A move announced Wednesday (Dec. 4) by the Northwest Arkansas Council is geared to build upon the past several years of renewed interest in developing downtown areas in Northwest Arkansas.
The council has contracted with Daniel Hintz, who most recently worked as the executive director of Downtown Bentonville Inc., to provide consulting services and other resources to mayors and downtown leaders in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs and Springdale.
Hintz’s work, according to the council, will include identifying downtown economic benchmarks, helping to create or update downtown master plans, strengthening or establishing downtown organizations, and helping secure the talent to foster ongoing development and growth in downtown areas.
The council said the effort is part of the Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy – a five-year plan that outlines the council’s work. Part of that plan requires the council to “coordinate and elevate the work of downtown organizations.”
“Many people in Northwest Arkansas know about Daniel’s solid work in Bentonville and Fayetteville,” Mike Harvey, chief operating officer of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said in a statement. “He has a deep understanding of how exceptional and unique downtowns help competitively position individual cities and the Northwest Arkansas region as a whole.”
Harvey said active and vibrant downtown areas help Northwest Arkansas companies recruit talented employees. In the council statement, Hintz said downtowns are the “crossroads of culture, community and commerce.”
“I am excited that the Council recognizes vibrant downtowns as such a vital part of our regional success,” Hintz said. “This is both an honor and amazing opportunity to work with unique, dynamic communities in the region I call home.”
In addition to his work with Downtown Bentonville, Hintz was executive director of Fayetteville Downtown Partners for three years.
Hintz will have some momentum with which to work. Several downtown groups have been active in recent years.
The Downtown Springdale Alliance is comprised of business, civic and community leaders and the mission is to “create excitement for a diverse community to gather, shop, play and live. The Historic Springdale District extends from Huntsville Avenue to the north, Maple Avenue to the south, Old Missouri Road to the east and Pleasant Street to the west.
In May 2013, the association approved a Springdale Downtown Revitalization Master Plan that contains four phases. This summer, the Springdale City Council approved the initial phase of that plan. Kent Hirsch, president of the association, said the $100,000 needed to complete the study came from the A&P Commission, Springdale Public Facilities Board and the City of Springdale.
The rest of the funds for the various phases are intended to come from almost entirely private resources, however. The initial cost estimates are about $20.6 million, not including paying for property acquisition, according to the master plan documents.
Main Street Rogers has been working for several years to keep its historic downtown area active. Kerry Jensen, who recently worked as director of Main Street Rogers, said the group’s goal was to make downtown more attractive and therefore to attract more businesses.
In 2010, 26 new businesses came to the region and that number has remained steady or grown each year. As of late October, 23 new businesses had come into downtown. This is a gross number and does not include businesses that have left.
“Downtown now has a soul,” he said. “It’s taken on a whole new life.”
Downtown Bentonville saw more than 600,000 visitors last year with a vibrant Farmer’s Market and First Friday events adding to the steady stream of patrons to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. That success is proof to many that long-term plans can come into fruition and can succeed.
Bentonville has also invested in a trail system around the city that connects to the downtown. Since 2006 the city has built more than 20 miles of trails at a cost of roughly $1 million per mile.
For Fayetteville, the revitalization the downtown area happened a decade ago and now the mission is expansion and promotion, said City of Fayetteville Chief of Staff Don Marr.
“We’ve always been focused on downtown,” he said. “Our goal is to continue doing that. Downtown is the core of a community and that’s why we’ve been committed to it as long as we have.”
Continued expansion requires the help of taxpayers and Fayetteville voters continue to support these efforts recently approving $10.9 million in bonds that will retire $1.5 million in remaining debt on the Town Center, $6.9 million to fund expansions at the Walton Arts Center and $3.5 million to help build a regional park.