A look back: The best and worst of 2016

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 299 views 

Depending on your perspective, the news was good, bad and ugly in 2016. There were newsmakers, recognitions, closings, departures, deals and, of course, an election.

Here are some of our observations about the news as compiled by our editorial staff, our annual compilation of the “Best and Worst” of 2016.


Best Trademark
In June, Hall of Fame basketball coach Nolan Richardson, who spent 17 seasons as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, filed two separate applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the phrase that is widely linked with his success in Fayetteville – “Forty Minutes of Hell.”

Richardson, who will turn 75 on Dec. 27 and still lives in Fayetteville, coached the Razorbacks from 1985 to 2002. His teams were lauded for their frenetic style of play with unrelenting, full-court pressure defense – a style that was dubbed as “Forty Minutes of Hell” to describe what Arkansas opponents would endure for an entire basketball game.

The applications have not been approved yet by the Trademark Office. 

Best News for Movie-Goers
In a few months, some Northwest Arkansas movie theater visitors will be able to catch a flick while sprawled out on new, more comfortable chairs and enjoying a beer or a sandwich with fries.

Malco Theatres announced in November that it will add reclined VIP seating with side tables, a full cocktail bar and an expanded, “gourmet quick-casual” dining menu at several of its area movie theaters.

Construction will start early next year at the Rogers Towne Cinema, the Razorback Cinema in Fayetteville and Fort Smith Cinema and should take three months to complete. The remodel will include revamped kitchens with ovens and deep-fryers, according to the Memphis-based company.

As commercial venues continue to compete with the ever-improving home movie-watching experience, it seems Malco is looking to give customers some of the comfort and convenience of home. 

Best Quote
Don Gibson, president and CEO of Springdale-based Legacy Bank, said the following when asked to explain why his bank paid $2 million for a 2-acre site on Walton Boulevard, with plans to build the company’s first Bentonville banking center there next year.

“The momentum all over Northwest Arkansas is strong and really vibrant, but the epicenter for that right now is in Bentonville.”

And if that quote weren’t good enough, then he said, “There are great things happening in Springdale, too, and Fayetteville and Rogers. But if you are going to serve the Northwest Arkansas community and not be a part of the Bentonville community, then you’d be sitting on the bench, and we don’t want to do that.” 


Worst Bakery News
We were saddened to hear the news in early January that 3rd Street Eatery and Bakery had closed its doors and was listed for sale. The business, led by owner/chef George Flynn, opened in a renovated cottage at 208 N.E. Third St. in May 2015 with a breakfast and lunch menu, and started dinner service that fall.

With a downtown Bentonville address, though, it didn’t take long for the property to attract a buyer, and Fayetteville restaurant owner Jody Thornton apparently sees an opportunity. The owner of the popular and growing JJ’s Grill franchise, paid $500,000 for the 1,900-square-foot building in August.

Thornton has yet to make public his development plans for the property.

Best Tech Startup News
2016 was another impactful year for area tech startups. Recycled Hydro Solutions of Rogers received a Kitchen Innovation award in February from the National Restaurant Association and landed a licensing deal with a manufacturer based in Ohio.

In April, NanoMech of Springdale announced $10 million in funding from a Saudi Arabian energy company to improve its production process for industrial lubricants and coatings.

This summer, the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot initiative invested $2 million in Picasolar and $679,000 in WattGlass, both solar panel technology companies in Fayetteville. Picasolar is looking to mass produce its product, while WattGlass is testing nationwide.

Ascendant Dx of Springdale also had an active year. Its early-detection breast cancer screening tool was tested globally and made the finals for the U.S. Small Business Administration InnovateHER competition, in addition to the South by Southwest Eco social impact category.

Worst-Needed Makeover
When Fayetteville developer Mark Zweig invested in property on North College Avenue (also U.S. Highway 71B) just north of Dickson Street and the downtown square, he commented on the need for improvement in the neighborhood. 

Calling it the “gateway to the city,” Zweig said: “It looks like hell. We have a thriving economy, we have a growing city, we have a top-rate university, we have low unemployment, we have all these fantastic things, and then our main street, the entrance to the city, looks like it’s in a place that’s going out of business.”

For its part, the city is planning improvements for a half-mile stretch of North College Avenue between North and Maple streets, and Zweig said he intends to be part of an effort to breathe new life into one of Fayetteville’s busiest thoroughfares. 

Best Hall of Fame Nod
Johnnie Bryan “J.B.” Hunt, the founder of Lowell-based carrier J.B. Hunt Transport Services, was inducted posthumously into the inaugural class of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ Hall of Fame, recognizing those who have made revolutionary contributions to the supply chain discipline.

Hunt was inducted in September with Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Co., and Malcom McLean, inventor of the shipping container.

Worst Check to Write
Danville-chartered Chambers Bank paid investor Gerald Johnston $1.7 million this summer for a 2.38-acre lot on South 52nd Street in Rogers, directly north of Aloft hotel. It has plans to build a financial center there. The kicker? Chambers owned the land just a few years ago, foreclosing on the property from Metro Park South LLC in 2010. Johnston, through his Horsebarn Holdings LLC, acquired the lot at auction in March 2012.

Best Saleswoman
Nicky Dou, agent for Keller Williams Market Pro Realty in Bentonville, posted $39.3 million in sales for 2015, easily taking the No. 1 spot for the second consecutive year on the annual Top Grossing Real Estate Agents list published in March.

Worst Corporate Closings
A number of corporate and franchise locations in Northwest Arkansas closed their doors in 2016.

In January, Wal-Mart Stores announced 154 closings nationwide, including 102 Walmart Express sites. The closures marked the end of the retailer’s small-format concept.

Harps Food Stores of Springdale in June purchased nine shuttered Walmart Express stores in Arkansas and southwest Missouri, with plans to open some of them as Harps Stores, and it made that happen at the former Gravette store on Aug. 3.

Other chain closings included Gap and Gap Kids, in addition to MarketPlace Express, in the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville. Both were longtime fixtures in the shopping center.

Also in 2016, Ruby Tuesday closed locations in Fayetteville and Rogers, and two Dickey’s Barbecue Pit franchises, each under different ownership, closed in Springdale and Siloam Springs. K-Mart also closed 60 sites throughout the U.S., including the Springdale location.

Worst CEO Loss
Mike Malone, chief executive of the nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Council, resigned from that position in September for a job in Bentonville working directly for brothers Tom and Steuart Walton, grandsons of Wal-Mart Stores founder Sam Walton. Malone had been head of the council for a decade. 

Best Big Investment
In November, Square Deal Capital Inc., founded in 2013 in Oklahoma City, paid $56.8 million to acquire the nine-story Bentonville Plaza office building and surrounding land totaling 16 additional acres. The building at 609 S.W. Eighth St. and adjacent land is just across the street from the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores. The 275,000-square-foot office building is the tallest building in Bentonville, was at 98% occupancy at the time of the sale and had 34 tenants. 

Best New Efficient Home
This year, entrepreneur and environmentalist Terry Tremwel, board chairman of Fayetteville startup Picasolar, and his wife Margaret built one of the greenest homes in the state on Mount Sequoyah in Fayetteville.

The carbon-neutral home is three stories and features extensive outdoor space, with 2,300 square feet of decking. There are charging stations for electric cars, and south-facing roofs that will soon hold 72 solar panels.

The home construction philosophy for general contractor Stitt Energy Systems Inc. of Rogers is to let the winter sun in and keep the summer sun out.

In addition to its efficiency, the home was built with widened access and an elevator to accommodate the progression of Tremwel’s illness, Parkinson’s Disease.

“Hopefully we can open some people’s minds as to what’s possible,” Tremwel said of the home’s many features.

The couple is planning a January move-in date.

Worst Kept Secret
Fayetteville architect Marlon Blackwell is one of the best architects in the country, and that is a secret to no one in the industry.

In May, Blackwell, the E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture at the University of Arkansas, was featured in Architectural Record magazine after he won the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s National Design Awards for architecture.

In September, Blackwell’s firm was recognized by Architect magazine as the top firm in design in the magazine’s 2016 Architect 50 list.

In the Architectural Record story, Blackwell and his wife, Meryati Johari Blackwell, were asked why they chose to remain in Arkansas, and he referenced Brian Mackay-Lyons, who lives and practices in Nova Scotia.

“I’d rather be a first-rate hick architect than a third-rate New York architect,” Blackwell said.

Laughing, his wife said, “We might move if someone gives us a 100-story high-rise.”


Best Remembrance
When retired Tyson Foods executive Donald “Buddy” Wray died in January, he was remembered by numerous friends and former colleagues. Gerald Johnston, the company’s former CFO who retired in 1996 after 26 years, had this to say: “In your life, you have lots of acquaintances, but you only have a few friends that are real friends. And Buddy was a great friend. I knew it would be tough, but it’s hurting a little bit more than I thought it would. He is going to be missed by a lot of people.”

Worst Traffic
The commuter rush hour parking lot known as Interstate 49 is a nightmare. But as Arkansas Highway Commission Chairman Dick Trammel of Rogers likes to say, the orange barrels and concrete barricades of today are sure signs traffic will be better tomorrow.

Worst Case of Neglect
The former Clarion Hotel at the intersection of Interstate 49 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Fayetteville, at one point one of the city’s largest and most successful, still sits empty. The 197-room hotel changed ownership yet again this summer when it was donated to the Razorback Foundation by Fort Smith-based Hobbs & Curry Family LP, an investment conglomerate centered on hotel ownership that recovered the property at auction in March.

 “We don’t know what we’re going to do with it,” Razorback Foundation Board Chairman Kenneth Mourton said in June.

The 81,098-square-foot property, opened originally in 1986, has been closed since the spring of 2015, when it was operating as a Grand Hotel. Hobbs & Curry previously owned the 7.05-acre development for several years until 2012, when it was sold to JGHG LLC – which listed Jasdeep Grewal as the registered agent – and Charles Wilkerson for $1.5 million. The hotel struggled financially after that, including bankruptcy, and was reflagged twice, first as Guesthouse International Inn & Suites in 2013 and later to Grand Hotel.

Best Transition Timing
What better time to retire than in the 100-year anniversary of your company? That’s what Jerry Moye, former president of Cobb-Vantress, decided to do after 25 years working for the oldest pedigree broiler breeding company in the world.

In October, Joel Sappenfield, who had worked for Tyson Foods since 1990, assumed Moye’s duties as president of the Siloam Springs-based company, a subsidiary of Tyson.

Moye, who’ll retire at the end of the year, said the people with whom he’s worked are who he’ll miss the most. He’s made some great friends throughout his 41 years working in the poultry business. 

Best Record-Breaking Year
The Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP) continues to break records under the leadership of Brian Crowne, and the expectation is that things will only get better.

Crowne, who was named vice president of the Rogers venue in January, saw records broken in revenue, attendance and the number of sellout shows for the 2016 season. It was “our biggest year yet,” he said. Top-line revenue jumped 16% to $11.22 million, from $9.66 million last year. Attendance rose 10% to 176,300, from 160,000. It also had nine sellout shows, up from three last year.

Crowne sees a “bright and promising” future for the venue. “It’s exciting because it’s been successful so far. The upside is tremendous.”