Aug 14, 2023 - Development

Downtown Springdale ups its game

The view down Emma Avenue. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

Community leaders have long wanted to make downtown Springdale more inviting, and that dream is looking more realistic lately.

What's happening: A ton of development.

  • At least three new restaurants — Medusa Bar & Grill, Bienvenue and HomeGrown — have opened in recent months.
  • The city is working on a major renovation of Luther George Park.
  • Construction on the Walton Family Foundation's Market Center of the Ozarks is underway.
  • The Jones Center is in the early stages of an expansion.
  • An investment group bought the former First Security Bank building on Emma Avenue last year. Onyx Coffee Lab is moving a massive project there, including its chocolate manufacturing.
  • More housing is on the way.

Background: The Springdale City Council approved a master plan for downtown in 2015 and a revised version in 2022. In the past few years, the city made streetscape improvements to Emma Avenue and Walter Turnbow Park, where the downtown Springdale Alliance now hosts free live music during the summer.

  • The area was designated as an opportunity zone by the federal government in 2018, which has incentivized investment there, Jill Dabbs, executive director at Downtown Springdale Alliance, told Axios.

The city's planning director, Patsy Christie, says two projects in particular helped kick off the revitalization — Razorback Greenway coming through downtown and bringing in people from other towns, and Tyson Foods opening a building in 2016 that has people working downtown during the day.

  • The work of the Downtown Springdale Alliance and other community initiatives has also been a catalyst.

The big picture: The goal is to make downtown vibrant for anyone, regardless of age or background, Dabbs said.

  • "The timing is right now, and I'm really proud of Springdale for having the foresight years ago."

The intrigue: Dabbs called the Market Center of the Ozarks an exciting project and "an asset that serves our community, not attracts tourism."

  • The 45,000-square-foot building is set to open next year, Kathryn Heller of the Walton Family Foundation told Axios. It's designed to help local farmers and food entrepreneurs grow their businesses and give NWA residents better access to locally grown food.
  • Spring Creek Food Hub and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture will operate out of the market.
  • The Division of Agriculture will process and package food gathered by the Spring Creek Food Hub from farmers and return it to the hub to sell, John Swenson, manager of the Arkansas Food Innovation Center at the division, told Axios.
  • The UA division will also help run part of the market intended to give low-cost resources to food entrepreneurs. Food truck owners can use sanitizing equipment or space for food preparation. Owners of catering businesses must use certified facilities, which are sparse in NWA, Swenson said. The market can provide a space to make it easier to run a business.

What's next: Christie has wanted enough buzz downtown for there to be a parking problem for 20 years. Now that it may actually happen, the city will need to get ahead of it and look at solutions, she said.

  • A developer has also submitted plans for a hotel on East Emma Avenue. The Planning Commission will hear the proposal next month.
  • Voters recently approved a bond issue that will allow the city to build a new senior center downtown, replacing the nearby existing one. The city hasn't received any proposals yet to develop the existing senior center.
  • Improvements like wider sidewalks and benches along East Emma from Park Street to South Missouri Road are also in the works.

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