Springdale summit to focus on vision for downtown development

by Robin Mero (rmero@nwabj.com) 413 views 

Springdale leaders know they need private support to develop the downtown area into the vibrant, carefully-planned community envisioned in the city’s 2015 master plan.

For a June 14 event, they have gathered leaders from the Walton family, Tyson Foods, the Walton Family Foundation, Northwest Arkansas Council, University of Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission — along with successful entrepreneurs, housing and real estate executives and bankers — to offer a best analysis of the city’s opportunities and place in the region.

Invest Springdale, a half-day summit, aims to carry forward the city’s vision for downtown with fresh perspectives and strategies. The summit is open to investors, entrepreneurs and anyone interested in the downtown’s future. The event is sponsored by the Downtown Springdale Alliance and Springdale Chamber of Commerce. Lunch, two breakout sessions and two panel discussions are included, all for $25. Events begin at 11:30 a.m. in the Jones Center and wrap up before 5 p.m., in time to join the Emma Avenue Pub Crawl.

Organizers called the summit a first of its kind in Northwest Arkansas for being hyper-focused on downtown.

“We’re looking for people interested in creating development, expanding a business, starting a business, renovating a business,” said Kelly Syer, executive director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance. “The format of the day will be a series of panels, because there are so many people and resources to bring to the table.”

Springdale’s vision for its 0.88-acre downtown mirrors the current trend: an everything-you-need-and-can-walk-to center of living, shopping and working with modern amenities and historic charm. Density is greater, the parks and green spaces are thoughtfully designed, and bustling stores and restaurants offer experiences and goods that can’t be found on the web or at the mall.

Downtown Springdale is already strong on jobs, Syer said, but she highlighted restaurants and food as an area for opportunity, particularly since Tyson Foods recently stationed IT employees in a new downtown office and the makeup of workers has expanded.

“Food has huge possibilities. There are also two large buildings purchased by Ropeswing; we’re waiting for an announcement of how they’ll use them,” Syer said, referencing the Walton-backed firm in Bentonville behind downtown Bentonville restaurants The Preacher’s Son and Pressroom and the event venue Record.

“Downtown Springdale is very serious. We don’t want to reinvent downtown, but we want to enhance it. This is a strange and wonderful time, and people’s imaginations really can run a little wild.”

The summit launches at 11:30 a.m. with lunch and an early investors panel featuring Steuart Walton and Tom Hayes, president and CEO of Tyson Foods. Two rounds of concurrent sessions follow (participants choose which of three sessions to attend). Topics include:
• Downtown Springdale Real Estate Finance — Resources to Bring Your Project to Life;
• Downtown Springdale Entrepreneurs — Successful Startups and Why They’ve Chosen Springdale;
• Living in Downtown — Housing Needs for an Evolving Community;
• Construction Planning — Everything You Need to Know About Downtown Springdale Form-Based Code; and
• So, You’ve Got a Great Idea for a Business — How to Move from Concept to Reality.

Entrepreneurs include founders of Core Brewing, Shelby Lynn’s Cake Shoppe and Sire Boutique.

A housing panel includes Tim Conklin of the Regional Planning Commission, Stephen Luoni of the UA Community Design Center, Jeremy Hudson of Specialized Real Estate Group and the Urban Land Institute, and Mary James of the Springdale Housing Authority.

At 3:45 p.m., participants will reconvene for a panel discussion, Downtown Springdale’s Piece of a Regional Puzzle, moderated by Roby Brock, CEO of Natural State Media, the parent company of Talk Business & Politics and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. Panelists include Nelson Peacock, CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council; Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the UA; and Karen Minkel of the Walton Family Foundation, whose work focuses on quality of life initiatives in Northwest Arkansas, as well as the Delta Region of Arkansas and Mississippi.

The Walton Family Foundation recently collaborated with the UA’s research center to analyze results of the foundation’s efforts to foster development in the region’s five largest downtowns. The study looked at the implementation of master plans and trends over a five-year period from 2012 to 2017.

Notable findings for Springdale include the youthful makeup of its downtown. All five downtowns showed strong Millennial populations, but Springdale’s population was youngest with a median age of 28. There were 278 businesses in the downtown area with 5,228 employees; 31% of jobs were white-collar professions, 53% blue-collar and 16% service-oriented. Downtown had 26 eating and drinking places, three apparel and accessory stores and three home-furnishing stores.

Commercial and industrial square footage decreased during the period, while residential square footage increased slightly, resulting in an overall decrease. Total market value grew slightly from $150.8 million to $150.9 million, an increase of 0.1%.

“No new multifamily units and just a few new single-family residences have been permitted in downtown Springdale, limiting the potential to create a vibrant downtown area with residents. The lack of a downtown grocery store also limits the potential residential development,” according to the report.

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