A business entity controlled by members of the Walton family has made another key land purchase near Bentonville’s Market District.
According to a real estate deed filed Wednesday (Aug. 2) at the Benton County Courthouse, Food Hub NWA LLC is the new owner of the 9.7-acre site at the northwest corner of Southeast 8th and Southeast J streets. It’s bordered to the north and east by the Razorback Regional Greenway, and was previously the site of Bentonville Casting Co., one of the city’s oldest businesses.
The purchase price was $7.35 million. The Hines Family Trust, led by former Bentonville Casting Co. owner/president Christopher Hines, was the seller.
The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal reported earlier this year that the Bentonville Casting Co. had been sold and was ceasing business operations. The company’s 80,000-square-foot warehouse has been demolished for several months.
Food Hub is a Delaware-registered company which has the same Bentonville mailing address as that of Walton Enterprises LLC, the holding company owned by heirs of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton.
The acquisition recorded Wednesday adds to Food Hub’s holdings in or near the Market District, a 25-acre area southeast of the downtown square that will eventually be overhauled into a mixed-use development with a focus on food, culinary arts and entertainment.
“I don’t have any of the details on the purchase,” said Troy Galloway, the city of Bentonville’s community and economic development director. “Obviously we’ve been tracking the demolition of the building and issued the permits for that. But we have no indication of what the long-term [development] intent is. But certainly we look on it as a positive; something that will add to the economic vitality of downtown and the Market District and the 8th Street corridor.”
The Market District is one of two experience districts — the other being the Arts District —outlined in the Southeast Downtown Area Plan that was adopted by the Bentonville City Council in January 2014.
In July 2013, Food Hub acquired a former Tyson Foods plant (9.5 acres) at 801 S.E. 8th St. for $825,000. It has since been renovated into the 8th Street Market, which held its official grand opening in June with a two-day food festival held in conjunction with the LPGA Tour’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.
The market’s primary tenant is “Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food,” the culinary school supported by the Walton Family Foundation and operated by NorthWest Arkansas Community College. The culinary school received a certificate of occupancy for its new home in the market on Jan. 11 and opened Jan. 17, taking about 40% of the repurposed 70,000-square-foot facility.
In July 2014, Food Hub paid $1.45 million for a former Kraft manufacturing plant (6.6 acres) at nearby 507 S.E. E St. It has since been sold to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which has announced plans to renovate the facility into “The Plant,” a 63,000-square-foot arts venue, by early 2019. It’s also an investment supported by the Walton Family Foundation.
Food Hub’s holdings in the immediate vicinity also include a 0.37-acre residential parcel at the corner of 8th and G streets, across from the 8th Street Market entrance, an 0.81-acre parcel adjacent to the Kraft plant, and two multi-tenant office buildings at 700-702 S.E. 5th St.
One tenant at 700 S.E. 5th St. is RopeSwing Hospitality Group (RHG), of which Tom Walton is a managing principle. Walton is the grandson of Sam and Helen Walton, and the committee chair of the Walton Family Foundation’s Home Region Program.
RHG occupies a portion of the space that was previously the Bentonville vendor office of Spectrum Brands.
“We have been fortunate over the years to have folks who are willing to place their capital in our community in a way that fits so well with the city’s development plan,” Galloway said. “The Market District continues to be an example of that. We couldn’t be happier with the progress made in that direction of the city and we are grateful to the folks in our community who continue to invest in the ways that they have. I wouldn’t have thought it possible 10 or 15 years ago. Only in Bentonville, Arkansas. And, really, you can expand that to say only in Northwest Arkansas. We’re very fortunate.”
Undeveloped acreage in the Market District, about 14 acres between 8th Street Market and Southeast E Street to the west, is owned by a combination of Crystal Bridges and North Arkansas Wholesale Arkansas Co., an affiliate of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
The area will be one day be positioned along a widened 8th Street corridor. The Eighth Street Improvement Project will widen the road from two to four lanes from Moberly Lane westward to Southwest I Street, a stretch of about 2 miles. Eighth Street will also extend from Moberly eastward, past the Walmart Data Center, and connect to a new interchange with Interstate 49. Dennis Birge, a transportation engineer with the city, said utilities are being relocated, and the widening project could begin next spring.