The Walton Family Foundation recently gave $1.2 million to the city of Bentonville for a project that will close segments of A Street to vehicle traffic and connect them to a series of parks throughout downtown.
The grant will be used to design the A Street Promenade, which will span multiple blocks of A Street through downtown and remove motorists on those street segments and convert them into a business and entertainment district with pathways for pedestrians and cyclists.
Design Workshop Inc. of Aspen, Colo., is the designer. It’s also designing other related projects in the broader Quilt of Parks project. Some of the design work for that project is supported by the Walton Family Foundation’s Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program. The Quilt of Parks will “thread together multiple downtown open spaces into a cohesive experience,” the foundation’s website shows. The Design Excellence Program grants will pay for the redesign of Dave Peel Park and design work for The Commons. Design Workshop will complete this work as well.
“A Street Promenade will anchor an extensive network of green spaces in the Quilt of Parks,” said Alison Jumper, program officer with the Walton Personal Philanthropy Group. “This unique pedestrian and cycling destination will serve as a gathering place for the entire community to provide opportunities for play and entertainment.”
David Wright, director of parks and recreation for the city of Bentonville, said the central piece of the Quilt of Parks is the A Street Promenade. It will transform Northeast A Street on the east side of the square in front of Benton County Courthouse into a pedestrian street. The pedestrian street will run between Northeast Third and Southeast Second streets and will connect Lawrence Plaza on the northern end to a new park called The Commons at the southern end. Wright explained the A Street Promenade is significant to weave together all six properties of the Quilt of Parks, comprising less than 10 acres including the existing street segments that will become the pedestrian pathways.
“We’ll take cars off the road and turn that into a restaurant, entertainment, business development district,” said Wright, noting that the Walton Family Foundation grant for the A Street Promenade is not part of the Design Excellence Program. “The Commons is the southern bookend of that spine, and it will be the destination. When you’re walking on that promenade area, what you’re looking at down the street is The Commons. It will be an extremely visible area.
“You’re going to see a lawn … for picnicking but also serves as a viewing area for an amphitheater. There’s the plaza area, so there’s food trucks and places for outdoor dining from the local restaurants. The Commons probably becomes the busiest public space that we have in downtown other than the downtown square. It will rival the downtown square because of the amenities that it offers.”
Wright said east-west arteries Central Avenue (Highway 72) and Northeast Second Street would not be disturbed by the A Street Promenade and would continue to carry vehicle traffic.
“We will take precautions to allow pedestrians to cross in as safe a manner as possible, allowing the vehicles and pedestrians to co-exist,” he said.
Wright said a vision for downtown public spaces was developed as part of the Play Bentonville plan that was approved in fall 2017 to allow the downtown area to be expanded to adequately accommodate large events.
The success of events that sometimes attract between 5,000 and 7,000 people to the 0.25-acre downtown square has affected the landscaping, grass and tree roots, he explained. The parks and recreation department looks to spread out those events to give them more space “without taking away any of the charm that the square provided to those events,” he said.
Design Workshop had completed a project in downtown Houston that connected five or six public spaces with sidewalks, trees and landscaping. “This is actually what we’re trying to do,” Wright said. “We’re trying to connect Lawrence Plaza on the most northern end to the downtown square and you wrap in Dave Peel Park that’s already in existence. And … the Play Bentonville plan had identified this 120-car parking lot as a potential future plaza that we’ve titled The Commons.”
The plan is to renovate Dave Peel Park and build The Commons at the same time to mitigate cost, Wright said. Combining the projects, which are across the street from each other, might save the city between $500,000 and $1 million, he added.
Design work for The Commons and Dave Peel Park is expected to be completed in about six to eight months. How the projects will be paid for has yet to be determined, but he expects it would be a combination of public and private money. The city plans to spend the next six months to a year to determine how to pay for not only the Quilt of Parks projects but also others across multiple city departments, he said. The construction estimate for The Commons is about $3 million.
A timeline to complete some amenities of the Quilt of Parks is 2024 or 2025, but the overall project might be completed in eight to 10 years, he said. It will be completed in phases, and he expects the first phase to include Dave Peel Park and The Commons. The estimated cost to complete the Quilt of Parks is $20 million, with half of the cost comprising the A Street Promenade, he said.