole in a 65-year-old wall, and you find a 65-year-old problem.”
Lundstrum says the space will be “unique.” The outside will be restored and will look like a movie theater, and the inside will be completely renovated and redecorated with an art deco theme.
“People will walk in the front door and not believe it’s in Springdale,” Lundstrum said, alluding to “upscale” planned elements like a chandeliered, coffered ceiling in the ballroom and a custom-made serving counter in the foyer.
The Apollo was the third movie theater Sonneman built in Northwest Arkansas, and he considered it to be his “show palace,” Lundstrum said.
Lundstrum intends to try to recapture that glamour. The new design will include a few original elements of the space, including a refurbished antique mirror from Italy.
Lundstrum and Moore, president of Engineering Services Inc. in Springdale, have invested in several properties downtown, including the old Dolores’ Beauty Shop building across the street from the Apollo, for which they paid $125,000 in July.
No announced plans have been made for the property yet, but the pair is working with Modus Design Studio on the project.
To Lundstrum, the timing is right for a Springdale revival. “Nobody likes to watch their downtown languish,” he said.
“I’ve lived here since 1972, and I think there’s been three or four really good-faith efforts to try and revitalize downtown Springdale,” he added. “And my perception is it’s always kind of been a top-down, city-driven approach. Now, there’s a whole lot more collaboration going on between the city, the Downtown Springdale [Alliance] and private investors.
“Private money is just different than government money. I care a lot more about what happens to my money then the government cares about what happens to your money,” Lundstrum said. “Once you get private money down here, we’re all looking for a return, so we’re trying to search out needs in the market place and meet those needs. Everything’s driven toward building foot traffic and meeting the needs of customers.”
Only Just Begun
Mayor Doug Sprouse says the Springdale revitalization is underway, but only just beginning.
“I think we’re still very early, but the momentum continues to build,” he said.
One major piece that needs to be addressed, Sprouse said, is residential.
Zack Kifer, sales associate and leasing consultant at Moses Tucker Real Estate, agrees.
Kifer said some of the company’s plans for downtown Springdale are “low-key at the moment,” and might include mixed-use.
“We’ve got to get people down there. That’s what’s going to make it all work,” he said.
However, there are no apartments currently in downtown Springdale, so pricing is a challenge because there’s nothing to compare to.
“We just have to make the case for it for investors. We’ll see. I don’t know the timetable for it, but it’s a passion project for sure,” said Kifer, who grew up in Springdale.
“Our company is known for developing the River Market down in Little Rock,” Kifer added. “With us opening an office up here, we really want to concentrate our efforts somewhere, and so far it’s lined up perfectly [for it to be in downtown Springdale]. This may be our opportunity. We’ll see.”
Those involved in developing downtown Springdale agree. Now is the time to invest.
“I think it’s a prime time to invest in downtown Springdale,” Kimbel said. “I just jumped on the wagon 10 months ago, but there are a lot of people that have been working really hard for a lot longer than that to make it happen.
“Those early people that were coming in, they had to push the rock up the hill forever, and it seems like everybody’s getting on board pushing that rock over that last little 10 percent,” he said. “You just feel it coming.”
Longtime Springdale resident Rick Barrows, president at Multi-Craft Contractors Inc., purchased a piece of property at 113 E. Emma Ave. for $300,000 in February.
Barrows is not yet sure about his plans for the building, but he made the move in order to be part of the action in downtown Springdale.
“I wanted to make sure the property was in good hands,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot going on in downtown Springdale. I wanted a front-row seat.”