McAuley Place in Bentonville to help with housing affordability challenges

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 948 views 

Jim Petty is CEO of Strategic Realty and owner of Grass Roots Construction.

A unique multifamily development to address affordable housing challenges in Bentonville is expected to be completed in 2026. Construction is slated to start in August.

The 160-unit McAuley Place project is a public-private collaboration that includes Fayetteville-chartered Arvest Bank, Benton County, Bentonville Schools, the nonprofit group Excellerate Foundation of Rogers, healthcare provider Mercy and Strategic Realty Cos. of Van Buren. The project, just south of state highways 12 and 112, will be built on 11 acres made available by Mercy. It was named for Catherine McAuley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy.

Jim Petty of Van Buren is CEO of Strategic Realty and owner of Grass Roots Construction. The companies serve as the project developer and builder, respectively. Strategic Realty Management will be the property manager. Petty is also District 29 state senator, R-Van Buren, representing Crawford County and part of Washington County.

Petty said the goal is to break ground in August on the project, which is estimated to cost between $40 million and $50 million. Strategic Realty will split construction into two phases, with 60 apartments to be completed in phase one. That phase is expected to be completed by the end of 2025. Phase two will include the remaining 60 apartments and 40 single-family cottages. That phase is scheduled to wrap up six months after the first is done. Construction should be completed by the end of 2026.

“We’ll start the horizontal work, infrastructure, [and] utilities in August,” Petty said. “We’ll start going vertical once we have a path we can follow from a construction standpoint … probably sometime [in the] first quarter or early January if the weather and everything cooperates.”

The plan is for people to start moving into the apartments next year as project construction continues. The units range from one to three bedrooms and 650 to 1,100 square feet. The cottages will have two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

The project also will include a 3,000-square-foot early learning center operated by Bentonville Schools. McAuley Place residents will receive priority enrollment in the center, which has a 60-child capacity. The pre-K program will have 40 children, ranging from 3 to 5 years old. The infant and toddler program will have 20 children, ranging from 6 months to 2 years old. Adult courses will be offered there on nights and weekends. Course topics include tutoring, financial management and home ownership preparation.

About seven years ago, Petty said he became involved with the project idea to address housing affordability challenges in the area. His companies have overseen projects throughout Arkansas and Oklahoma that address housing affordability challenges. Petty established his affordable housing business in 2007.

“There is a huge need across the country,” he said. “This is home for us … There’s been a lot of discussion around affordable housing for the last 10 years, at least in Northwest Arkansas. Some people have ideas. Some people have meetings. We want to make things happen.”

Strategic Realty and Grass Roots Construction are also working on Cobblestone Farm Community, an 89-unit project to address affordable housing challenges in Fayetteville.

“That’s what we do primarily,” Petty said. “Our companies — the property management, construction and development company — primarily work in that space.”

He said these projects are “always community collaborations,” but this one is unique because of the large number of organizations working together.

His companies have about 50 staff, and he expects to have three full-time employees assigned to the site once it is completed. He expects a “handful” of staff to work on it during construction. They will also work with subcontractors like brick mason and framing companies.

Petty said the project site selection “evolved over time” and “eventually, it kept pointing back to this location.” The site is 11.4 acres west of a Mercy clinic at Southwest 41st and Southwest I streets and east of Bentonville Community Center. According to county records, a Mercy affiliate sold the land to the Excellerate Foundation in September 2022 for $1.32 million. The foundation donated it to the project.

In November, Excellerate Housing, an Excellerate Foundation subsidiary, unveiled McAuley Place plans. Since then, the project has evolved to include dedicated housing for Bentonville Schools employees after another Bentonville housing project for school employees faced rezoning challenges. According to a Bentonville Schools news release, 35 of the cottages will be allocated for its employees. Eligible employees will have the opportunity to participate in a new home equity program.

Jeff Webster

On May 21, about 100 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony hosted at the project site. During the event, Jeff Webster, president and CEO of Excellerate Foundation, announced a new program allowing qualified educators residing at McAuley Place to earn equity to buy their own homes. The Home Ownership Mutual Equity Solutions (HOMES) is a first-of-its-kind program that emulates the benefits of home ownership, including home equity appreciation. However, program participants won’t be responsible for a down payment, closing costs, taxes, insurance or maintenance.

The inaugural version of HOMES will focus on the housing needs of Bentonville educators and colleagues and offer them support and resources. By the end of the program term, the educators can receive up to $50,000 in equity to purchase a home. Terms are up to five years.

Webster said Bentonville Schools employees who start living in an apartment there can progress into the cottages. Half will be available to rent for $1,000 monthly, he said. Then, the employees can join the HOMES program, renting a home for $1,500 monthly.

The remaining units at McAuley Place will be made available to qualifying school district employees and community members. Estimated rent ranges from $700 to $750 monthly for a two-bedroom apartment.

Webster said rent prices are protected over the next 35 years and will only rise with inflation. He noted that this applies to all qualified residents, not just educators.

McAuley Place will be available for families making between 30% and 60% of the area median income—$28,000 to $55,000 annually for a family of four in 2023. The development is part of the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Chris Weeks, construction management instructor for the Ignite Professional Studies program at Bentonville Schools, said his students will be able to build the homes and learning center at the project site.

Chris Weeks

Weeks said Ignite’s two-year construction program comprises juniors and seniors. The students learn about job site health and safety standards and earn certifications and college credit. Students spend one semester working on a job site for pay before transitioning to their field of interest upon graduation.

“This will be our outdoor classroom in that first semester of their senior year,” he said. “They’ll come work alongside the dirt work people. They’ll work alongside the plumbers, electricians [and] block layers. We do cement. They’ll help frame and stand the buildings. They’ll do it all.”

Next school year, 26 seniors will work on the project. When the seniors transition to the internship after the end of the semester, Weeks’ class of juniors will join the project. About 60 students will work on the project over the next school year.

Weeks has been an educator for 24 years and owns a construction company. He has worked in the construction industry for 38 years.

His students are “my passion,” he said. “My lifelong drive here is to get them to the next step. So this is a natural way of filling the gap or coming full circle, and they’re giving back to their teachers. The teachers and others will be able to live here affordably.”

Excellerate Foundation is accepting project donations of up to $100 and will match them 1-to-1. Donations are accepted online at Donors also will receive monthly construction updates and other project information.

Webster said Excellerate Housing has other area projects in the works to address housing affordability challenges.

“We’re just getting started,” he said. “We’re not the answer. We’re part of the solution. We need a lot of different solutions done in different, creative ways. We’ll have more things we’ll be talking about in the future.”