Fayetteville to create downtown cultural arts corridor with $1.77 million Walton Family Foundation grant

by Jennifer Joyner (JJoyner@nwabj.com) 852 views 

The city of Fayetteville is in the early stages of a design project to overhaul 50 acres of outdoor space with the intention of tying together cultural institutions in downtown Fayetteville, from the Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street to the planned expansion of the Fayetteville Public Library. Also included within the area are the Community Creative Center and the under-construction TheatreSquared venue.

If approved by the Fayetteville City Council in its regular meeting Dec. 5, the design portion of the cultural arts corridor project would be fully funded by a $1.77 million Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence program grant from the Walton Family Foundation in Bentonville.

The foundation announced $3.6 million in grants on Thursday (Nov. 16) for projects to improve and enhance public outdoor spaces in downtown areas. The Downtown Springdale Alliance, the Community Development Corp. of Bentonville/Bella Vista and the cities of Bentonville and Rogers also received grants.

The planned area for the arts corridor spans from West Dickson Street to West Prairie Street, north to south, and its western and eastern boundaries are defined by Gregg Avenue to School Avenue, respectively.

A map of the proposed corridor is available here.

If approved by the city council, Fayetteville will start the selection process for the project’s design consultant, who will likely lead public input activities on the project in 2018, said Peter Nierengarten, sustainability and parking director.

Right now, the city envisions the majority of the design element will be focused on some undeveloped park land west of the library and the West Avenue parking lot across from the Walton Arts Center, in addition to spaces on and along the Razorback Regional Greenway multiuse paved trail, which runs through the tract, and the surrounding streetscapes, Nierengarten said. The city owns 12 acres within the boundaries. “What it will aim to do is really stitch together the exciting things that are already happening in downtown Fayetteville,” Nierengarten said, pointing to a $23 million expansion and renovation of the Walton Arts Center that was completed last year, in addition to the new, $34 million TheatreSquared venue under construction across the street and a planned expansion of the Fayetteville Public Library.

Voters last year approved a millage increase that would cover more than half the cost of the $49 million planned library expansion, which will double its size to about 160,000 square feet. The target date to complete the project is the end of 2020.

Nierengarten said the city hopes to raise the bar for spaces surrounding these projects, incorporating “high-quality outdoor spaces and festival space to match what’s already been done with the indoor spaces.”

The West Avenue parking lot is often prime real estate within large-scale annual festivals like Bikes, Blues & BBQ, Spring Fest and Slide City, so although the plans are contingent on public input and the design team, Nierengarten believes the events space element will play a role.

He also said the city plans to retain parking spaces after the project, though some might be inaccessible during construction.

Adequate parking can be a challenge for downtown areas because of their high density, including in Fayetteville, which built a 253-space multistory parking garage to help address the issue in conjunction with the expansion of the Walton Arts Center. “The ultimate goal is no loss of permanent parking,” Nierengarten said.

The city is starting to plan for the construction phase of the project, which Nierengarten said will likely be funded with a combination of private capital, street and trail budget money, and perhaps bond funding, though that would depend on voter approval.

The Walton Foundation’s Design Excellence Program was founded in 2015 with the stated intention of elevating the design standard in public buildings and spaces throughout the region.

“I really want to thank the Walton Family Foundation for their continued support and investment in Fayetteville,” Mayor Lioneld Jordan said in a press release. “This opportunity will help us continue our efforts to keep Fayetteville creative and unique while attracting visitors and retaining citizens.”

To qualify for funding this round, area governments and nonprofits “had to present innovative ideas for spaces that would increase public access and leverage the region’s existing trail network. In addition, projects had to show a commitment to sustainability by encouraging residents and visitors to engage with the spaces in new ways,” according to the foundation, which starting taking applications for this round of the design program this past March.

The city of Bentonville was given money for the project “Quilt of Parks,” which will create a cohesive thread for outdoor spaces downtown. The city of Rogers was given a grant to redesign and rebrand Frisco Park and the Downtown Springdale Alliance, a nonprofit tasked with supporting downtown development in the town, will receive a grant to “jump-start implementation of its downtown master plan with the expansion and renovation of Luther George Park,” according to the foundation.

The Design Excellence Program in previous years supported the design for the new TheatreSquared venue, renovation of the Rogers Historical Museum, a new facility and playground for the Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center in Bentonville, new municipal facilities in downtown Springdale, a five-acre park in downtown Siloam Springs, and design of the campus and landscape at the new Thaden School in Bentonville.

Its current pool of regional, national and international architecture and landscape designers now includes more than 50 firms representing 15 states, Washington, D.C., Canada and Denmark, according to the foundation.

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