Vision emerges for residential area near Momentary in downtown Bentonville

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 4,019 views 

This working rendering depicts The Marsalis, a six-unit townhome project under construction on Southeast Sixth Street across from Austin-Baggett Park in Bentonville.

Timing is everything is an old maxim that’s particularly appropriate for the real estate industry. The chances of a profitable investment can be strongly tied to when an acquisition is made.

One thing you can say about business partners Todd Renfrow and Patrick Sbarra, principals of Lamplighter Restorations in Bentonville, is they have a good sense of timing.

Lamplighter, known primarily for its residential redevelopment projects the past few years on Southwest D Street west of the downtown square in Bentonville, is now focusing its efforts in an area of the city designated as the Market District, part of a larger redevelopment plan established by the city for the area southeast of the downtown square.

Renfrow and Sbarra hope to capitalize on proximity to both the Momentary — an arts venue planned to open in 2020 — and Austin-Baggett Park by redeveloping several residential sites they own along Southeast Sixth Street. The vision is a $13 million neighborhood that will ultimately introduce townhomes, retail, restaurants and 
other amenities to the area.

“There is a neighborhood there, and I don’t want to imply that there isn’t,” Renfrow said. “But what we want to do is maybe add some amenities that could be complementary to the park and the neighboring residents.”

On March 26, 2016, The New York Times first reported details of the Momentary. A satellite project of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the adaptive reuse design will transform a decommissioned Kraft Foods plant on Southeast E Street into a multi-disciplinary space for visual and performing arts and an artist-in-residency program.

The 11-acre venue is scheduled to open in 2020, and Lieven Bertels, announced last summer as the project’s first director, is firm in his belief the Momentary will be an international venue, furthering the region’s growing reputation as a destination for arts and culture.

In a couple of years, Renfrow and Sbarra hope they can welcome the Momentary to a jazzed up Bentonville neighborhood, one that’s expected to look and feel a lot different than it does today.

“The goal is that when people are in this quadrant, whether they live, work or play here or are visiting, is that psychologically they think, ‘I like me when I’m here. I like being in a Lamplighter community,’” Sbarra said. “They should feel jazzed about being there.”

Lamplighter has already completed Bentonville Academy of Music at 523 S.E. Sixth St. The 5,600-square-foot property consists of first-floor studios for music instruction, and a two-story residence above. The Renfrows own the Academy, which has more than 100 string and piano students. It was designed to be an anchor of the “live, work, play” neighborhood, Renfrow said. He and his wife, Dana, live above the studio with three of their children, and Dana runs the Academy.

Renfrow’s initial attraction to the neighborhood, and Sbarra’s, too, was proximity to Austin-Baggett Park, a green space that’s a little more than 1 acre with playground equipment, a small pavilion, picnic tables and plenty of shade trees.

“We really just loved being next to the park,” Renfrow said. “We’ve been living here since last July, and we really love it. It’s convenient. We have great views of the park. We have six kids and three are still at home and they have fun playing across the street.”

Added Sbarra: “After D Street, we thought how might we renovate and inject some life into an entire neighborhood. We thought the area around the park would be fantastic. That was the hook.”

Renfrow bought the land for the Academy in August 2015 for $275,000, well before plans for the Momentary were revealed. He said he thought the former Kraft factory nearby might one day be an office park or some sort of mixed-use building. Neither the scope of the 8th Street Market had fully been developed, nor had the Thaden School been announced. Both quality-of-life amenities are also nearby, and the developers believe they can similarly propel developments — theirs and others — around the Momentary/Austin-Baggett neighborhood.

The next three buildings in Lamplighter’s redevelopment plan — a townhome project and two mixed-use buildings — are all named for noted jazz musicians. Lamplighter assembled the property in three separate deals for a combined $905,000.

Sbarra, the former president and co-founder of shopper marketing agency New Creature in Rogers, said the homage to jazz musicians is meant to reflect “the rhythm and vibe” of the neighborhood he and Renfrow envision.

Renfrow said Oelke Construction will soon go vertical with the next phase of development, a townhome project west of the Academy and facing the north side of the park, called The Marsalis (that’s Wynton Marsalis).

Two of the six units are already pre-sold, Renfrow said, and sizes range from 2,200 to 2,500 square feet. The price per unit ranges from the high $500,000s to mid-$600,000s.

The next project will break ground this fall, a three-story building called The Ellington (that’s Duke Ellington). The 30,000-square-foot mixed-use property is west of the park, at the southwest corner of Southeast Sixth and D streets. The top two floors will be residential. The ground floor will have amenities for the neighborhood and its visitors.

Renfrow said Lamplighter is working with several local operators to provide a variety of small eateries, ranging from comfort food, grab-and-go sandwiches, pizza-by-the-slice and a dessert shop.

The Hancock (that’s Herbie Hancock) is planned for the northwest corner of Southeast Sixth and D streets. It will be a smaller mixed-use building of about 10,000 square feet, depending on parking requirements. Construction will begin once the Ellington is complete.

Until then, the Hancock site will be home to The Station Café. Renfrow is part of an ownership group that bought the downtown Bentonville restaurant in early March. It was scheduled to close later this spring because of a change in the building ownership at its current address on North Main Street.

Renfrow said the restaurant will re-open June 1 in a renovated residence at the Hancock site, and it will eventually find a permanent home in the Ellington.

There are other projects in the neighborhood, either completed or in the pipeline, which will also change the area’s character in the next few years.

San Diego-based Picture Red, led by architects Caitlyn Kelley and Emily Fierer, developed the Tourmaline Urban Lofts, a $10 million townhouse project at 501 S.E. D. St. It was completed a few months ago and has 15 semi-attached townhouses starting at 2,000 square feet. One has sold and another has been leased.

John Mayer, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Harris McHaney Faucette in Bentonville, is marketing the property. He said he is beginning to see signs of increased activity in the neighborhood, and said that area of the city is poised for the most appreciation the next two to three  years.

Of Lamplighter’s plans, Mayer said: “I really like what they have planned. In a way they are creating a second square; a second downtown area for the city.”

One block west, at the northwest corner of Southeast Sixth and D Streets, is The House of Songs Ozarks, an artist-in-residence program that hosts international artists and musicians to collaborate with area artists. The Austin, Texas-based program was invited to establish a presence in Bentonville last year at the invitation of the Walton Family Foundation.

To the south of Austin-Baggett Park, a group of investors in northeast Arkansas — through an entity called Art Park LLC — paid $1.45 million last summer for a 2,357-square-foot single-family home at 610 S.E. E St. ($750,000) and a 2,928-square-foot multifamily property at 609 S.E. D St. ($706,000).

One of the investors, Brett Crowson, a commercial banker-slash-real estate developer in Jonesboro, said recently he and his partners are still in the planning stages to determine the best use of their property. Like Todd Renfrow and Patrick Sbarra, his opinion of the area is persuasive.

“This project has me more excited than just about anything I’ve ever seen,” Crowson said. “I think it’s one of the best pieces of dirt in the state. It is the best, in my opinion. What’s going on [in Bentonville], I just don’t think there’s anything like it in the country… that I know of. I know there’s nothing like it in the state.”