Springdale merchants say downtown revival will pick up when road work is complete

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 1,461 views 

Turnbow Park in downtown Springdale

Springdale’s long-awaited Turnbow Park and the related unearthing of Spring Creek downtown has for years been promoted by city officials and business leaders as a key piece of the puzzle for revitalization.

Featuring a concrete plaza with dining tables, grassy areas and creek access, the park was designed as a recreational destination and a draw for new business owners to set up shop nearby.

Now, it is open. The city hosted a ribbon cutting in early July, three years past Turnbow’s original scheduled finish date. The process included a dispute with the contractor hired and its subsequent replacement with Springdale-based Milestone Construction last fall. Downtown merchants said business has steadily improved despite the delays in finishing the park, and they expect it to get better.

Core Brewing & Distilling Co. opened one of its Core Public House locations last year on Johnson Street in downtown Springdale. Owner Jesse Core said the location is performing well. Business is “competitive” with other locations, including spots in downtown Bentonville, downtown Rogers and west Fayetteville.

“Numbers are headed in the right direction,” he said.

Core Public House is directly across from Turnbow Park, which Core called a “beautiful” addition to downtown Springdale. He’s not sure a lot of Northwest Arkansas residents are aware of the “gem” and looks forward to more use once more people know about it. Core is in the permit process to open a food truck beside the brewery, which he hopes will be a draw for passersby on the Razorback Regional Greenway trail.

A 2015 study from the Walton Family Foundation shows the portion of paved trail that crosses Emma Avenue funnels close to 800 people per day into downtown Springdale. It’s mostly cyclists and primarily on the weekends, though the study shows 100 weekday pedestrians and 80 on the weekend.

One influential factor is ongoing work on Emma Avenue and has resulted in closing portions of the road over a period of months. Core said things will only get better once the road work is finished.

Work continues on roads in downtown Springdale. The work is expected to be complete by Sept. 19.

Ed Clifford, CEO of the Jones Center for Families, said the multi-use recreational venue has held off on widely promoting its renovated fitness center – which opened in late May and has drawn more than 800 new members since then – until the work is finished. Melissa Reeves, director of public relations for the city of Springdale, said the contract completion date for the work on Emma is Sept. 19.

Clifford believes a downtown transformation is bubbling under the surface.

“Springdale right now is not indicative of what Springdale will be a year from now, two years from now, or three years from now,” Clifford said. “We’re getting ourselves ready to handle lots of people.”

Buck Ahrens, operator and co-owner of Emma Avenue Bar & Tap, will celebrate one year in business on Aug. 19.

“Things are picking up. We’re doing fairly well,” he said, noting “a significant change from a year ago.”

He believes the opening in the last few months of the restaurant Taco Loco and the bottle shop and soda fountain The Odd Soul have had a positive effect. He also believes having multiple bars in the neighborhood — Black Apple Crossing cider house, The Odd Soul and Core Public House, in addition to Ahren’s establishment — is good for business.

“People are starting to hop around,” he said. “Look at Dickson Street (entertainment district in downtown Fayetteville). Nobody goes down there because there’s just one place.”

Ahren also is looking forward to the end of utility work that has closed Emma Avenue.

“I think it has an overall effect on everybody, especially those that are down there with the roadwork,” he said. “If they could get that opened up, it would open things up for a lot more.”

At the same time, he said, “We need more commerce. We need restaurants.”

Emma Bar & Tap’s next-door neighbor, The Steam restaurant, recently closed after being open two years. The business owners returned to their home state of California because of a family matter, according to The Steam’s Facebook page. Mike Gilbert, owner of the property at 107 East Emma Ave. through the company Parkside LLC, said another eatery might open in its place.

“We are in final discussions with a prospective restaurant and expect to make an announcement very soon,” he said.

The Walton Foundation has invested downtown, including a $2 million grant toward Turnbow Park. Home Region Program Director Karen Minkel said, “Downtown Springdale is going through a transformation that was jump-started by the Razorback Regional Greenway. Turnbow Park is the latest milestone in this journey full of ideas that will foster vibrancy while honoring the city’s unique background.”

Downtown Springdale Alliance Executive Director Kelly Syer, whose duties include running events downtown, said the alliance is not pushing hard for Turnbow Park attendance yet.

“We are still working through specific programming for Turnbow. With the park being so new, we are conscientious about being very gentle for several weeks as the brand new grass gets fully established and strengthened so it will be able to withstand heavier traffic,” she said.

“Our plan is to host large downtown festivals that will spill into Turnbow Park from Shiloh Square and the nearby open area, as well as smaller events with music and entertainment,” she said, adding that the with the trail nearby, “We also envision opportunities to use the Turnbow as a wonderful stopping point for special programming in connection with rides and runs.”

A number of announced projects have come or are coming down the pipeline, including the grand opening of historic-theater-turned-event-venue The Apollo. It opens Thursday (Aug. 17).

However, there are still a few wild cards for downtown Springdale. The Walton Foundation is also funding the design of municipal buildings downtown, including a new criminal justice facility and renovated administration building, as part of the foundation’s Design Excellence Program, and it is funding façade work through a grant program announced earlier this year.

Reeves said seven buildings along Emma Avenue were awarded matching grants to hire an architect to develop plans for improvement and construction of upgraded exteriors.

“This work is underway now and will have a positive impact on attracting new tenants to empty space, as well as dramatically improving the look of existing businesses,” Reeves said.

The fair trade apparel and gift store The Avenue NWA recently gutted and is starting reconstruction on the front of its property at 103 E. Emma Ave. Springdale Downtown LLC, an entity controlled by Walton Enterprises of Bentonville, plans to announce this year its redevelopment strategy for about 30,000 square feet of commercial property and 13 acres it owns in downtown Springdale, according to a Springdale Downtown spokesman. The company owns the former Ryan’s Clothing Store and the San Jose Manor building on the 200 block of East Emma Ave., in addition to the Magnolia Gardens Event Venue and a tract of land surrounding it.

“Springdale Downtown LLC is moving forward with plans to re-energize downtown Springdale with a concept that will include a mix of office, retail and hospitality space. This will require some reconstruction and remodeling of the existing buildings,” a spokesman said. “We expect to have additional details on plans for the buildings by the end of the year.”

Meanwhile, a 40,000-square-foot Tyson Foods office will open sometime this fall, but a spokesman for Tyson said there are no announcements at this time about other properties on Emma Avenue, held by Tyson Foods and the Tyson family.

“I don’t have information about properties downtown other than the project taking place at 319 E. Emma, Ave., but I can tell you that downtown Springdale is where Tyson Foods began so it’s important to the company and the Tyson family to invest in the downtown revitalization efforts,” said Worth Sparkman.

Reeves said there are a couple of next pieces that need to fall into place for Springdale’s downtown revitalization.

“Housing is critical,” she said. “We need good, quality, affordable housing downtown.”

The city has also set its sights on the design of public outdoor spaces. It’s a subject on which the city and the Downtown Springdale Alliance have sought public input.

“Another key component is continued attention to the development and execution of an excellent open space plan that will connect and upgrade existing green spaces, improve public amenities and capacity for community events, and encourage people to see downtown Springdale as a walkable area to live, work, and play,” Reeves said.