Fayetteville recently opened the first phase of the Cultural Arts Corridor that might lead developers to invest up to $150 million for multiple hotels, condos and rooftop bars downtown.
Area developers and leaders view the corridor’s first phase as a positive outdoor amenity that’s enhanced the Razorback Greenway and is likely to receive more use during warmer months. Still, some have not seen it directly affecting area businesses and organizations.
“Golly, if they’re enjoying that part, wait until the next phase,” Fayetteville developer Greg House said. House and Ted Belden, both of Ramble North LLC, will lead the development of adjacent mixed-use buildings at Dickson Street and West Avenue in the project’s next phase.
The city, through public-private partnerships, is developing 12 acres downtown, from Dickson Street and West Avenue to south Fayetteville. The public outdoor space is part of a 50-acre corridor, including private property and streets, that links cultural institutions, such as the Walton Arts Center, Nadine Baum Studios and Fayetteville Public Library. The project comprises a 2.5-acre Civic Plaza, 9.5-acre Fay Jones Woods, a six-story parking garage and West Avenue streetscape improvements.
The project’s most significant buildings are planned for the Civic Plaza at Dickson Street and West Avenue, just west of the Walton Arts Center. Plans for the plaza’s south end include a seven-story, 112,000-square-foot mixed-use building with a hotel, restaurant and rooftop bar. Plans for the north end include a three-to-five-story building with food and a rooftop bar, but its plans are in flux. An at least seven-story, mixed-use building is planned on the north side of Dickson Street.
Plans for the latter building include a hotel, condominiums and a rooftop bar. It will be built south of the parking garage, which the developers expect to be completed by summer 2023. The $12.9 million parking garage, which will include commercial space, must be built before the plaza as it will contain the replacement parking the plaza will take.
In 2019, Fayetteville voters approved a $226.07 million bond issue to complete multiple projects, including $31.69 million for the Cultural Arts Corridor. The city selected Nabholz as the general contractor and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects of Charlottesville, Va., as the designer. The Walton Family Foundation gave $1.77 million for the design as part of its Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program.
In 2021, the 12 acres of city-owned land within the corridor was renamed The Ramble after a public renaming campaign. The project’s initial phase opened in September, known as the Lower Ramble. It included the Fay Jones Woods, some West Avenue improvements and the reconstruction of a Razorback Greenway segment. Work comprised a creekside park and nearly 2 miles of trails, including soft surface, pedestrian bridges and an overlook. Soon, trail work will start to the north, up to Spring Street.
The West Avenue streetscape work has been completed between South and Center streets, adjacent to the library. The work from Center to Meadow streets is underway, and work between Meadow and Dickson streets is expected to start soon. It’s slated to be completed this spring.
The parking garage, which will include 335 parking spaces and 15 motorcycle parking spots, is under construction north of Dickson Street and west of West Avenue. After it opens, work is expected to start on the Civic Plaza.
House and Belden are the developers for between $80 million and $100 million in proposed area projects. This includes the commercial space on the ground floor of the parking garage, the three-to-five-story, mixed-use building on the north side of the Civic Plaza and the at least seven-story, mixed-use hospitality building to the north of Dickson Street.
They said development plans remain in flux as designs evolve for the mixed-use building on the south end of the Civic Plaza. They want the buildings to be cohesive. The hospitality building planned to be built at the Bank of Fayetteville site is expected to include a hotel with approximately 130 rooms and 30 to 40 condominiums for lease or sale. Retail space, restaurants and bars in the lobby and on the roof also are envisioned for the more than 100,000-square-foot building.
Along with food, the north plaza building on the south side of Dickson Street might have art elements, such as a gallery and a dance or yoga studio on the upper floors. Before it’s built, its land would be a construction staging area for the hospitality building. As construction is completed, work would start on the north plaza building. It’s estimated to range between 30,000 and 40,000 square feet.
“Our goal is to create a space that invites people from Dickson through the building and into the park,” said House, adding that one of their architects called it “Fayetteville’s front porch. I like that idea. We want to make it so it helps enliven the park and brings the park and Dickson Street together but creates a space people enjoy using.”
Belden, who owns the nine-story The Dickson at 609 W. Dickson St., said The Ramble developments will lead him to invest about $2 million into his UARK Bowl building to the west on Dickson Street. It’s expected to open in fall 2023. Plans include eight duckpin bowling lanes, golf simulators and bars. He also noted that The Ramble could lead to additional office space downtown.
House said construction on the hospitality building might start in about a year, adding that they are working with a national hotel brand and developer and “hope to be ready to hit the ground running hard. Let’s go start spending money on real plans and so forth in the next 60 days.”
Design work must be completed, bids need to be made, and permits must be received. House said the earliest it could be completed would be late 2024 or early 2025. The hope is that it will be completed when the Civic Plaza park is finished.
Meanwhile, construction on the north plaza building might take more than a year to complete and could start as work on the hospitality building winds down. That would allow time for the developers to set plans for that building, especially if plans for the south plaza building were to change.
Recently, the Fayetteville City Council approved a letter of intent for Brian Reindl, owner of Reindl Properties in Fayetteville, to build a seven-story, 112,000-square-foot mixed-use building at the south end of the Civic Plaza. Reindl also is the developer and owner of the 61,000-square-foot Metro District Building, south of the proposed building.
Plans show the $51 million project would include a 134-room hotel, meeting rooms, a restaurant and 32 parking spots underneath the building. Reindl also said it would include a coffee shop, cafe and rooftop bar.
Asked about the parking situation, he explained that the hotel will use a valet system along with the planned parking. Valets can take guests’ vehicles to parking lots that aren’t as full as those in adjacent areas. He noted that some visitors don’t bring vehicles but use ridesharing, and those who fly to the area in groups might travel together in one rental car.
Also, as an adjoining landowner, he said the south end of the hotel could be used for loading and unloading, and because he can use some of his land for the building, the Civic Plaza park can be 23 feet larger from north to south.
“We haven’t had a new hotel downtown for 50 years,” Reindl said. “There are plans for multiple right now…I can’t image anything else being there that would provide more tax revenue…I think it will be an incredible amenity for the city.”
With the letter of intent approved, he said the next steps are appraisals, surveys, “nailing down” the agreement details and tour hotels for ideas and direction. Also, a financial analysis needs to be completed, and the project designer and hotel brand must be selected. And design work must be completed before building plans can come before the city for a vote. He anticipates a groundbreaking in 2024, with the building completed in three to four years.
“I’m excited about bringing a fantastic, incredible new hotel to downtown Fayetteville,” he said. “I think everybody’s going to love it.”
Jennifer Wilson, public relations director for the Walton Arts Center, said The Ramble has yet to affect the business or operations of the Walton Arts Center. However, it’s exploring whether to use the space this spring for its Artosphere programming, especially Trail Mix, which puts artists on area trails so people can enjoy art outdoors.
“We do hope having the new public space open will encourage people to get out and explore some of that programming during Artosphere,” Wilson said. Also, its sustainability committee added trail cleanup days this fall because of the new space. It typically has hosted a trail cleanup in the spring as part of Artosphere.
Bryce Brisco, executive director of Community Creative Center, said The Ramble has positively affected downtown. The center, which is based at Nadine Baum Studios, participated in a Halloween event and partnered with the city for an outdoor painting event in the Lower Ramble.
He said the nearby park will allow the center to host outdoor events for its children and adults programming. Brisco, who serves on the steering committee for The Ramble, also said he hopes the Lower Ramble will attract more downtown foot traffic during the day.
Cary Arsaga, co-owner of Arsaga’s Coffee Roasters, said the outdoor amenity is adjacent to Arsaga’s Mill District location, just off the Razorback Greenway. He’s uncertain if it’s affected the business directly but said, “over the years, it’s going to be huge.”
On busy weekends, he said customers are encouraged to walk the trail while waiting for a table.
“Most people don’t know about it. And when they come back, they’re blown away that it’s there,” he said. “We can text them when their table is ready… It’s right by us, so it’s not a problem for them to come back.”
He noted that the Fayetteville Public Library location was closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and was impacted by its expansion, but business there has been growing. And, the Arsaga’s at The Depot was closed because of the parking garage construction. Still, he’s unsure whether it will reopen after a fire damaged the building.
Nonprofit art gallery Art Ventures is a short walk from The Ramble. Executive director Lakeisha Edwards said its artists recently installed several art pieces and hosted an event in the Lower Ramble. She hopes it will encourage people to visit the nearby gallery in a 6,200-square-foot Victorian-style home at 20 S. Hill Ave.
“It’s also going to be a good opportunity to view that specific area as a walkable neighborhood, where people living in the area, especially those who may or may not have a vehicle, have access to arts and culture,” Edwards said.