Walton family gives almost $4 million for Northwest Arkansas downtown projects

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 274 views 

Two cities and a private school will receive nearly $4 million to pay for the design of three projects in Northwest Arkansas downtowns.

Springdale will receive $3.3 million and Siloam Springs will get about $300,000, city officials said. Thaden School also was a recipient, but the grant amount was not released.

The grants will be provided by the Walton Family Foundation through its Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program, which “seeks to elevate the architectural quality of future public buildings and spaces in Benton and Washington counties,” according to a news release Wednesday (Nov. 16).

The program allows the foundation “to support the unique urban fabric in the downtowns in five of the largest cities in the region,” Karen Minkel, Home Region Program director for the foundation, said in the release. “Schools, nonprofits and municipalities will have access to talented designers who will help us reimagine and enhance our built environment.”

Selected projects include a municipal campus for Springdale, 5-acre park for Siloam Springs and Thaden School in Bentonville. Grant money will cover all the design work for the projects, Minkel said.

When asked why these projects were selected, Minkel pointed to the “one unifying theme:” they are in downtown areas. Luis Gonzalez, spokesman for the foundation, said it doesn’t have an open application process to be selected for the program.

New architectural and architectural landscape firms in the design excellence program.

In Springdale, its project will include construction of a criminal justice facility at Spring Street and Huntsville Avenue, west of the existing city administration building, which will be renovated as part of the project. In Siloam Springs, the project will include a splash pad, amphitheater and space for the farmers market in Medical Springs Park, the unofficial name for land surrounding the library. Both cities have worked with the Walton Family Foundation over the past two months on the program.

“We really appreciate everything the Walton Family Foundation does for the city of Springdale,” said Melissa Reeves, director of public relations for the city. “This fits very nicely into the revitalization of downtown.”

The criminal justice facility will be built on 1.5-acres of city-owned land and include the court, police and information technology departments and city attorney’s office. The city has yet to determine whether it will need to purchase more land on which to build the facility. Springdale plans to issue bonds to pay for the facility and to renovate the existing administration building, Reeves said. Voters might decide on the bond issue in either late 2017 or early 2018, and it will include other projects, along with the facility and renovation work. Cost of the projects have yet to be determined because they have not been designed, she said.

Don Clark, community services director for Siloam Springs, said the grant is a “huge commitment for the Walton Family Foundation” and an “excellent opportunity” for the city to move forward on the park project. The cost is projected to be $2 million to build the splash pad, amphitheater and area for the farmers market, Clark said. Work also will include landscape design of the park, including a terrace area with seating, native plans and restrooms.

The city’s 3/8-cent sales tax, dedicated to quality of life improvements, will pay for the project. Between July and October, the tax has generated $474,603, said Christina Petriches, city finance director.

Clark hopes construction will start by fall 2017 and be completed in early 2018.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us,” he said. “The whole region is getting better every day.”

The cities have yet to select an architect for the projects, but Thaden School officials sought architects because of a “tight deadline,” Gonzalez said.

On Nov. 3, the school announced its inclusion in the program, and that architects Eskew+Dumez+Ripple of New Orleans and Marlon Blackwell Architects of Fayetteville will design its 30-acres campus master plan, school buildings and landscape. In August, Wal-Mart Stores donated 30 acres for the school at Eighth and Main streets in the Bentonville Market District. Also, the Scott family gave the school a historic house, in which Louise Thaden had lived and for whom the school was named.

Construction of the school is expected to be completed by fall 2019.

This is the second year the Walton Family Foundation has awarded grants in the program. In 2015, grants for design work were awarded to TheatreSquared in downtown Fayetteville, Rogers Historical Museum and Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center in downtown Bentonville.

The program includes more than 50 architects from 15 states, Washington D.C., Canada and Denmark, and on Nov.16, the foundation announced 16 architecture firms were added to the pool of architects whom are eligible for the projects. This year, 30 firms applied to join the pool, Gonzalez said. Applications to join the pool of architects will start being accepted again in 2018.