Bentonville unveils redevelopment plan for downtown area

story and photos by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Bentonville is known across the region as a city on the rise – leading the metro area in new home sales, building permits and often sales tax revenue growth, while also having the smallest population among the four major cities situated along the Interstate 540 corridor.

That’s not by accident, according to Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin, who told several dozen residents and business professionals Wednesday (Dec. 18) that intentional planning on the city’s part is crucial for spurring on outside investment.

City officials unveiled a large redevelopment plan that encompasses the southeastern quadrant of the 18-acre downtown area. The plan prototypes were completed by Hight Jackson & Associates over the past three to four months. Community and economic development director Troy Galloway told The City Wire the approximate cost of the prototype planning was somewhere around $17,500.

“We felt like this plan was needed given the near-over capacity levels of the immediate downtown square area and this southeastern district is somewhat ripe for redevelopment as the new Razorback Greenway runs right through this area,” Galloway said.

There are three vacant industrial facilities in this area that were the former manufacturing plants for Tyson Foods, Kraft and the old Bentonville Ice House, which present some interesting options for investors.

“Our mayor has vision and allows us the creativity to be intentional about the communities we help create in Bentonville. That vision is all out creating communities where people want to be, where they want to spend their time,” Galloway said.

The plan has three main concepts:
• Experience Districts
• Residential Density
• Multimodal Connectivity

Within those three concepts there are sub plans for three distinct districts all within walking distance of one another and downtown square.

The Arts District would be flanked by the Bentonville Library on Main Street and encompass four or five blocks or so of redevelopment that caters to the Arts. Allie McKenzie, one of the architects who worked on the plan prototype renderings, said the vision for this area would include a public plaza, studio space, inexpensive living space for working artists, small cafe’s and a public arts center.

The Market District encompasses several blocks around the vacant Tyson Foods facility on 8th Street and the empty Kraft cheese plant on S.E. E Street. The Razorback Greenway runs through this district and should see more foot and bike traffic as the Greenway is completed next year. McKenzie said the Market District plan will center around the culinary arts and hopefully spawn new commercial development for restaurants, overflow plaza space for expanded Farmer’s Market as well as work; living  and educational space.

The two major streets that connect these two districts — Main Street and Southwest A  Street—would also need some redevelopment. The plan calls for denser multifamily development on the perimeter of the Market District as well as the Arts District, with single family homes, shops and mixed use space along both Main Street and Southwest A.

The third component of the overall plan is “Great Neighborhoods." McKenzie said for the businesses in these two districts to thrive, traffic is key, whether by foot, cycle or car.

Galloway said the plan is in no way intended for the city to acquire property, condemn property or develop property. It is a blueprint that the economic development team can show investors and developers who want to help create these districts where people want to spend their time and money. He said the Walton Arts Center that will come to Bentonville in the future is not part of these plan discussions.

“We would hope if these districts do develop the Walton Arts Center would be located as a major anchor,” Galloway added.

Mayor McCaslin said the city’s role in this process is to the put out vision which can be supported with infrastructure investment in roads, sidewalks and sewer. He said it will be private investment that will shape the final outcome, much like has happened on the town square.

“We continue to draw investment from inside and outside the region, today I attended an opening of a new restaurant (Taziki’s) in town. The owners are from Pulaski County, who spent some time in town and liked what they saw here. This makes their fifth restaurant in the state,” McCaslin said.

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The proposed redevelopment plan is expected to be submitted to the planning commission in early January and if approved will go to the city council.

The first infrastructure phase related to this proposed plan is set to begin in January with sidewalks being constructed along 6th Street, one of the main arteries that runs through the proposed Arts and Market Districts. That project is being funded through a grant the city received this year from the Endeavor Foundation.

Galloway said there are no plans to widen Sixth Street as it should likely remain largely a residential street.

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