Jones Center revamp a piece of the redevelopment puzzle for downtown Springdale

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 1,093 views 

The Jones Center for Families in January will begin the second phase of an extensive $5 million renovation plan intended to secure the multi-functional venue’s position as the cornerstone of a revitalized downtown Springdale.

The 21-year-old facility houses an indoor pool complex, ice skating rink, fitness center and thousands of square feet of meeting and education space, serving residents from throughout Northwest Arkansas – and if all goes to plan, it will be completely transformed by 2019.

“It’s going to look significantly different, more 21st century. At the same time, to some degree, we’re going back to our heritage,” said Chief Operating Officer Mike Gilbert.

He said some elements of the remodel will pay homage to the history of the property as a former trucking company terminal and to Northwest Arkansas as a whole. The portion of the remodel that will begin in January, the Tyson Foods Fitness and Food Wing, will be among the most pivotal changes for the Jones Center, Gilbert said.

“This renovation and expansion of the fitness center is a key element in drawing families to the downtown revitalization project,” Gilbert said.

Springdale City Council approved a downtown master plan for the neighborhood at the beginning of 2016, and steps have been made in both the private and public sector to redevelop and breathe new life into the city’s downtown.

“You can create all the businesses on Emma Avenue you want and create an entertainment district and an employment district and an arts district, but if you don’t have things for families to do, they won’t be involved in that community,” Gilbert said.

That is the role the Jones Center works to fill for the neighborhood, and its leadership plans to enhance that with the renovation. Misty Murphy, executive director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance, said the center is an important piece of the puzzle to the revitalization of downtown.

“The Jones Center is a key gathering space for downtown Springdale. It’s almost like its own town square, in that it draws a diverse group of people to interact with one another and their surroundings. The center, coupled with the Rodeo of the Ozarks, is a solid anchor for the east side of downtown,” she said. “While the Jones Center is already a fantastic facility offering amenities that are unique to Northwest Arkansas, we are excited to see them grow and change as downtown does likewise.”

Once renovations are made, food will play a larger role in the Jones Center. The center recognizes a need for more vending offerings for several reasons, including the fact that some Haas Hall students will attend classes at the Jones Center next fall.

The new Tyson Foods Fitness and Food Wing is scheduled to open next July, and it will feature a newly designed west entrance designed by Core Architects of Rogers, in addition to a complete transformation of the fitness center and food court in terms of aesthetics and offerings, said Kelly Kemp-McLintock, chief advancement officer for the Jones Center.

Both spaces will be stocked with all-new equipment and furnishings and the project, funded by a $750,000 grant from Springdale-based Tyson Foods, will add 5,600 square feet to the current fitness center and studio space for exercise classes.

When the food court café re-opens, it will be operated by a third party and will serve a new and expanded menu, made with a variety of Tyson products, Kemp-McLintock said. The intention is to make the Jones Center more of a one-stop shop for families who are looking for recreation but also want access to fast, healthy food.

“If you’re swimming at 5:30 in the morning, you’ll be able to swing by the café on the way to work and pick something up for breakfast,” Kemp-McLintock said. “Or if you are there with your family, and you have a child who is ice skating, while you’re doing yoga and another member of your family is working out, you will be able to sit down and eat a nice dinner together right there. That’s how we see that space evolving. We understand work-life balance, and that is the whole reasoning behind that wing.”

Kemp-McLintock hopes the Tyson Foods Fitness and Food Wing will be used regularly by the 300 Tyson employees scheduled to begin work this summer in a new office on Emma Avenue. The food and fitness area is on the west side of the 215,000-square-foot Jones Center facility, closest to the poultry company’s new office.

The investment in the new wing is a continuation of a long history of giving between the Tysons and the Jones Center.

“We’re so proud to continue our support of the Jones Center and the tremendous impact it has on our community,” said Russell Tooley, executive vice president of continuous improvement for Tyson Foods and chair of the Jones Trust board of directors. “These new amenities add to the legacy and the future of The Jones Center as a crown jewel for Northwest Arkansas.”

Since 2003, Tyson Foods has given $3.85 million and the Tyson family has donated about $2 million, according to the company.

“We’re committed to the revitalization efforts in downtown Springdale and as more people come back to Emma Ave., we hope they will also discover all the wonderful resources The Jones Center has to offer,” said Derek Burleson, public relations manager, corporate affairs, at Tyson.

The first phase of renovations, the Jones Center’s conference center in the northern wing of the property, is about halfway finished and scheduled for completion in the spring, Kemp-McLintock said.

With the remodel of the conference area’s foyer, the Jones Center has highlighted the property’s legacy by removing ceramic tile to reveal the original concrete flooring of the main terminal for Jones Truck Lines.

The project has uncovered a rail system put in place by Jones Truck Lines founder Harvey Jones to move freight from trucks throughout the terminal, Kemp-McLintock said. The Jones Center plans to polish the original concrete floor and leave the railway visible.

“When you enter the (conference area) foyer, we’re going to tell you that in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, this was a working truck terminal for Jones Truck Lines. There will be a visual representation of the timeline of Jones Truck Lines, how Harvey Jones started with his team of mules and the one truck and how he grew it into the largest private trucking company in the United States,” Kemp-McLintock said.

The late Bernice Jones founded the Jones Center in 1995 at the former Jones Truck site, after it closed and its founder, her husband, Harvey Jones, died in 1989.

The Jones Center leadership plans to expose the original concrete throughout its main walkways and pay more homage to history by turning the southern portion of the building into a “founders’ wing,” although a timeline for that part of the project has not yet been set.

“With the founders’ wing, we hope to incorporate large, vintage photographs of some of the founding families of Northwest Arkansas that have invested so much into our region,” Kemp-McLintock said, naming the Joneses and the Tysons, in addition to the Waltons, the J.B. Hunt family and others as potential subjects for wall art.

The south entrance is the closest to the Razorback Greenway bike trail.

“We want it to be a neat stopping point if people are on the trail or visiting downtown to come in and have a coffee, maybe plug in their laptop,” she said. “We plan to have some café-style seating and some vending options in that wing.”

Kemp-McLintock said the Jones Center renovation came about last year, when the leadership asked focus groups comprised of members and donors about their satisfaction with the facility, and respondents agreed that a remodel was needed.

“We’re 21 years old,” she said. “It is a beautiful building. It is well-built, but it needs refreshing.”

The Jones Center purposely chose to begin its transformation with a refresh of its 350-person-capacity conference area and foyer so that space could begin generating rental revenue, a key funding piece for the facility within a patchwork that also includes fees from the center’s 4,500 members, in addition to day-use fees, lease revenue and major donations and grants.

As advancement director, Kemp-McLintock handles fundraising for major donations, and right now she is tasked with raising a remaining $4 million for the planned renovation, she said. She noted the importance of quality in the renovations and furnishings that will be used within the center.

“We want it to last for the next 20 years, so we’re not out again soon asking for money for our donors and our supporting companies for renovations. We want it to be long-lasting,” Kemp McLintock said. “I think of Bernice 24 years ago when the Jones center was just a design, and it came to life for her. One of the things that she asked of those close to her before she passed away is that people take care of the Jones Center and move it forward when she couldn’t be hear any longer, and I do think she would be very very happy with the decisions that are being made.”