Bill Schwyhart, former Northwest Arkansas auto dealer and real estate developer, has died

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 2,755 views 

Bill Schwyhart, a prominent businessman, investor and real estate developer who helped shape the initial development of Rogers’ Pinnacle Hills interstate corridor, has died. He was 64.

According to his obituary, Schwyhart died Aug. 31 at his Dallas residence with his wife Carolyn and son Alex by his side. The obituary included no cause of death but a family spokesman told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal that Schwyhart died as a result of terminal cancer.

Visitation will be held at Cross Church Pinnacle Hills in Rogers on Tuesday (Sept. 7) at 12:45 p.m., followed by a funeral service at 2 p.m. U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, the city’s mayor from 1999 to 2010, will deliver the eulogy.

“I credit Bill Schwyhart for his vision and passion for the rapid transformation of Rogers from a bedroom community to one of destination character,” Womack said in a statement. “The relationships he created within the retail and hospitality industry were critical to the city’s development. There wasn’t a more vocal promoter of the Pinnacle Hills vision than Bill Schwyhart.”

Schwyhart made his name in Northwest Arkansas as an automobile dealer before turning his attention to real estate development. He grew up working in his father’s gas station in Stockton, Calif.

According to a 2001 profile published in the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, Schwyhart was 20 years old when he loaded his 1967 Mercury Cougar with all his belongings in 1977 and moved from California to Springfield, Mo. He invested $10,000 he had saved to buy a one-third interest in a Chrysler dealership in nearby Marshfield. His father, Joe Schwyhart, was already in the Ozarks, having moved to Springfield when he retired.

In 1979, Schwyhart attended Chrysler dealer school in Detroit for six weeks. While there, he and another student went to visit Lee Iacocca at his home — unannounced. Iacocca invited them inside and spent an hour talking with them. The next day, Iacocca went to the federal government to request a loan to rescue Chrysler from bankruptcy.

“I went back to Marshfield ready to slay the world,” Schwyhart told the Business Journal in 2001. “But [the Chrysler dealership] just wasn’t a viable operation, so we closed the business.”

Schwyhart later moved to Rogers and bought a Pontiac, Buick and GMC dealership. His father and Robert Thornton, a former Walmart Inc. executive, came into the deal with him as partners. At the age of 23, Schwyhart was the youngest Buick dealer in America. He used the last part of his name for his new business, eventually incorporated as Hart Motor Co.

Schwyhart owned various auto dealerships in Northwest Arkansas during the next several years, including high-end models BMW and Volkswagen.

Bill Schwyhart (Courtesy Backstrom~Pyeatte Funeral Home)

By the mid-1990s, he started focusing on real estate development. The booming auto dealerships allowed Schwyhart to purchase Pinnacle Point, a land development that today includes Cross Church Pinnacle Hills, Lewis & Clark Outfitters and multiple office buildings. That grew to include land holdings for the more prominent Pinnacle Hills, a retail, entertainment and healthcare development along both sides of Interstate 49.

Schwyhart was part of the real estate development group The Pinnacle Group, a privately held company that included Thornton, Collins Haynes, Johnnie Bryan “J.B.” Hunt and Tim Graham. The Pinnacle Group also played a role in the development of the Pinnacle Hills Promenade retail center, which opened in 2006.

The Pinnacle Group partnership dissolved after Hunt’s death in December 2006, less than amicably. That and the Great Recession were part of Schwyhart’s very public and complex fall from grace. There were multiple lawsuits, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Schwyhart was even evicted from his home and office near Pinnacle Country Club in 2011.

According to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Bill and Carolyn Schwyhart filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in Texas in July 2018, claiming more than $82 million in debt, mostly related to business ventures that had failed during the economic crisis from 2009 to 2011. The bankruptcy court granted them a discharge of those debts. Last year, a Texas judge denied the objection to discharge that one of the creditors, CHP LLC, had filed, finding that the Schwyharts were honest debtors deserving of a discharge.

According to court filings, the Schwyharts moved from Arkansas to Dallas in March 2018 for health reasons.

Schwyhart was involved in various civic groups while living in Northwest Arkansas, including the Northwest Arkansas Council, and leadership roles with the Rotary Club of Rogers and Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.

Then-Mayor John Sampier appointed Schwyhart to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority when it was organized in 1992. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee also appointed Schwyhart to serve on the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

In lieu of flowers, the Schwyhart family has requested donations to the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas or Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter.