Block, Street & Building | Vol. 5 | 2019

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The Best of New Urbanism in Arkansas

MAIN EVENT Argenta Dreams Big on Main Street


Volume 5 | 2019



4500 Burrow Drive | North Little Rock | 501.758.7443 301 W. Dickson, Suite 210 | Fayetteville | 479.935.4009




BLOCK STREET&BUILDING The Best of New Urbanism in Arkansas


the main EVENT

North Little Rock Officials Dream Big for Argenta’s Next Phase


the new HARVEST Arkansas Communities Evolve as Industry Hubs



Letter from the Editor


10 Creating a Marketplace

Celebrating Little Rock’s River Market

12 Small Communities, Big Impact Main Street Programs Lead the Way

18 Uncommon Communities

Giving People the Power to Create Meaningful Change

24 A Leading Role

Searcy Goes Big-Time for Small Businesses

31 The 1907

Case Study in Adaptive Reuse

32 Pathway to Success A Natural State for Trails

44 Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

Comprehensive City Planning Helps Communities Grow Intelligently

50 The South Street Cottages Floor Plans Plus Location Equals Winning


new 52 aHOPE Pine Bluff Shifts Revitalization into High Gear


gambling on the FUTURE Arkansas Cities Await Impact of Casinos

56 Arkansas the Turnaround State How Opportunity Zones Could Help Disinvested Communities

60 Argenta Plaza

Shaping Life in North Little Rock

New Urbanism Champions 14 George B. McGill 16 Danielle Housenick 20 Kevin A. Smith 22 Greg Nabholz 30 Scott McGehee 46 Fayetteville Roots Festival 48 Mark R. Hayes 51 Octavio Logo 59 Talicia Richardson 61 Kelly Damphousse 66 Pam Griffin ON THE COVER: The envisioned Argenta neighborhood in North Little Rock paints a tranquil yet social picture. Artwork courtesy of Taggart Architects.

BLOCK STREET&BUILDING A Special Publication of Arkansas Times Produced in partnership with Arkansas Municipal League

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Letter from the Editor “My goal was to craft the magazine as an ode to the grit and determination of Arkansas cities and the people who nurture them.”


s editor of Block, Street and Building over the past four years, my goal was to craft the magazine as an ode to the grit and determination of Arkansas cities and the people who nurture them. The work of creating great places is hard and often fraught with setbacks and frustrations. As the pages of this magazine can attest, however, Arkansas has much to celebrate and be proud of. There is an amazing tapestry of talented humans across this state! While it has been a great project to work on, I am stepping down as the Block, Street and Building editor to focus on several new projects. I am turning the reins over to Matthew Petty, a respected colleague with whom I’ve worked on several urban master plans. His passion for strong cities and inclusive community development will serve the magazine well. He is a developer, elected official, a teacher who trains rookie developers to execute projects in their own neighborhoods and a coach who helps cities address a myriad of issues. I look forward to seeing how his new point of view will inform future editions. It has been an honor and a delight to serve as storyteller and advocate for our Arkansas cities through this publication. Thanks to the great folks at the Arkansas Times for inviting me to play in their sandbox. And to all those folks that cultivate the flame of great places in their own neighborhoods, please keep up the great work. You truly make a difference!

Daniel Hintz Editor, Block, Street & Building



Innovation in design ʖ˙˨˟˟˦˘˥˩˜˖˘Ё˥ˠ

Architecture Engineering Construction Services Energy Services Interiors Planning Sustainable Design


creating a MARKETPLACE Celebrating Little Rock’s River Market



An antique postcard gives a glimpse into Little Rock’s downtown district.


n the mid 1990s, the Little Rock Farmer’s Market was housed in the parking facility at Sixth and Scott in what was then a struggling downtown. Combined with ongoing efforts to revitalize the area, Little Rock leadership and downtown stakeholders felt the market would better serve its vendors, customers and the downtown revitalization efforts by moving to East Markham Street in Riverfront Park. The goals for the location change included creating a more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing location and offering an impetus for further residential development in the nascent downtown. The hope was this initiative would act as a catalyst for future economic development along the river. The project was originally the vision of three men—Little Rock developer Jimmy Moses, City Director Dr. Dean Kumpuris and architect Rick Redden—and these

stalwart pioneers led a passionate group to embark upon a fundraising effort to bring the River Market from plan to reality. An initial $500,000 was secured from proceeds of a Little Rock bond initiative. In addition, U.S. Rep. Ray Thornton secured a $1 million federal grant with matching private sector funding of $4 million and a $250,000 gift from the Ottenheimer Foundation. Following a study provided by Robert Gorman of RTKL Design in Baltimore, the neighborhood’s market hall and pavilions were constructed and opened over the July 4 weekend in 1996. What followed over the next 23 years has been explosive growth in residential, business and tourism development in the neighborhood, the likes of which have rarely been seen since. Early adopters of the vision began to invest in the surrounding area, including First Security Bank, Crews and Associates, multiple hotels and restaurants, and Axciom


Corporation. Other foundational elements to come along have included the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, Central Arkansas Library System main library branch, Heifer International, Clinton School of Public Service and Museum of Discovery. “Ottenheimer Market Hall has been a key catalyst in the development of downtown Little Rock,” said Gretchen Hall, president/CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. Hall said the aggregate economic and cultural impact of the adjacent public and private investment has been enormous to downtown. The Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city of Little Rock have retained a consultant to evaluate and reimagine the market hall. “We want the Market Hall to continue to be the anchor and economic driver for the downtown entertainment, convention and visitor district for years to come,” Hall said.

The bright, colorful River Market not only stemmed the blight and decay that had reached Little Rock’s downtown but set the stage for future development.


small communites,BIG IMPACT Main Street Programs Lead the Way BY GREG PHILLIPS, DIRECTOR MAIN STREET ARKANSAS

Siloam Springs blends quaint historic charm with new amenities, public art and community festivals.



cross Arkansas, everyday folks are working behind the scenes in communities such as Conway, Eureka Springs, Ozark, Mena and Fort Smith as part of the Main Street Arkansas and Arkansas Downtown Network community programs. To be successful, they follow Main Street America’s Four-Point Approach of organization, design, economic vitality and promotion. The programs are overseen by Main Street Arkansas, now in its 35th year, and have grown from five original cities to 20 Main Street programs and 17 Arkansas Downtown Network communities. While many of these have small staffs, much of the core work is done by volunteers. The Arkansas Main Street program is a division

of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. “I’ve been impressed over the years with the dedication of our Main Street and Arkansas Downtown Network partners, from the program directors to the volunteers. Their hard work really shows with Main Street Arkansas’s 2018 economic development numbers,” says DAH Director Stacy Hurst, citing growth in various new businesses and public improvement projects statewide. These include growth over 2017 investments in façade renovation, building rehab and new construction numbers. “This program really works when communities buy into the four core values,” Hurst said. “You can see notable progress in these downtowns, thus setting a positive example for the entire state.”


Main Street West Memphis is a good example: Executive Director Deborah Abernathy has been working with the city for the past several years on a landmark project to transform the West Memphis water tower. “It made no sense to paint it, like every other tower, or tear it down, both of which would have been much more expensive than turning it into an art form,” Abernathy says. Ultimately, the city installed a lighting feature funded with a $245,000 grant from the city of West Memphis and designed by artist Randy Walker. The project highlights the district’s rich history relating to rockabilly and blues music. “One of our goals is to bring tourists who are already cycling and walking The Big River Crossing to the Main Street District,”


MAIN STREET ARKANSAS PROGRAMS • Argenta Downtown Council • (North Little Rock) • Main Street Batesville • Main Street Blytheville • Conway Downtown Partnership • Main Street Dumas • Main Street El Dorado • Main Street Eureka Springs • Main Street Helena • Downtown Jonesboro Association • Downtown Little Rock Partnership • Main Street Osceola • Main Street Ozark • Main Street Paragould • Pine Bluff Downtown Development, Inc. • Main Street Russellville • Main Street Searcy • Main Street Siloam Springs • SoMa501 (Little Rock) • Main Street Texarkana • Main Street West Memphis

Big River Crossing, the country’s longest public active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge, connects Main Street to Main Street, a 10-mile multi-modal corridor combining attractions in West Memphis and Memphis.

Abernathy said. “The tower was the original 1920s tower that supplied the first water lines to the business district of West Memphis. Just as the Harahan Bridge was maintained in its original state for The Big River Crossing, so is the water tower.” Across the state in Northwest Arkansas, the Main Street town of Siloam Springs is in the midst of a $3.6 million amphitheater, splash pad, farmers market and green space project called Memorial Park. Funded by private grants, this project has been on the drawing board since 2014. “We are delighted about this addition because it will bring new feet to our sidewalks and into our businesses,” Siloam Springs Director Kelsey Howard says. “But beyond the obvious benefits, the design and location of this park are sure to encourage a new level of community connectivity.”

The project, situated next to a new library, is intended to serve as a social and recreational hub between the historic district and the up-andcoming East Main Street. Howard said Memorial Park also opened the door for public art projects, and Main Street has already commissioned four original sculptures from artist Dave Andrus. At the Downtown Jonesboro Association, Director Lindsey Wingo also reports growth along Main Street. “In the last month, we have seen four new businesses sign leases,” Wingo said. “Main Street Arkansas has provided fantastic opportunities for Downtown Jonesboro. With their help, we have distributed thousands of dollars in façade grants and recently completed a beautiful new lighting project that enhances safety and aesthetics in our downtown area.”

ARKANSAS DOWNTOWN NETWORK PROGRAMS • Downtown Arkadelphia • Clarksville/Johnson County Chamber of Commerce • Forrest City Downtown Revitalization Project, Inc. • 64.6 Downtown (Fort Smith) • Main Street Hardy • Hope Downtown Network • Malvern Downtown Development Corp. • Mena Downtown Partners • Monticello/Drew County Chamber of Commerce • Main Street Morrilton • Newport Economic Development Commission • Main Street Paris • Pocahontas Downtown • Main Street Prairie Grove • Rector Downtown Central • Warren/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce • Wynne Downtown Revitalization



Why is transparency in local government important and what are some of the mechanisms you are using to ensure citizens have access to information? Transparency is the key to the trust of our citizens. In the mayor’s office, we want citizens to see exactly where the money is being spent. We want to be able to update citizens on current projects, expenses and when the time of completion should be. We provide our citizens the means to see the Board of Directors meetings in real time through a city televised access channel that broadcasts board meetings live. The city also communicates through social media and media releases.

GEORGE B. McGILL Mayor, City of Fort Smith


he first African American to run for the position of mayor in Fort Smith, George McGill was elected to the position in 2018. A former small business owner of McGill Insurance & Financial Services, McGill holds a B.S. in Education and an M.B.A. from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He had previously served in the Arkansas House of Representatives, acting as Deputy Pro Tempore for the House and actively served on numerous committees, including Aging, Children, Youth Legislative and Military Affairs committees. He has been an active member of the Fort Smith community, serving on the planning commission and the River Front Task Force Committee. He’s also been active on boards and commissions at the state level, including the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board and the Arkansas Prevailing Wage Commission. What are some of the biggest surprises when you became mayor? I was surprised by how well the city of Fort Smith serves the more than 250,000 people who live, play and work in the Arkansas River Valley. Within the scope of these services, however, I was surprised the mayor’s office did not have a director-level staff person in charge of strategic planning or constituent services. I have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly the administration began to trust my leadership and commitment to get things done. What are three of the top initiatives the mayor’s office will undertake in the next year? First, create an oversight committee for the largest departments that provide essential services, water and sewer. Second, provide the mayor’s office with a Director of Constituent Services and Strategic Planning and, third, help the city move forward on current lawsuits.


How do you balance the needs of the various areas of the city, particularly between high growth areas like Fort Chaffee and downtown? In order to balance the needs of any area of the city, I focus on the city as a whole. We will make investments that will begin to pay for themselves through a stronger, healthier economy. The goal is to make every part of our city better than before and to have the best infrastructure in the country. Why was the downtown master plan needed? What are the next steps in implementing that plan? A downtown master plan gives a framework for the vision we have for the western edge of the city, and those plans are already being implemented. Upscale housing is expanding downtown, The Unexpected arts project has attracted worldwide attention, entertainment downtown draws visitors from the whole region, and our new theatre will be completely restored in the next year and a half. Fort Smith is moving forward to bigger and better things.


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Rogers, AR

Lowell, AR

Main Street Russellville

Danielle Housenick is best described as a servant leader, happiest when contributing to the community. An associate member of Junior Auxiliary of Russellville and current board member of the River Valley Adult Learning Alliance, Housenick has spent hours working with children and leaders to benefit the community. She was inspired to become a downtown leader after working at Dog Ear Books on West Main Street. What role does Main Street Russellville play in downtown development and how does the organization utilize the existing downtown master plan in its strategies? Main Street plays a vital role in downtown development as the key player in developing the master plan, which still serves as a basis for downtown development.

Rogers, AR HOT SPRINGS, AR Fort Smith, AR

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How does your organization define economic development and describe the working relationship between the Russellville Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau and city of Russellville? Main Street Russellville has an excellent working relationship with our chamber, other local organizations and city entities. I serve on several different committees and our Board of Directors is comprised of members of civic organizations and local businesses. One group that I am proud to be a part of is the Russellville Calendar Girls. The group contains a representative from various city departments and organizations with the common goal of improving Russellville. We work together to create a calendar that exhibits the beauty of our city and reminds our community of all the events and services we provide. What are some of the biggest challenges facing downtown Russellville and what are some strategies being deployed to address them? Downtown Russellville has many challenges, including parking, walkability, beautification and business recruitment and retention. I believe that many of these issues can be solved through a “domino effect” strategy. For example, by addressing the look and feel of our downtown, we draw more people to the area, which will lead to more shops. The most difficult aspect of this work is getting people to understand there are no quick and easy solutions to these bigger challenges. It will take time and the efforts of our entire community to transform Russellville into the downtown we deserve. How does Arkansas Tech University impact downtown development strategies? How are you partnering with them and who is leading the charge on implementing the El Paso Avenue Master Plan? Arkansas Tech is an extremely valuable partner in our community, and one of my goals is to increase student engagement in our downtown. This fall, ATU will be offering an interdisciplinary course based on the Main Street Four Point Approach. The students and I will identify problems and work with local stakeholders to propose solutions. I am very excited to collaborate with ATU and discover student-driven ideas for our downtown.



lans are underway by Cromwell Architects Engineers to convert the old Columbia County Jail, a historic twostory brick building located in Magnolia, into a boutique bed-and-breakfast-style hotel called La Bella Vita of Magnolia. The project, which sits right off the Magnolia Square, is owned by Gina Blann and her cousin Pam Goodman. Clad with gargoyles and steel-plated doors, the original structure, completed around 1930, had jail cells on the second floor and a sheriff’s office and living spaces for the sheriff’s family on the ground floor. There was also a holding cell and “confession room” on the ground floor adjacent to the sheriff’s office. The building was used as the Columbia County Jail into the 1970s and has sat vacant for nearly 20 years. Designed in the Italianate style, the exterior of the building will be cleaned and preserved, while the interior will be transformed into an 11-room boutique hotel. The hotel will include a dining area and faux fireplace in the lobby and reception area. A small addition on the south side of the building will house an elevator and a new stairway. A large deck that adjoins the building is planned for outdoor dining and events. Each guest room is unique, varying in size, layout, finishes, decorations, furniture and lighting. Two of the guest rooms on the ground floor have doors directly to the exterior to allow pets access to a fenced yard. A large handicap-accessible room is on the ground floor. Old jail cell bars will be used to create a jailhouse -themed social area on the second floor where people can gather. Construction is planned to begin this year. VOLUME 5 | 2019 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 17

uncommon COMMUNITIES Giving People the Power to Create Meaningful Change BY DWAIN HEBDA


Recreational amenities are important elements in quality of life, such as this golf course in Cabot. (Above): Uncommon Community cohort members collaborate on a project during a recent meeting.



mpowering people who love their community and want to be involved but don’t know where to start is the goal of Uncommon Communities. Using a cohort model, Uncommon Communities lets community activists from different towns network and engage, sharing common issues and brainstorming creative solutions. “There’s just so many things that I think small-town USA is dealing with right now,” said Ali Sugg, owner and general manager of Red River Radio as well as a city council member in Heber Springs. “One of the things I’ve learned this past year is we all have the same issues. It may just be on a different scale.” “Once you hear other communities talk about what’s going on in their town, whether it’s a dying main street or trying to find their identity and how to promote your brand outside your community, we all have those same things that we want to get a grasp on to make things better.” The program was founded in 2015 in partnership with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and Dr. Vaughn Grisham, professor emeritus of sociology and founder of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi. Uncommon Communities utilizes the Rockefeller Ethic of collaborative dialogue to facilitate discussions between diverse community participants to connect their development aspirations with tools for lasting, sustainable change. Each cohort meets 10 times over two years, with each session centered on a different theme such as economic development, placemaking and sustainable leadership. “There is not a community in Arkansas that doesn’t want what Uncommon Communities and the staff at the Rockefeller Institute are offering us,” Beebe participant Jesse Boyce said. “Basically, it’s given us the educational building blocks to make our towns progressively forward-thinking; towns where the townspeople are strong and proud.” The current cohort started in September 2018 and includes the communities of Sherwood, Cabot, Beebe and Heber Springs. Each community is expected to take on a specific community project and is held accountable for progress by the other members of the cohort. The results have been impressive and longlasting. Sherwood participants are also partnering with the local schools to create a mural on what they call “the tallest skyscraper in Sherwood,” while the Beebe group has organized a successful 5K and are talking about expanding the race into a large festival. Cabot members created the Cabot Foundation for Arts & Culture to increase creative endeavors in the downtown district. Heber Springs developed tools to spread the message that its community is a great place to visit all times of year, partnering with students from the local EAST program. Andrea Cole, development officer/major gifts with the Institutional Advancement Office of Arkansas State University-Beebe and a member of the Beebe group, said she found the support and suggestions of the group illuminating. “Cabot is, literally, our next-door neighbor,” Cole said. “It was very interesting the first meeting that we went to. Cabot said, ‘We wish we were Beebe on so many levels.’ And Beebe said, ‘Well we wish we had what Cabot has,’ because they have this growth and this economic boost. But by the same token, they don’t have a downtown and we have a downtown. So, all of us seemed to have the same struggles.” Uncommon Communities is supported by First Electric Cooperative and is also supported by USDA grant funding.

Community events like Cabot Fest help promote economic development. (Below): Mark Peterson, UALR Institute for Economic Advancement, addresses the Uncommon Communities group.

“Once you hear other communities talk about what’s going on in their town ... we all have those same things that we want to get a grasp on to make things better.” —Ali Sugg, Heber Springs city council member VOLUME 5 | 2019 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 19

GROWING A DELTA TOWN to native son Conway Twitty with the Delta Roots Country Festival. In addition, we have also made investments to strengthen our Civil War tourism through the rehabilitation of several historic sites throughout the city. What is the relationship between the county and city governments and what are some ways those two entities are working together for mutual benefit? We work next to each other in Court Square so collaboration and communication are just as easy as walking across the hallway. We have partnered in the construction of the County Justice facility and are currently talking about the possible consolidation of dispatch for emergency services to create efficiencies in the system.

KEVIN A. SMITH Mayor, City of Helena-West Helena


evin A. Smith is a former state senator and a co-owner of Smith Insurance Agency who was elected mayor of Helena-West Helena in November 2018 and took office January 1, 2019. Smith represented nine counties in the Arkansas Senate, including Phillips County, leaving office due to term limits after 10 years. He was chairman of the Legislative Joint Audit Committee and chaired the subcommittee overseeing city government financial audits and reports. Smith worked for then-Gov. Bill Clinton (D-Ark.) at the staff level on issues facing the Delta region and served more than four years on the staff of then-U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) in Washington, D.C. Smith is a 1980 graduate of Helena-West Helena Central High School, attended Arkansas State University and graduated with a B.A. from George Washington University. What are some of the biggest challenges facing Helena-West Helena and how are you addressing these issues? Like many Delta towns, we are challenged with a declining population and thus a diminishing tax base. This contributes to the challenges of attracting new industry and retaining a diverse business portfolio, which provides needed jobs. And all this contributes to our crime challenge. While we continue to address these issues every day, Helena-West Helena also has a wide array of assets that bolster our efforts. The incredibly active Main Street Helena program creates activities for the entire community. Public and private investment in the restoration and revitalization of our historic downtown buildings set the stage for new businesses to move into the community and the A&P Commission’s beautification efforts lead the way for a more beautiful Helena-West Helena. How is the city incorporating its cultural and historic assets—with particular focus on the blues—within its development strategies? We continue to showcase and celebrate our city’s deep heritage of blues music through the broadcast of King Biscuit Time at the Delta Cultural Center. Our premier event, the King Biscuit Blues Festival, is celebrating its 34th year in 2019 and we’re introducing a new signature event as a tribute


What role has the KIPP school program played in the redevelopment of downtown and what are some of the ancillary benefits of that program in the city? The renovation of the KIPP school property paved the way for the overall improved aesthetic for our downtown district and thus prompted a renewed interest in additional public and private development. Several Teach for America teachers, who serve in the KIPP School, have also stayed beyond their commitment period and relocated to our city, providing great new energy in the effort to move Helena-West Helena forward. How is Helena-West Helena supporting public events and what are some specific examples of direct alignment between the municipality and private production agencies working within the city? We have incredibly strong local partnerships to produce the Delta Roots Festival that include the city of Helena-West Helena, the Advertising and Promotions Commission, Main Street Helena, Historic Helena Association, Chamber of Commerce, Delta Cultural Center, Arkansas Parks & Tourism, the Sonny Boy Blues Society and many more. In addition, our local volunteer corps greets visitors and provides tours from the American Queen and American Duchess steamboats.


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COMMUNITIES From the Hillsboro Gateway Plan in El Dorado to the Main Street Revitalization in Little Rock to the roads and bridges that connect them. Crafton Tull is Building Stronger Communities by renewing a sense of place through shared experience.

At the corner of Third and Rock streets in Little Rock, the River Market Tower brings together condo-living, restaurants, shopping and entertainment in the growing River Market District. VOLUME 5 | 2019 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 21


a vehicle for people to give back, but they’re not just making a donation. They’re actually investing in a real estate deal. Is there something counter-intuitive about investing in these areas that you have to get over as an investor? An incentive doesn’t make it a sure thing. How do you balance your risk instincts? This is where true community leadership comes in to bring people in and put together a plan. Communities have to have leadership; you don’t have to have proven leadership, you just have to know that you’ve got leadership in place that gets it when it comes to economic development, especially regarding a strong downtown. No matter what size the community is, you’ve got to have a strong downtown to have any chance of growing or even to survive.

GREG NABHOLZ CEO, Nabholz Properties


reg Nabholz is an expert on downtown revitalization, urban infill and place-making economic development strategies, having developed properties throughout Arkansas.

There’s been a lot said and written about opportunity zones. How well does this live up to the hype? The reason you’re hearing so much about it is it’s a new federal program, enacted by Congress in 2017. It’s effectively a very, very valuable tool for funneling money into projects and it creates a way to really help gin up new development in downtown areas. Of course, you already have the historic tax credits and if you’re in a low-income census track you also have new market tax credits. And there are other incentives out there that can be added in the mix. Being able to combine different types of incentive tax credits can really escalate in a big way. How complicated are opportunity zones to manage from a paperwork and regulatory standpoint? It’s probably one of the most streamlined programs out there. Our experience so far in this, because we have our own project in downtown North Little Rock, is it’s a fairly smooth process. That part is encouraging. There are programs that are really cumbersome, such as that new market tax credit. The size of the project has to be $7-8 million minimum to really even make sense because there are so many fees and it’s so complicated to do. The federal historic tax credits are a little bit more cumbersome than our state tax credits; our state tax credits are pretty easy. There’s another vehicle that is relatively new—cooperative investments— which allow people to come together to invest in a project. Say you have a lot of people from a small town that no longer live in that town, but they have an affinity and they want to see that town grow. Cooperative investments are


What will we be talking about in real estate and development in the years to come? What trends does the future hold? It’s just starting to come together in Arkansas. We’re realizing we can capitalize on a lot of things that we just haven’t been capitalizing on in the past. We’ve seen some amazing things happen in El Dorado and Northwest Arkansas; Fort Smith’s got some new things happening as well. And Pine Bluff, I think, is going to be a place you’re going to see 10 years from now and go, “Wow!” On the other hand, Arkansas is still in this mindset that we have to go out and recruit companies to come here. That’s an important part of economic development, obviously, but we’re not focusing enough on growing our own companies. They’re getting ignored, in my humble opinion. What would you do about the labor shortage in Arkansas? What does it take to get people here to fuel that growth? The best way for us to grow and retain talent is just go into some of these overcrowded, high-priced places in America and say, “Hey, you can move to Arkansas and you can have the best of both worlds—have this great quality of life while expanding your spending power.” I think we’re still missing a whole part of that.


IT ALL STARTED WITH TOWN SPIRIT Arkansas towns like Searcy are revitalizing their downtowns, and small businesses are growing because of the renewed interest in urban development. Thanks to the strong town spirit of Searcy and the Hulu reality TV show Small Business Revolution – Main Street, six of the community’s small businesses are benefitting from a $500,000 makeover. It was Searcy’s community spirit that provided the winning edge over 12,000 nominated towns and five other finalists in a nationwide vote. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission is proud of Searcy and other Arkansas communities that have committed time, energy and resources to reenergize their downtowns.

When the spirit moves you, visit to see how AEDC can help your small business.


a leading ROLE Searcy Goes Big-Time for Small Businesses BY MOLLY MITCHELL


Mat Faulkner, who spearheaded Searcy’s successful bid to appear on Hulu’s Small Business Revolution reality show.


earcy, Arkansas—White County seat and home of several economy-boosting institutions like Unity Health White County Medical Center, Harding University and a Walmart distribution center—has long searched for ways to bring positive attention to its community. But being reality TV star is a new one, even for those thinking outside the box The town recently won a spot on Hulu’s Small Business Revolution, a reality show in which businesses in a small town are chosen to receive $500,000 in investment and appear on an episode showing the progress of their redevelopment. The show is the brainchild of the Deluxe Corp., a company that provides services to small businesses, including logo design, marketing, payroll services, checking products and packaging. Mat Faulkner, owner of Think Idea Studio and

chairman of the small business committee for the Searcy Chamber of Commerce, discovered the show and filled out the application for Searcy. When Searcy made the top 20 out of 12,000 hopefuls, the town came together to go for the win. Small businesses, local government, volunteers and current and former residents came out of the woodwork for watch parties at the Rialto movie theater, pep rallies and a huge social media push to vote in the final rounds. “I’ve never seen such an event that drew the entire community together for one unified effort like this has done,” Faulkner said. “I feel like people knew that we’ve been in a rut for quite some time and we needed to make progress.” “It was just really awesome to see how one particular effort could unite so many different people from all walks of life. The schools that


normally compete against each other were all together with their mascots and everything, every church had it on their leaderboards, all the businesses and banks and everybody who typically would be in competition were all the sudden pulling together in one direction.” While Deluxe got into the reality TV business as a canny marketing tool, the $500,000 award is real money for the small towns in question, especially for the small businesses that end up being selected to receive a piece of that investment. Searcy will be the subject of the fourth season, set to air on Hulu this fall, and the three previous winners have seen significant benefits from being featured on the show. Wabash, Indiana, won Small Business Revolution in 2016 and has seen a lasting impact from the show. In 2014, Wabash was designated a Stellar


In addition to investment and makeovers from the show, Searcy businesses can now access a new Revolution Fund by Arkansas Community Foundation.

Community, including a $4.5 million investment from the state which the town has already put to use revitalizing its downtown. When Wabash Mayor Scott Long took office in January 2016, he quickly got on board with Small Business Revolution. Long cites more businesses locating interesting stores downtown, a hopping real estate market and an influx of new residents as some of the show’s payoffs. “It’s just encouraged growth throughout our downtown, and that continues to this day,” Long said. “I think that Small Business Revolution really gave us the motivation, on top of everything else, to continue pressing forward and improve things as we go from year to year.” For Coty Skinner, owner of ARganic Woodworks and one of the six Searcy businesses chosen to get a makeover on the show, the Small Business Revolution

is taking his business outside his garage. “I like to say it’s a company I started by accident,” Skinner says of ARganic Woodwork’s origin. When the Skinner family needed more room around the dinner table to accommodate foster children, he built his own and got the idea to do the same to help other families who wanted to foster. He started building and selling tables through Facebook and word of mouth, and for every third table he sold, he built and donated one table to a foster family for free. “Marketing wasn’t my strong point, and just from being chosen, I’ve seen a boost in requests. We just moved locations; before that I was still working out of my garage.” Skinner said. Skinner’s vision for the future is focused on solving more than just a place at the dinner table for foster kids. His growth has enabled him to hire

more employees, which precipitated the move to a bigger location. Through ARganic Woodwork, Skinner also hopes to address the problem of unemployment among kids aging out of the system by providing them jobs. And as a veteran, he also intends to hire more comrades in arms, too. Since Small Business Revolution, Skinner has noticed a definitive change in the community. While only six small businesses were chosen to receive part of the money, other small businesses in town are seeing more community support and engagement, including a new “Revolution Fund” established through the Arkansas Community Foundation to crowd-fund support for other small businesses in town. “More people are getting involved,” Skinner said. “They’re realizing that they can do more as a community and for the community.”


the main EVENT North Little Rock Officials Dream Big for Argenta’s Next Phase BY DWAIN HEBDA




or decades, North Little Rock played the shabby little sister to Little Rock’s debutante, but those days are long gone. North Little Rock —especially the Argenta district in the city’s historic downtown —is today the belle of the economic development ball in Central Arkansas, if not the entire state. “We’ve got a lot of great things going for us,” said Alan New, partner and lead designer with Taggart Architects, which is building a new corporate headquarters in the heart of the neighborhood. “I truly think Argenta is poised to be one of the most significant cities in Arkansas, if not the most significant city in Arkansas.” The city’s latest project only underscores New’s bold claim. North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith unveiled to Block Street & Building in May the next phase in his vision for transforming the city’s core, reimagining roughly 5 acres across four largely underused city blocks “My next vision for our downtown district is where our City Services Building is, at 200 Main Street,” Smith said. “We own that building, we own the building next door, we own two or three parking lots over there. There are a good two square blocks that we have access to and then probably another two square blocks that others own that would be available for development. That’s a pretty good little district to develop as a clean slate. “I mean, what a great opportunity. The property is all river views, skyline views, on the trolley line, on the bus line. It’s got everything you could ever want when you go to develop a property.” Smith got the idea for the project after visiting a development in Plano, Texas. He was captivated by the walkability of the area and the many amenities that were seemingly at arm’s reach throughout. He returned to Arkansas convinced he’d found the omega to the alpha Argenta Plaza rising out of ground on the opposite end of Main Street. “I fell in love with a little district in Plano called Legacy West,” he said. “It had everything from retail, to restaurants, to apartments, to condo,s to a hotel and office building. I recently took some of our staff and one of our city council members down there to show them what I could see happening in those four blocks in our downtown.” Smith enlisted the expertise of Jimmy Moses of Newmark Moses Tucker Partners in Little Rock who promptly endorsed the idea and who, along with New’s team at Taggart Architects, helped crystallize Smith’ ideas into a design.

Architectural rendering of the proposed development coming to Main Street in North Little Rock’s Argenta neighborhood demonstrates the community-forward aspects of the plan.


the main EVENT

“Argenta is poised to be one of the most significant cities in Arkansas if not the most significant city in Arkansas.” TAGGART ARCHITECTS


River and skyline views are a big selling point for developing the hotel, residential and office space in Argenta.


The new development will tie together other downtown improvements along Main Street and provide a stunning “front porch” to the city.

“It’s approximately a 5-acre site that’s wide open for mixed-use development,” said Fletcher Hanson, principal and executive managing director for Newman Moses Tucker Partners and who’s also been a key player in the plan. “[The new development] is right in the crosshairs of the river, the new plaza and then flanking to the east and the west the arena and Dickey-Stephens ballpark.” All parties involved acknowledge when developers with actual money start to show interest, the project may evolve somewhat, but the wish list components include an 8-10 story, 160-room boutique hotel, multiple retail and restaurant spaces, 20 or so condominiums and approximately 100 apartments. “Our vision, along with the city’s, is to energize Main Street as soon as you come across the river,” Hanson said. “This 5-acre site ties back to the new plaza as the two anchors in that effort.” The composite plan received the blessing of the North Little Rock City Council, and Hanson’s company began shopping around for investors in May, including at a major real estate developers convention in Las Vegas. “It’s a vision that we’re marketing, a vision

that the city buys into. We’re seeking to sell the land to a developer that shares in the vision and can execute on the plan,” Hanson said. “We’re marketing it as widely as possible to every developer.” From the get-go, the project called for development that complemented­—not cloned— other new structures in the neighborhood. New introduced innovative design around the concept of walkability, right down to the 350- to 500-car parking garage around which will wrap some residential components. “This is an opportunity for a truly new urbanist streetscape community,” he said. “We have an urban fabric we’re building from. I think that adds to the uniqueness of this project, to actually be shoring up the missing teeth of this jack-o-lantern and really giving life to the new urbanist mentality that you could live above where you work.” New knows what he’s talking about, living as he does on the second floor of a building he owns along Argenta’s Main Street. He said he not only appreciates the neighborhood’s potential, but the effort that’s been made by City Hall to bring it out. “Mayor Smith has got an unbelievable vision,” New said. “He removes obstacles to successful

developments because of his personal interest in them. He is, by far, the one driving this; his idea of the City Services building being a pawn in this game that could be demolished and the new facility built there, that’s out of the box. And then you partner with Jimmy Moses and Fletcher Hanson, both of these guys are instrumental in this vision as well.” Smith said he expects investment to be solidified in about a year with groundbreaking occurring a year after that. He’s eager for the transformation, but not so much so to sign on with the first developer who comes along. With time on his side, he gains the luxury of being highly selective of prospective partners. “I’ve turned down a lot of projects that I didn’t think fit what was worthy of being in North Little Rock’s business and entertainment district,” he said. “If it’s not right, I don’t want it. I’d rather have nothing than something that’s average. We are going to build something that we’ll all be proud of, that’s my attitude. “I mean, I can keep collecting electric bills down there and use the rest of that property for parking if it’s not something special. We are looking for something special.”


COOKING UP THE SCENE What is the role of food in Arkansas’s identity and what are some of the needed next steps to strengthen that culinary brand? Real Arkansas food identity begins with our history. Championing the people and cultures that came together in an amazing melting pot of food culture – Native American, African, Cajun, Caribbean, Irish, German and other influences. That created our culinary culture which has evolved over the centuries. We have somewhat neglected this legacy, and rediscovering those connections would be a critical step in developing a stronger identity. Should chefs and restaurateurs play a role in civic leadership? If so, what should that role be? If not, why? Chefs are influencers, whether we like it or not. Hundreds of young people look up to us as role models. We have a responsibility to help put these young people on a path that teaches honesty, positivity and sobriety, at least. This can make a huge impact with our youth and in our communities. We also have the unique opportunity to bring people together for critical causes through food. Food knows no political party and helps build bridges to conversation and understanding. Successful chefs and restaurant owners have been given a gift to work in such a rewarding industry and we have a responsibility to give back whenever we can.

SCOTT MCGEHEE Yellow Rocket Concepts, Little Rock


cott Thomas McGehee was born in Fayetteville, and raised in Little Rock. As a boy, he was inspired to be a cook by both his great-grandmother Ruby Thomas, (of the Red Apple Inn), and his father, Frank McGehee, (Blue Mesa Grill, Juanita’s). After attending the University of Arkansas, Scott was an honors graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, followed by a position as line chef at Alice Waters’s famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. In 1999, Scott returned to Little Rock and opened Boulevard Bread Company—a gourmet bakery, delicatessen and café that quickly became a beloved Little Rock institution and recognized as one of the city’s top restaurants in the September 2002 issue of Southern Living magazine. Scott opened River Market and UAMS Medical Center locations of Boulevard Bread Company, then proceeded to open ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Company in Little Rock, 2007, then ZAZA Conway, Big Orange Burgers, Salads, and Shakes, (West and Midtown Little Rock locations and in Rogers), Local Lime Tacos and Margaritas, (West Little Rock and Rogers locations), Lost 40 Brewing and Heights Taco and Tamale, Little Rock. What is Arkansas cuisine? My first experience with true Arkansas cuisine was in the garden with my great-grandparents Ruby Thomas and Herbert L. Thomas. They had founded the Red Apple Inn in 1963 and owned it until the early ‘80s. Ruby was the genius in the kitchen, in the restaurant and with the décor. In Ruby’s home kitchen, the main dish served was a vegetable plate that utilized preserved food, mushrooms, bacon, greens and lots of sweet potatoes in the winter. The summer would include thick-sliced tomatoes, greens, sautéed corn off the cob, pone bread, field peas, green tomato pickle and beans. My idea of true Arkansas cuisine is about 30-50 rotating vegetables that are just prepared beautifully and simply, with house-made bread, pone bread, cornbread or biscuits, and perfectly prepared small portions of locally raised meats. While cheese dip, barbecue, catfish and chocolate gravy are all wonderful, they don’t make my top 25 foods I consider “Arkansas cuisine,” because of that personal experience growing up in a food family in Arkansas.


What are the brands that fall under Yellow Rocket Concepts? How many people do you employ? ZAZA Fine Salad and Wood Oven Pizza; Big Orange Burgers, Salads and Shakes; Local Lime Taco and Margaritas; Heights Taco and Tamale; and Lost 40 Brewing and Taproom. We employee about 650 people, so far. What impact do programs like Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food and Pulaski Tech’s culinary school have on your business? What kind of training is still needed in Arkansas to support a growing culinary scene? Those two institutions are unbelievably exceptional. A state the size of Arkansas is extremely lucky to have such impactful and quality institutions. They are attracting more and more inspired, serious and motivated young creative talent to all our benefit in this state. What do you look for in a location and what role can a city play in making that determination? While the stars must align, there’s no such thing as the perfect space. A fair lease deal, accessible location with parking, usable fixtures to reduce cost/risk, landlord renovation allowance to further reduce risk when possible, and that little something extra: Does it feel right? Any help from the city is always appreciated. New restaurants often run into unforeseen obstacles. Support from the community and the city to help during the critical construction and opening phase would be a blessing. What are some recommendations you have to strengthen Arkansas’s culinary scene? How might the various chefs, hospitality companies and restauranteurs work with each other more effectively across the state? I envision an organization that casts a wide net inclusive not only to locally owned and operated restaurants, but also Arkansas farms and farm families, locally owned retail, artists, writers and creative people in general. I’d love to see a significant “Locally Owned” brand that could effectively communicate the importance of supporting local, because supporting local creates a community that is unique, creative, interesting and attractive to people visiting from out-of-state. We don’t need Arkansas communities to become a sea of chains and an atmosphere that could be in any vanilla suburb in America. Simply put, that is not a place that people want to visit. When locals aggressively support one another and help get the message out effectively, all our boats rise as one.

The 1907: Case Study in Adaptive Reuse



Patience, flexibility and a multidisciplined team helped transform The 1907 Building in Rogers.


he 2017 edition of Block, Street & Building magazine included an article on adaptive reuse and infill development, and highlighted the thenDollar Saver building in downtown Rogers. Two years and some incredibly heavy lifting by many inspired and hard-working people later, the property now known as The 1907 Building has transformed from a deteriorating former warehouse grocery into an incredibly active local focal point. Tenants in the new space include Onyx headquarters and coffee roastery; two restaurants, Heirloom at The 1907 and Yeyo’s Taqueria & Mezcal Bar; a bakery, Doughp; an event and music venue, Dry Storage; and a craft cocktail lounge, The Foreman. As well, 11 mezzanine loft apartments are here, one of which is available for nightly rental. The experience of The 1907 highlights three critical, overlapping development lessons for transformative adaptive reuse projects: Patience, Creative Project Structure, and Involving Many Hands. Patience­ —From the moment Morgan Hooker, my partner at High Street Real Estate and Development, purchased the building with an early investor group, the project generated a litany of questions. How damaged is the structure? What types of businesses should go in the building? Where is downtown Rogers in its reemergence? During the last few years, the initial investment group was replaced and an anchor Walmart vendor tenant was lost, prompting a mid-stream change of space from office to

apartments. The retail mix, meanwhile, was continually refined to optimize space and business availability. This is in addition to the inevitable construction surprises inherent to working on a 110-year-old building. All of these developments serve to remind us that without patience, an ambitious project like The 1907 Building could never get completed. Creative Project Structure—Creative approaches to ownership, financing and leasing helped pull the project together. First, we invited Jon and Andrea Allen, owners of Onyx Coffee Lab, to participate in the ownership of the building. This added stability and clarity to the project while also adding Jon’s design eye to the overall building in addition to their outstanding space. Second, our banking partner Iberiabank and our historic tax credit consultant, Antionette Johnson, helped us structure financing that made sense for an important downtown historic building. Third, we worked exclusively with high-quality local business operators and designed flexible leases that considered their available capital resources. Importantly, each of these areas of creativity was built on a foundation of trust—and often friendship. This leads us to the final point. Involving Many Hands—The 1907 Building would not have turned out nearly as well without the contributions of inspired participants who felt real attachment and ownership in its outcome. Way too often with conventional

developments, the end product is driven by one entity with a repetitive business model. (Who else wants to gag any time an out-oftouch developer explains their “vision” for a project?) The role of the developer should be humble, helping put into place the bones that business owners and patrons and residents make their own. On the design side, Morgan and Jon Allen worked closely with Bradley Edwards Architect, as well as the building tenants, particularly Jason Paul of Heirloom at The 1907 and Rafael Rios of Yeyo’s. Stronghold NWA provided dedicated contracting focus with Michael Ames and Mike Levitsky pouring their heart and soul into a challenging building. The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, especially Vice President of Downtown Development Karen Wagaman, offered constant encouragement and important introductions. And, finally, the city of Rogers’ community and code enforcement departments helped us identify important solutions when bringing an old building back to life. While the “hard” sides of development (construction, accounting, leasing and finance) are always important, many of the lessons from The 1907 Building are on the soft side. By being patient and creative, the project was able to get off the ground, but by embracing enthusiastic participants who contributed creativity and initiative, The 1907 became fantastic



TO SUCCESS A Natural State for Trails BY MARTIN HINTZ


f an Arkansan says, “Go take a hike,” it’s all in good humor. After all, seemingly wherever you go in The Natural State, communities large and small are installing new trails or enhancing existing ones. Arkansas is certainly on the go—to the outside—while reaping economic and quality of life benefits along the way. Even Gov. Asa Hutchinson waxes eloquent about treks along the Arkansas River near Paris and with his kids along the Ozark Highlands Trail. “I won’t try to name the best; usually my favorite trail is the one I’m hiking at the moment,” Hutchinson said. “People come from across the world to experience Arkansas, which is a great benefit to our economy. In 2018 alone, Arkansas hosted more than 30 million visitors, many of whom specifically came for our state’s outdoor attractions.” No matter the usage, source after source indicates trails equal tourism dollars. The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism uses figures from the U.S. Travel Association to estimate tourism’s overall economic impact in the state. Using this assessment and a study by Longwoods International, it is estimated 3.2 percent of the 29.2 million person-trips to Arkansas in 2016 included bicycling, totaling $246.5 million in cycling-related trip expenditures that year. Additionally, the Outdoor Association Foundation found “jogging and trail running remain the most popular activities among Americans when measured by both number of participants and by number of total annual outings.” And as National Park Service statistics indicate, outdoor recreation and leisure expenditures overall account for a large portion of visitor spending. Given this, numerous communities have eagerly taken up the cause of creating or enhancing pathways to take advantage of ever-expanding tourism expenditures. “Trails are important for health and quality of life for residents of a community,” emphasized Arkansas


Lake Leatherwood, Eureka Springs


Northwoods Trail, Hot Springs

“In 2018 alone, Arkansas hosted more than 30 million visitors, many of whom specifically came for our state’s outdoor attractions.”


Tourism’s Brandy Flowers. She said visitors are more likely to return to areas where they feel residents have a high quality of life and are also more likely to spend additional time in areas that seem like a nice place to live. Among the many Arkansas cities and towns enthusiastically supporting outdoor endeavors are Bentonville, Hot Springs and Eureka Springs. Bentonville has the biking bug, with 30 cycling events set for 2019, including the Innovation Cycles Festival (Sept. 13-15) and the Arkansas Enduro Series (Sept. 20-22). “In 2016, Bentonville hosted the International Mountain Biking Association World Summit, introducing our city and region as a destination to cycling leaders and advocates from around the world,” said Kalene Griffith, Visit Bentonville president. “A Walton Family Foundation study reported over 57 percent of our single-track riders are from outside our region. “Because of our continued success, in 2018 we hosted 23 cycling events, which had a direct economic impact of over $1.5 million for our city.” “With the addition of Phase 1 of the

Northwoods Trails with 16 miles currently built, we can already see a positive economic impact in Hot Springs,” said parks and trails director Anthony Whittington. “The trails are already attracting regional mountain bike competitions as well, with the Kodiak Tough Race Series held here in February.” Whittington said local hotels and businesses are feeding Hot Springs’ burgeoning reputation as a bike-friendly city, making accommodations for riders, such as bike racks, repair stations and storage for overnight guests. The city is also moving swiftly to extend the Hot Springs Creek Greenway Trail, currently with 2.5 miles completed out of the 4.2-mile goal. The newest parcel, called the Utility Service Center Section, was dedicated in November 2018. The paved trail, open to bike and foot traffic, is already set to expand late in 2019. Through a 1/8-cent sales tax, renewed by voters in 2017, Eureka Springs has dedicated funding for capital improvements and support for recreational and educational programming, said Justin Huss, director of the Eureka Springs

Parks and Recreation Commission. “Lake Leatherwood is over 1,600 acres and along with other local parks and greenspace, the system has over 1,850 acres under its management or roughly 41 percent of the acreage of Eureka Springs,” he said. “This equates to almost an acre of parkland per resident, a number that is nearly unparalleled.” Huss noted the intertwining of natural surroundings and parkland holds value for residents and tourists alike. “The approval of [the sales tax] has allowed our park system to repair and build facilities and provided revenue opportunities,” he said. “These improvements have resulted in 2018 revenue that has increased 99 percent from 2015 and our camping and cabin occupancy has increased from 11 percent to just under 30 percent. “We are currently in the final planning stages of work on the Dairy Hollow Trail inside the city limits. This project will be a partnership with a local private school, Public Works and Parks with support from the local Native Plant Society and the (U.S.D.A.) Forest Service.”


Rooted in tradition. Focused on progress. NLR Economic Development 501-371-0116 |

We’ve been helping Arkansas build and grow for 119 years, routinely handling a broad range of issues including pre-construction planning, regulatory compliance, financial transactions, contract review and negotiation, and professional liability defense. Our attorneys offer sound guidance to private business owners, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, public entities and municipalities, architects and real estate professionals in all phases of development.

An Arkansas resource for the development industry.


Little Rock

Build Your Dreams in Argenta.

ARGENTA PLAZA From empty buildings and parking spaces to a vibrant, historic boutique downtown, the ARGENTA ARTS AND INNOVATION DISTRICT is now home to art galleries, residences, offices, restaurants, wine and craft beer bars, a comedy club, a community theater, the 18,500 seat Verizon Arena and award winning Dickey Stephens Park baseball stadium, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, intercity streetcars, and most importantly PEOPLE. Ongoing difference making developments include a new apartment complex, an office building, a corporate headquarters and a mixed use building, all of which happened because of a newly created public space, the ARGENTA PLAZA! Even after all the recent activity, INFILL OPPORTUNITIES EXIST on both public and private sites in Argenta. It’s not too late to be an agent of change.


Privately Owned

W 13TH




Publicly Owned




1.54 acres 1.91 acres







1.61 acres

0.19 acres W 7TH ST


600 Main

1.33 acres

.25 acres W 6TH ST


3.41 acres


2.06 acres W 2ND ST


1.59 acres






3.37 acres


1.28 acres


5.6 total acres, ~1 acre available

Thrive Apar

















.79 acres


1.59 acres

First Orion

2.31 acres

Argenta Plaza


























TH E 13













3.5 acres

1,200 Feet





Todd Larson North Little Rock Development Department 501-371-0116 |

the new HARVEST Arkansas Communities Evolve as Industry Hubs


n the Grand Prairie of the Arkansas Delta, just an hour east of the center of Little Rock, rice is king. Anyone who doubts that need only glance at the miles of flat, terraced ground that’s everywhere in and around places like Stuttgart. Here, rice is as much an identity as a business and grain silos dwarf the otherwise-tallest structures in town. Arkansas and agriculture have walked hand in hand since its establishment as a territory, an event which celebrates its bicentennial this year. And while Arkansas rice is still dominant on a national and international scale, other farmland across the state has since given way to settlement, development and growth. And the communities born and bred on cotton and soybeans now find themselves at a crossroads of developing new industries and attracting workers with new skill sets. Granted, agriculture still represents a major slice of the state’s economy—$16 billion worth annually, according to Arkansas Farm Bureau—but there’s no denying the corporate winds of change that have swept through The Natural State. And as it does, city leaders are adjusting to take advantage of this new, bountiful harvest with the appropriate amenities and services. 38 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 5 | 2019



Little Rock Technology Park is a stylish anchor for the local startup community.


Inventors and makers of all ages and walks of life commingle at Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock.



Through the massive, gleaming windows of the Little Rock Tech Center lobby, Brent Birch’s vista is one of change and development. Throughout the original grid, downtown is undergoing a rebirth with some of the city’s oldest buildings gussied up as apartments, office space and restaurants featuring sidewalk dining. All sit within an easy stroll or bike ride from where Birch, the center’s director, is standing. But there’s more than a Millennial playground here in these improvements; in fact, Birch sees the very grist for the company’s tech community. “What Little Rock has done is realized that for our city to be strong, our downtown has to be strong,” he said. “The transformation that we made with downtown Little Rock is pretty remarkable. I worked down here when I got out of college in the early 1990s and this is not the same downtown. And then I worked 14 years for a company on Second and Markham, and even in the five short years since I left there, this is not the same downtown. “For us to take that project head-on and bring some life back to downtown has been

a big, big catalyst for the tech community specifically, because this is where they want to be. They don’t want to be isolated in a bank tower. They don’t want to be out in West Little Rock by themselves somewhere. They want to be in the hub of activity.” There’s more than just entertainment and socialization for the tech entrepreneur downtown these days as the Tech Park itself attests, teeming with entrepreneurs from all over the world. Ride the elevator up a floor with two software engineers deciphering a new app and you’ll ride it back down with a 20-something headed out to make a pitch to investors. It happens here every day. “All of this bubbling up, which previously ran in some degree in their own little silos, has really come a long way to be more collaborative,” Birch said. “Putting a roof over things in the Tech Park gives even the ones that aren’t in the building the opportunity to come here and interact and share experiences and learn from each other.” That collaborative spirit fords the Arkansas River over into North Little Rock where the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub also plugs into the process. It’s a very different segment of the maker crowd here, populated as much by children and youths

as the fair sampling of adult entrepreneurs, but a key element of the process nonetheless. “One aspect for the support for this larger ecosystem is our ability to spark interest early on,” said Dr. Chris Jones, executive director. “Our sweet spot is coming together at that very early stage and pulling the right resources together.” There was a time when such entities on either side of the river wouldn’t have much to say to one another, each hoarding talent, resources and economic development for themselves. Today, by contrast, the mantra Collaborate or Die is screamed from the rooftops. “I believe the only way to take full advantage of the talent in this state and those interested in coming to this state is to partner and work together,” Jones said. “We will send folks over their way because they are better at doing some things than we are. And they send folks our way because we’re better at some things than they are.” In seeding STEAM entrepreneurship within the community, the Innovation Hub has established a priority of reaching underserved neighborhoods and populations. The organization’s well-used mobile unit is extremely handy in this pursuit, but much more work remains.



the new HARVEST

Old meets new along Springdale’s Emma Avenue. The city is experiencing rampant development and new growth.

“We have already touched a little over 2,000 individuals—right at 1,000 students— in the five months since we hit the ground running,” Jones said. “While I am pleased with the work we have done, I am not even close to being satisfied given the amount of work that needs to be done. I’ve got to tell you, I will not ever be satisfied until everyone has the sort of access they need to reach their full potential.”



It’s not necessarily a surprise that food tech would emerge as an industry hub in the quaint Northwest Arkansas community of Springdale. After all, the behemoth Tyson Foods started right here and still employs thousands all over the state and beyond. What is surprising is the progressive attitude of Springdale residents in a state that’s not always been known for it. But therein lies the secret of the community’s growth and success, said Bill Rogers, vice

president of communications and special projects for the Springdale Chamber of Commerce. “If you want to back up 50,000 feet in terms of why Springdale and why a company like Tyson and those that support Tyson are able to flourish, note that Northwest Arkansas just moved up from fifth place to fourth place in the annual U.S. News and World Report Best Places to Live ranking,” he said. “Our citizens have time and time again supported public investment that speaks directly to quality of life and quality of place. A $200 million bond issue was approved recently, and this is the third one of these that we’ve done. We are continuing to build new street infrastructure, new public courts facility, new fire stations, new parks.” Like every community up here, Springdale is growing at breakneck speed and the city has been strategic in the kinds of amenities it provides to get the most bang for its buck. Education is one prime outcome of this thinking, be it the excellent public school


system or the $95 million, 285,000-squarefoot Tyson Foods Discovery Center, a worldclass industrial training facility and office complex completed in 2007. The city’s downtown, meanwhile, has also taken steps to keep up with the demands of the modern workforce. And well that it should, considering the substantial investment neighboring Rogers, Bentonville and Fayetteville are also making in their quality of place. But the improvements made here aren’t done solely to keep up with the Joneses. It’s more like a sports team where each player is held accountable by teammates to do their job. “The strength, I think, is in the vision that the region has for itself and the cooperativeness and the hard work that’s going on every single day,” said Jill Dabbs, executive director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance. “There are people working so hard towards that vision, working with the businesses, the chambers of commerce, the local governments. I mean

Steel rises for a new expansion to the Don Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale.



really just pulling hard to get to where they’ve determined they’re going.” “The challenge is things are happening really fast, but there’s a feeling of we’re not getting there fast enough, we’re not doing enough. No matter what zip code we live in, we all need to get out once in a while to get a realistic perspective of the world and what’s going on. It helps you find your perspective and motivates you to continue to work hard towards that.” Dabbs praised local leadership for their effectiveness in selling amenities such as mountain bike trails to taxpayers. She said those same trails are today a powerful draw to the area both for tourists and for relocators. “I think people understand that placebuilding matters and the food industry, the music industry, the art industry, all of those things are really what’s leading in a lot of these areas,” she said. “They’re leading with those things in attracting the next big industry. The industries are following

those things because that’s where the talent wants to be.”



Like all health care administrators Chris Barber, president and CEO of St. Bernards Healthcare in Jonesboro has had to deal with unparalleled change of late. Health care reform, reduction in government reimbursement and a steadily growing demand for services makes his job more complicated than it’s ever been. So when he expresses more optimism than ever for the health system’s future, you immediately get the picture of how effectively Jonesboro has been nurturing the local business environment. “From the public sector to the private sector, you see individuals willing to invest in things they believe in,” he said. “They want to create something bigger and better than we can do on our own, and that spirit of cooperation in this community has


the new HARVEST

existed for decades. And now, we have a new generation of leaders that continue to pick up the baton and move that forward. “I’ve been with St. Bernards for 27 years and I’ve been in this role for 10. I’m more excited today than I’ve ever been on the promise of the future, both of Jonesboro and for our organization.” St. Bernards has capitalized on that optimistic outlook in recent years by expanding services, adding staff and broadening its physical footprint. The latest project, a $140 million expansion, will enhance the organization’s cancer and heart care centers. And at a time when other health care entities are slowing expansion for want of labor, Barber said St. Bernards is moving forth with confidence, thanks to a raft of improvements made within the local community. “If we’re recruiting physicians to the community, and if we can get them to visit Jonesboro, this community can sell itself for what it has to offer,” he said. One advantage Barber points to is the presence of Arkansas State University and the many ways the school partners with the business community. In health care alone, ASU has stepped up to open a medical school and has developed a nursing program that can compete with any in the region. Such collaboration is a major reason why companies choose to remain in or relocate to Jonesboro. “We certainly benefit from Arkansas State University being here,” said Mark Young, head of both the Chamber of Commerce and its economic development entity Jonesboro Unlimited. “They have a tremendous impact on the workforce in our community and in developing the talent that we need to continue to be successful. “In addition to that, other benefits related

to the university really stem from a quality of life standpoint, whether it’s an orchestra or concerts or Division I athletics.” Young said the challenges for the future are infrastructural, namely in the transportation sector. He also said the city’s strategic plan calls for continued improvement in business attraction, labor recruitment and quality of life. It’s a cycle that never ends. “If you look at our population growth and how our community has grown over the years, all of that has been very positive,” he said. “To stay on the front edge of that, we have made and will continue to make improvements and changes. I think we’re doing a really good job with it, but that never stops. We continue to look forward and work hard to make Jonesboro better. We can’t take success for granted.”


To say that retail looms large in Northwest Arkansas is a massive understatement, given Walmart came from around these parts. The discount behemoth is one reason for the area’s growth, drawing in not only thousands of employees, but thousands of people who make their living as vendors and affiliates. Population growth of this sort demands new development concepts, projects like The District designed by SCM Architects and developed by Whisinvest Realty. “The District is a true mixed-use development in a more urban, pedestrianfriendly landscape,” said John Connell, principal with SCM. “It is designed to plug into the existing area to promote walking not only within the development but also to venues such as The AMP, Top Golf and restaurants outside of the development.”


The District will provide this access through a series of planned centers of activity, what Connell described as “nodes of interest and placemaking” that balances functions of residential, commercial and attraction spaces. “We are creating a long-lasting sense of place where one wants to live, work and play all in the same area,” Connell said. “To do that, we want to create an environment that sparks the interest of those who live elsewhere to want to come and visit, stay for an evening, a day or even a long weekend. That is the balance that needs to occur between pro forma, vision and the market, a sort of dance between the owner and architect.” The District will also leverage the Razorback Regional Greenway as a primary feature. While a departure in design thinking compared to earlier developments, it’s in step with what today’s homebuyer and business owner values in a location. “The entire 32 miles of the Razorback Greenway Trail runs south of Fayetteville to north of Bella Vista,” said Burke Larkin, Whisinvest senior vice president. “Part of the Northwest Arkansas Council’s bicycle healthy living impact on Northwest Arkansas is, if your house is within half a mile of the Northwest Arkansas Greenway Trail, no matter what size your home or condo or townhouse is, that home is worth $15,000 to $20,000 more than anything outside of that,” Jeff Maxwell, head of Whisinvest’s development projects, said cooperation from city hall is something that cannot be overstated in the success of The District. He praised officials for sharing the company’s desire to bring something truly unique to the area. “It’s been a good process,” he said. “Rogers has a very progressive planning director and a new ordinance recently passed that is very favorable to this type of development. I think they like working with developers that don’t want to do the type of center that we would have done 20 years ago. “You hear a lot of talk about mixed-use developments, but I don’t think there’s one here that is the scale that we’re trying to do. We think it’s time for that kind of project.”


St. Bernards Healthcare is a shining—and growing—success story in Jonesboro.

The District seeks to create a true walkable, mixed-use neighborhood in Rogers, conjoining residential, commercial and entertainment amenities with the nearby trails system. VOLUME 5 | 2019 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 43

plan your work,

WORK YOUR PLAN Comprehensive City Planning Helps Communities Grow Intelligently BY DWAIN HEBDA


atesville Mayor Rick Elumbaugh has a lot to smile about these days, given the run of prosperity and growth his community is experiencing. Provided the opportunity, he’ll extol the benefits of the new community center, the walkable Main Street, even the work completed on the wastewater treatment plant. In these ways and hundreds of others, he’ll tell you, the community sowed fertile seed for business growth and expansion while luring residents to come fill high-paying jobs. Underpinning all of these accomplishments, he’s also quick to point out, was the comprehensive city plan the city completed 10 years ago that helped point the way for the city to accomplish what it has. “In ’07 and ’08, the stock market and everything went crazy,” Elumbaugh said. “We were in the process of possibly losing our poultry industry, and we’re 2,000-plus strong in poultry employees. We had one company, Townsend’s, that filed bankruptcy. Pilgrim’s Pride was struggling.

“I took office in ’07 and I found plenty of plans with a lot of dust on them, but those plans had never been implemented. This was the starting line for our community.” What followed was creation of a new comprehensive city plan, a useful, and some might say essential, process of determining how growth should happen within a community. A city plan “is a comprehensive look at a city’s growth policies and development policies and an analysis of all the data that affect those elements,” said Jim von Tungeln, a planning/zoning consultant with the Arkansas Municipal League, who worked on the Batesville plan. “Traditionally, it involves at least three areas such as future land use for parcels in the city, the transportation system, a master street plan, a master transportation plan and community facilities such as parks, public buildings, police stations and fire stations. “It’s not strategic planning. It’s not planning for school systems. It’s not planning for things like industrial development


particularly. It’s more concerned with having land available for industrial development,” von Tungeln said. Having been involved in the industry since 1971, von Tungeln has seen his share of trends and shifting philosophies when it comes to comprehensive city planning. “When I went into the business it was at the very end of the Great Society Program. At that time, the country had the belief that it could attack social problems and solve them through things like good planning,” he said. “The urban designers took over planning a decade or so ago and their belief is that you can design your way out of all sorts of problems. The old urban planners like me don’t believe that’s necessarily so, that it has to be a sound sociological and political-economic administration approach to developing cities. “In recent years, there’s been greater recognition of how good urban planning affects economic development. So those two are beginning to merge.” One good example of this is Bentonville,


Comprehensive city planning has kept Batesville on a steady path of sensible growth, both in commercial and residential development.

Bentonville was able to more easily accommodate commercial development and attractions like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art thanks to sound long-range planning.

where the comprehensive city plan not only helped identify elements in the community that would be conducive to business growth, but dovetailed into other plans within the city, including those for the city’s parks, its Main Street and Bentonville Blueprint, a plan for overall economic development. “The city plan set the stage for us to work toward achieving a vision,” said Shelli Kerr, planning services manager for the city of Bentonville. “What it allowed us to do was think ahead. It set the stage to where we could take a look at our regulations and our policies to make sure they’re consistent with our plan. Then when projects come through, we’ve already got everything in place to get the type of development that we’re looking for.” Bentonville completed a comprehensive city plan in 2007 and took on the process again in 2015 to help define the character of a community beset by runaway growth. That plan was adopted just last year. “One of the driving forces behind getting the plan going was the character of the community was changing,” Kerr said. “We needed to get a feel from the residents, the business owners and the stakeholders what direction they wanted to go instead of just

following along whatever happened. We decided to craft that vision and work toward achieving that.” Depending on the circumstances, it’s not unusual for comprehensive city plans to take years to complete and, once finished, generally covers 10 to 20 years. Given that scope, the best plans build in a certain amount of flexibility to account for the unforeseen that may occur during the effective life of the plan. “A good comprehensive plan allows for options. It will set standards for the goals of the community,” said Brad Lonberger, senior project manager for Texas-based consultant Kimley-Horn. “What you don’t want is for it to be the basis for decisions against great opportunities. “I think a comprehensive plan could start to set the stage for key study areas where opportunities can be discovered. Oftentimes we’re seeing if you do a 20-year, it might be updated five years later to account for major changes.” Lonberger said another trend in comprehensive city planning is building action plans that help keep various community stakeholders accountable for

implementation. “A lot of comprehensive plans strive to establish policy and ideals and goals, but they lack the ability to establish how to follow through,” he said. “There are no implementation standards, or they start to paint by color how land use should be distributed based on a desired outcome. “As planners, we are striving for action items and implementation steps, the short-, medium- and long-term goals of the comprehensive plan that help you realize your policies. They’re more nuanced, less generalized and more direct to the community and its desires and goals versus a boilerplate way to perform things.” Back in Batesville, Elumbaugh said the process is already underway to embrace the formal planning process once again. “It’s time to upgrade and bring everyone back into our community in another charette and see where we want to go from here,” he said. “The momentum is there, we’ve had a lot of wins, but if you’re not improving your community and moving forward, your neighbor is. If you want to keep up, you’d better think progressively and continue to dream.”



Jerrmy Gawthrop

Bernice Hembree & Bryan Hembree



ryan and Bernice Hembree, two of the Fayetteville Roots Festival co-founders, are also a husband and wife duo, Smokey & The Mirror. The two of them have toured nationally/internationally over the past decade while continuing to grow the festival at home. Their band, which recently released a new album, “Here & Now,” has supported tours for Old Crow Medicine Show, The Wood Brothers, I’m With Her, Elephant Revival and John Fullbright. The twosome spearhead planning on the artist side of the August festival, creating a cohesive lineup with both national as well as local artists who play a role in making Northwest Arkansas a cultural hotspot. Jerrmy Gawthrop is a co-founder of the Fayetteville Roots Festival, born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and now calls Fayetteville home. Gawthrop leads the culinary side of the Fayetteville Roots Festival with experience producing festivals and events since 2002. As the co-founder of Wood Stone Pizza, he has years of culinary experience, which he applies when planning each year’s lineup. Why did you start the Fayetteville Roots Festival and has it accomplished what you set out to do? The first year was a gathering of musical friends and hosted at Jerrmy’s restaurant Greenhouse Grille. It was a result of Bryan and I (Bernice) hosting musicians for house concerts coupled with Jerrmy’s willingness to include music in his restaurant. The community really enjoyed that first festival and gave support and encouragement to make it happen again. Each year we set out to bring in fantastic artists from both the music and the food world and each year we seem to find something more to add. Those additions have accomplished many milestones, checked things off our bucket list and brought smiles and tears to our faces. Why did you mix food and music? What are the challenges to that approach? What are the benefits? We feel that food and music are two creative outlets that make Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas a beloved cultural hotspot…and they are literally


The festival is now a regional event. Why was that decision made? What impact has that had on logistics? What has been the challenges and successes of that expansion? While we love Fayetteville and call it home, Northwest Arkansas has so many talented artists and chefs. As the festival continues to grow, other areas in the region are included in our expansion plans. This works out well since some of our chefs utilize the amazing space at Brightwater: Center for the Study of Food in the 8th Street Market for both food prep and student engagement, and other partner venues such as The Hive at 21c Museum Hotel. The successes include a larger interest from attendees outside of Fayetteville and that broadens the opportunity to more deeply engage that larger community. These are two elements we feel passionate about. With expansion comes more work, of course, connecting with partners, venues, volunteers and getting the message out to a wider audience. While these could be categorized as challenges, we see them more as a chance to continue to hone and refine the festival and our work. What role do festivals like Roots have in developing a regional brand narrative and how have you seen the area benefit? While Northwest Arkansas is home to the University of Arkansas and major employers like Tyson, J.B. Hunt and Walmart that continue to attract more people to the region, we believe cultural organizations such as museums, art centers, music venues, vibrant farmers markets and festivals also play an important role in that attractiveness. These cultural assets serve as cornerstones for how longtime residents explain their community to others and how new-to-NWA residents explore and engage with the community as they settle into life here. There is also something unique about a festival or cultural destination in its ability to attract visitors from outside the region and state. Someone may read about NWA and decide to come see what all the talk is about. At this level, a festival becomes a welcome center for how visitors see and engage with our community. Festivals and cultural destinations are a chance for residents to engage with visitors, elicit a tangible sense of community pride and gain an understanding about the genuine and growing interest in our area from a regional and national level. This invitation to explore also extends to how we go about bringing in national musicians and chefs to join local musicians and chefs. There is a learning process as artists and chefs from outside the region gain true perspective on the strength and talent of our creative community. In turn, our local creatives find their belief in this community strengthened by a musician or chef that chooses to make a stop in NWA. This mutual learning extends to the community at large as well. It makes our day to hear someone say, “I’ve never heard of this band,” or “I’ve never tasted anything like this.” That person is standing in Northwest


our roots with Jerrmy as the culinary creative force behind Wood Stone Pizza and me [Bernice] and Bryan producing new music with Smokey & The Mirror. One of the challenges is making sure the focus and messaging of the festival is cohesive and not disjointed, meaning, we don’t want it to lean chef-heavy one year and music-heavy another. We learn every year how to improve upon the previous year’s festival and how to equally represent all the amazing talent. We want our community to explore both the food and music because the benefits of this combination are endless. The festival leaves the community’s bellies and ears fulfilled and ready to learn about these artists and chefs in more depth.

ARK TIMES (HERITAGE WEST BUILDING) Arkansas, whether as a visitor or as a resident, when they discover. This process ties place and home to discovery in a way that is indelible. We have often said that the Roots Festival is not just music on a stage or food on a plate, but rather our community on a stage and our community on a plate. We are honored when we hear someone from the NWA community talk about Roots Festival as an anchor experience of their year. We take that very seriously and it pushes us to keep moving forward. Why translate the brand into a physical location and what is the goal of the Roots HQ? As I mentioned above, Bryan and I [Bernice] used to host house concerts in our home. The idea for an intimate and engaging community festival was born out of those house concert gatherings. The concerts were a beautiful way to connect music and the community. With the new space, the Roots HQ [in the historic Guisinger Music House], we feel like we’re able to gather our family and friends and host an intimate show again. The Roots HQ also gives us much-needed office, meeting, creative and storage space. It serves as breathing room and a laboratory for the festival itself. Our goal is not to be a full-fledged music venue, but a curated space for year-round music, food and educational events. We see it as a launching pad to continue engaging with the community and to refine and redefine what role the festival plays in Northwest Arkansas. Please share some lessons learned and ways you changed an approach to strengthen the festival. Bryan is always reminding us that this may be the 10th year for the festival, but we only have 30 actual festival days to practice our methods. Each year, we learn a better tactic or approach and then must wait a whole year to implement something new. This can be maddening at times, but we have found that it elicits the need to always be visioning and thinking long-term. We think this has given the festival a chance to succeed long-term. Our desire to improve the festival leaves us saying, “We will fix that for next year,” which then in turn means we make a commitment to “next year” by simply evaluating what we could be doing better. And the No. 1 lesson learned: Always have good volunteers.


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J.Chandler & Co. VOLUME 5 | 2019 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 47

MUNICIPAL ADVOCATE Why is New Urbanism important to the future of Arkansas cities? Municipal infrastructure needs may be the single largest hurdle city officials face today. Without good streets, high-quality water and topnotch public safety services, growth cannot occur. Smart growth does occur when properly motivated people focus on what a city has, what it’s deficient in, and where it would like to be. Armed with that plan, abandoned neighborhoods are reborn, downtowns become vital and thriving, and long-absent city pride and spirit come to life. The largest single factor in this renaissance? Municipalities. Mayors, city managers and administrators, councils and boards have focused themselves on planning and the wise use of revenues. The results are outstanding. As the new Executive Director of the Municipal League, what is your vision and priorities for the future? The League must keep up with an increasingly technological world, and our legislative efforts have to match the very specific needs of communities. We have been given the honor to help Arkansas’s cities and towns. We’ll be developing a long-term plan for our building, technology, services and programs to ensure that each of this state’s 500 cities and towns gets the quality they so richly deserve.


Executive Director, Arkansas Municipal League, North Little Rock


rkansas Municipal League Executive Director Mark Hayes moved to Arkansas with his family at 16. He graduated from Arkansas State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in business with an emphasis in human resources, then attended law school at the U.A. Little Rock William H. Bowen School. Prior to taking over as executive director last year, Hayes spearheadedthe Municipal League’s legal affairs, serving as general counsel for many years. In that capacity, he’s argued before the Arkansas Supreme Court, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and has managed a case that was heard by the United States Supreme Court. That case, Plumhoff v. Rickard, set history as no other state league in the country has appeared before the United States Supreme Court. The outcome was favorable, not only for Arkansas, but for law enforcement officials across the country. Mark got his start in municipal law as an assistant city attorney for the city of Little Rock. What are some of the biggest challenges Arkansas cities face? How is the Municipal League helping address these challenges? An increasingly digital world requires cities to be on the cutting edge of technology. This isn’t easy, given revenue constraints, decaying infrastructure and a need to understand substantial legal and regulatory considerations. Additionally, finding a well-trained and educated workforce is a challenge for just about every employer in this state, and municipalities are not immune from that. The League exists to ensure municipalities have the resources and training necessary to get the very best use out of each and every taxpayer dollar. Our voluntary benefits programs are specifically structured for local governments. The League has programs to protect municipal assets, employees and citizens. We have a vehicle and property program, a worker’s compensation program, a health benefit plan and a liability pool.


What are the key elements every comprehensive community plan should tackle to make that effort relevant? Community planning is precisely what it sounds like: people and resources converging to review where they are, where they want to be and what’s needed to get there. Community is the key and it’s important for the League to remember, for any City Hall to remember, that we exist because of the diverse communities within our city borders. No comprehensive plan will be brought to life without buy-in from all sectors of the community. Business and education leaders must be involved. Church and civic leaders must be involved. The elderly and the young must be involved. All aspects of a city must have a place at the table. I would be remiss if didn’t mention the need for active communication and cooperation with both state and county officials. Local government isn’t on an island; all levels of government intersect with all aspects of a community. I believe in thinking big but starting small with every detail considered by those with skin in the game. From that, great cities do make a great state.



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The South St. Cottages: Floor Plans Plus Location Equals Winning




he demographic shift toward oneand two-person households has created an unmet need for small homes in walkable locations. This is often best provided within existing neighborhoods near downtowns, otherwise known as infill development. Infill development isn’t a new product type; it’s the way towns naturally grow. Great towns aren’t built in their climax condition— they’re incrementally built with more intense buildings replacing less intense ones as land value goes up and needs change. When this development follows the pattern of traditional town form—that is, inherently dense—it makes the best use of limited civic resources and land. It also provides more naturally affordable housing and commercial spaces that can grow small, locally owned businesses. It’s the best defense against the sprawl machine eating our countryside. With all that in mind, I believe in and try to build infill development that meets two standards: very dense and very cute. People are so used to ugly, boring projects that they’ll forgive a multitude of sins on a lovable project. I’m testing these theories with the South St. Cottages, six blocks from the Fayetteville Square

South St. cottages provide unique curb appeal in a smaller footprint.

with a view of the Ozark hills. The tiny, 1.32-acre site was formerly a bare CMU-walled triplex, a burned down house and a tiny commercial building that served as a gas station, liquor store and barbeque stand in its time. The master plan includes nine streetfacing, fee-simple, single-family homes several with garage apartments. It also offers one micro-retail building (800 square feet) with two 2-bedroom apartments above it and 12 park-under townhouses facing a shared apple orchard that make the most of a deceptively steep site by utilizing garages instead of retaining walls. That’s 26 units on 1.32 acres, a density of nearly 20 units per acre in a pattern that feels like a neighborhood rather than a complex and can be purchased by residents with traditional 30-year mortgages. On South St., I also committed to providing thoughtful design and exceptionally highquality materials at an overall affordable purchase price. This required both small footprints and small lots. Small lots make the most of high land values in desirable, walkable locations. Small houses can provide quality at an attainable total price point. Two of the three firstphase homes sold for total purchase prices


under the federal affordable standards for Fayetteville and yet all the homes include the finishes and materials you’d generally only see in million-dollar custom homes in our market. The trade-off to this approach is, of course, a price-per-square-foot cost double or even triple that of suburban homes with ample cheap square footage of bonus rooms and walk-in-closets. But people don’t buy houses based on price-per-squarefoot. Total purchase price, utility bills and transportation costs are much more important metrics than price-per-squarefoot to the actual monthly budget of a buyer. Also, a small footprint naturally yields reduced maintenance and utility costs, magnified with energy efficient construction. Focusing on downtown locations reduces transportation costs by building more homes where they need to be, in close proximity to services, schools, jobs, parks and entertainment. Infill development can provide gentle density by delivering housing types where we need them most. But to be successful, I believe these projects have to put people­— both inhabitants and neighbors —first.


OCTAVIO LOGO Artist, Fayetteville


orn in Mexico City, Octavio Logo began drawing at an early age, creating his first mural in high school. He focused on classical studies in college while working as a bookbinder, restoring antique books. Today, he has created murals across Mexico and the United States, and participated in numerous collective expositions in both countries. Logo’s first large individual exposition in Arkansas at the Arts Center of the Ozarks in 2018 was EXODUS, for which he was awarded an Artists 360° grant for 2019. His new works now include ceramics and clay sculpting, installations, murals and experimental painting. Logo is currently producing a documentary about immigration in the U.S. and works from a studio in south Fayetteville, from which he hopes to inspire the continued transformation and revitalization of the neighborhood culture. What are the elements that are important to consider when choosing a mural site? There are three aspects to consider when choosing the site for a mural: location, type of wall and the topic. The location is important in many ways, from weather considerations to people walking by with foot traffic. The best walls are always those that people can view from different locations in active public areas, walkable streets or public buildings visited consistently such as libraries, hospitals, schools, government buildings, restaurants, malls or big parking lots. The type of wall will determine the painting techniques. Brick walls are suitable for spray paint, while plaster or concrete walls are good for paintbrushes. The topic of the mural is the most debated subject for artists, sponsors, cities and institutions, because creating murals isn’t necessarily the same as creating public art. Not all large pieces of outside art are necessarily public art if they have no connection to the community. What inspires the content of the murals? I grew up nurtured by Mexican Muralism, created to not only beautify buildings, but to communicate ideas and tell stories about politics, ideologies, religion, national and native history, etc. That’s the kind of content I seek in my own murals and what I like to see in other artists’ work as well. This is public art, where artists communicate to the public through elaborate ideas about meaningful topics. It’s not always pleasing, but expressing what they believe is important.

What role does public art play in the branding of a city? How does public art contribute to the community? Public art plays an enormous role in a city. Can you imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower, Rome without Fontana di Trevi, Mexico City without its hundreds of murals, or any major city without its parks crowned by marvelous fountains? Public art includes murals, sculptures, architecture, landscaping and art installations. A city can create its own icons of identity through great artistic works by commissioning artists to create. There are also artists or groups of artists at more local levels that create and enrich the identity of a city or neighborhood. It is through this dual dynamic that art reflects the vitality and uniqueness of a city and its inhabitants. Artistic expression reflects not only the personal feelings and ideas of the artist, it is also a reflection of the needs, tastes and collective ideas that can help a community realize its identity. What materials do you use and how do you ensure the longevity of a mural? My favorite materials are acrylic polymers; the colors are radiant and full of life, and when protected from UV rays with the right varnishes, it increases their longevity. These paints also have a minimum toxicity and environmental impact. They can be used to create an effect that is dense like oil paint or light like water colors. They can be used with an airbrush, are versatile, fast-drying and relatively low in cost. To ensure that a mural has a long life, it is necessary to prepare the surface before painting and perfectly varnish it after completion. What´s your step-by-step process for creating a mural? I can mention four main steps when working on a mural. First is to prepare the wall by applying primer. The second is drawing the outlines of the blueprint. I can do that using a grid or projecting the image already scaled on the wall. Both processes are perfectly fine, but projecting the image on the wall will reduce work time by 90 percent. The third step is painting. I use the primary colors to mix all the colors I need, plus white. This process is my favorite of all. After the colors are dry, the fourth step is applying varnishes, preferably with an air gun, to protect the finished product.


a new HOPE Pine Bluff Shifts Revitalization Into High Gear BY DWAIN HEBDA


Pine Bluff’s Downtown Master Plan calls for radically redesigned housing options providing walkable access to downtown amenities.

ine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington pulls no punches when the topic of discussion is revitalizing her oncethriving Delta city. “Progress,” she said flatly, “cannot come soon enough.” Decades of population loss, failing to adapt to changing economic tides and epidemic drug issues made Pine Bluff synonymous with crime and decay. The city’s Main Street became so decrepit, certain portions were blockaded as some buildings literally fell down where they stood. Today, buildings are still coming down but as part of a targeted effort of progress and rebirth, said Ryan Watley, executive director of Go Forward Pine Bluff.

“We went through 2017 until about July of ‘18 establishing the Urban Renewal Agency, finding an executive director, having public meetings and so forth,” he said. “Our first role of the Urban Renewal Agency was to remediate blight. It was far less expensive to purchase equipment with an everyday demo crew and go about this business, so we have successfully purchased new equipment and have an amazing staff to effectively remediate blight. That’s been taking place since about February.” Watley said the process of eliminating depressed properties not only cleared the way for new development possibilities, it also showed delinquent property owners the city meant business. As such, the structures


coming down have had a welcomed effect on the management of the buildings that remained. “People can see the remediation of what’s been plaguing our community. The irresponsible property owners are being held accountable,” Watley said. “We’ve experienced more people taking responsibility for their property. Taking action has caused that, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.” Mayor Washington echoed the sentiment, saying the efforts have ignited a new sense of civic pride and community partnerships throughout the beleagured city, efforts that are already paying off. “The citizens of Pine Bluff have always been a visionary and industrious people. I have approached my time as mayor with the


A pedestrian bridge links neighborhoods via foot or bike over a major thoroughfare while providing visual interest.

“What is new about this moment in Pine Bluff is that we see more parts of our community working together in the spirit of unity and togetherness that has eluded us throughout our history.” —Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington

mantra, ‘One Pine Bluff, Stronger Together,’” she said. “What is new about this moment in Pine Bluff is that we see more parts of our community working together in the spirit of unity and togetherness that has eluded us throughout our history. “We see it in the public-private partnership between our city and Go Forward Pine Bluff to improve the quality of life for citizens in our community. We see it in small businesses that have partnered with our summer youth employment program to give young people an opportunity to be connected to the workforce and learn real-world skills.” “We also see it in the young people at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff who are the first in their family to earn a college diploma and who are choosing to stay in Pine Bluff to

contribute to our community, as well as the young people who moved away and now are coming back home to start a business.” Watley said outside investment is a key next step for revitalization efforts and recruitment of these of dollars is progressing at full speed. A downtown master plan, released late last year, and a forthcoming comprehensive city plan, now in its opening stages, provide strategic vision for these potential investors. “We’ve had many conversations about what we can do to make [Pine Bluff] even more interesting to people,” he said. “We’re in a unique situation through the opportunity zone and new market tax credit and historical tax credit. All those are applicable, so understanding that process and being able

to communicate that to investors has become very important.” The city received a momentum boost when Arkansas voters approved legalized gambling, a measure specifically earmarking Pine Bluff for a new casino and hotel complex. City officials are hungry to capitalize on the residual development from that project as well as what comes of their own economic development efforts. Should these efforts yield the intended result, steps have been taken to help ensure local trade companies have the opportunity to benefit via the Construction and Trade Alliance. Van Tilbury, president and CEO of East Harding Construction in Little Rock, founded the alliance in 2017 to help resident



a new HOPE

Wide sidewalks, attractive new plantings, public art and highlighted architecture all lend to the overall ambiance of Pine Bluff’s envisioned downtown.

subcontractors position themselves favorably to land contracts, thereby growing their operations and keeping development money within the local economy. “East Harding has worked consistently in Pine Bluff since 2002 and we have literally had a project in construction in Pine Bluff since that time, back when it was a very underserved market,” Tilbury said. “We built a lot of relationships with local subcontractors who are very competent. We also identified some subcontractors who I would call lower capacity and wanted to grow. Our goal has been to involve them on our projects with the key phrase of building capacity. “We started having quarterly meetings with established subcontractors in the construction trades in Pine Bluff and asked them to help identify up-and-coming companies, younger companies that wanted to learn how to compete for commercial construction projects.” Building a network of 60 member companies, the alliance helped bring these firms along on projects. Results have retained substantial development dollars within the local economy; Tilbury cited one project for the Dollarway School District where 85 percent of bids were awarded to local firms. “Another key is, we know the capacity of the local market, so we write our bid packages that target 54 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 5 | 2019

that capacity,” Tilbury said. “A local contractor may not be able to do a big HVAC project, but they may be able to do pipe insulation on those HVAC pipes. If it’s a million-dollar HVAC job, they can’t bid it, but if it’s a $50,000 insulation package, they can bid that. Then they’re on a larger scale project and learning. “That builds capacity so when the next project comes in, they’re better equipped to compete and hopefully their contract values can grow and they one day become a mentor to younger up-andcoming companies.” For all the innovative thinking and administrative boxes that have been checked in this effort, Watley knows that the true octane for Pine Bluff’s engine will be projects visibly coming out of the ground. “So far, it’s mainly been collaborative effort, and because of the collaboration, people believe in [the plan],” he said. “Time-wise, Pine Bluff is very anxious for certain things. We struggle every day to meet the timeline with what Pine Bluffians want,because they want it now. Even last year with all the processes we established, you still couldn’t see anything. “We’re starting to have those conversations now to bring new people to our doorstep. We have some prospects and it’s going to be so critical to turn those prospects into realization.”

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arkansas: THE TURNAROUND STATE How Opportunity Zones Could Help Disinvested Communities BY MATTHEW PETTY, PRINCIPAL, INFILL GROUP


very city is nostalgic for the way things used to be. Daytrip through a dozen Arkansas downtowns and you’ll see why. There are a few downtowns that are remarkable for their ongoing success, but an honest evaluation shows most are still struggling with foundational challenges. Each decaying parking lot and empty storefront serves as a reminder that something critical to the local economy is still missing. Opportunity Zones may be able to help. There is no immediately apparent reason these communities don’t thrive. Spend time with the people in these places and you’ll recognize their spirit is indomitable. Hope is alive and the culture runs deep. Yet try as their leaders might, they aren’t recovering to their former vitality. It’s because the private sector can’t achieve the short-term gains financiers usually require. Where they are designated, Opportunity Zones could help because they make longterm investing more attractive. Instead of seeking a profit just one, two, or three years ahead, investors earn much higher returns if they wait a decade. The new Zones incentivize the kind of long-term thinking cities need their private sectors to adopt to make their communities thrive again.

This isn’t to say private investment will be enough. Distressed downtowns and challenged neighborhoods aren’t the result of a simple market failure, and no new program will be a magic wand that fixes decades of neglect and disinvestment. It’s still true that fixing and maintaining downtowns requires deliberate and unending attention; great places that don’t get ongoing cultural and infrastructural investments become forgotten. Municipalities alone just don’t have the resources to invest and achieve the required scale, but they can lead catalytic civic projects and implement other tactics to guide private sector decisions. The most critical strategy is to lean in to their role as coordinator of development activity more broadly. In embracing that role, wise city leaders will recognize how they can use Opportunity Zones to launch and sustain targeted revitalization efforts. The way Opportunity Zones work is by changing the way taxes are treated when a qualifying property or venture is sold. The longer a property is held, the bigger the tax benefit for the investor. Investors realize modest benefits if they hold projects for at least five years and more if they hold it for seven. The biggest break comes after 10


years, when all capital gains associated with a qualified investment are eliminated. Add it up and this benefit amounts to post-tax investment returns that can be more than 1.5 times the returns that would otherwise be achieved. To qualify for the benefits, a special Opportunity Fund has to be created to invest in businesses and real estate within designated Opportunity Zones. Such a fund could have ownership in a portfolio of projects across multiple Opportunity Zones or it could be a single-purpose fund that invests in a single project. That means within Opportunity Zones, cities can coordinate boutique developers, production house builders and larger equity funds to orient market activity toward long-term improvements in the zones that need investment the most. New funds are starting up in 2019 as the federal government continues releasing long-awaited rules and guidelines. CatalyticOZ fund in Arkansas is attempting projects in every corner of the state and working exclusively in Arkansas. Their most ambitious projects are in Pine Bluff, formerly one of the most magnificent downtowns in the whole South and now a city with so much grit and determination that it’s impossible not to root for its success.


Governor Asa Hutchison designated 85 Opportunity Zones in 2018. More information is available from the Business PULL QUOTE Finance and IncentivesHERE Division at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.


While every project is unique, this graph shows the after-tax rate of return of a typical example increases by more than 75% when investors hold their interest for at least 10 years.

How does anyone decide to make big investments in downtowns and districts like Pine Bluff’s? Until Opportunity Zones, hardly anyone did. To be clear, there were seeds of reinvestment and revitalization sending out roots; they’ve always been there in the locals hanging on to keep the haircutters open and owners risking it all to serve coffee or keep the barbecue pit smoking. But even as the city signals its commitment to new multimillion-dollar civic facilities, windows are getting shuttered and buildings are being demolished. “Opportunity Zones turn singles into doubles and turn doubles into home runs,” explained Tom Reilley, a Director at CatalyticOZ, at a fundraising presentation in March this year. “We wouldn’t be able to raise money to invest in these locations otherwise.” Reilley’s comments reflect an observation many city leaders make about their revitalization ambitions. The private sector can invest anywhere, so city leaders trying to launch and sustain redevelopment efforts understand they have to convince investors their city offers an advantage over others. According to Reilley, Opportunity Zones can be that advantage. CatalyticOZ’s investments in Pine Bluff aren’t one-off attempts at short-term profits. The math of the Opportunity Zones makes long-term bets the best strategy, and makes investors more engaged in taking the necessary steps to protect and enhance their original investment. Often, that means the investment does best when multiple ventures can be coordinated to complement

one another. For CatalyticOZ in Pine Bluff, for instance, that means restoring one of the most magnificent hotels of the early 20th century, a blues club and bar, constructing new housing and supporting the independent businesses that are already taking root in downtown today. It’s unlikely any of those investments alone would be competitive without developing, aligning and supporting these other endeavors. Taken as a collective effort, these projects add value to one another and thus grow the necessary positive economic ecosystem over time. Projects that add value to one another are the secret sauce that makes longterm value so attractive in Opportunity Zones and why municipal coordination of Opportunity Zones is critical. It takes the entirety of local and regional economies to sustain great places. Building a powerful and resilient place requires intentional and transparent coordination intended to guide the development sector to those outcomes more quickly and with greater certainty than hands-off or wait-and-see approaches can guarantee. In simple terms, cities need a good plan for coordinating Opportunity Zone development and everyone needs to know what it is. Cities who don’t coordinate Opportunity Zone development from the front end could miss out on the most important community benefits of the program. Having a plan isn’t just about using time and resources efficiently or making sure the market can take calculated risks; it’s necessary for cities


that want to address the principal criticism of Opportunity Zones. Because the tax benefits only accrue for investors who are able to make investments from the profits of other ventures, the program has been criticized as yet another perk that only accrues for the already wealthy. It’s a fair criticism because that’s a likely outcome in cities that don’t coordinate Opportunity Zone activity for the broader community benefits they can create. The difference between a useful plan and a plan that gets ignored is as simple as whether or not it clearly spells out what the community needs to thrive. If the principal need in an Opportunity Zone is housing, commercial or entrepreneurial reuse of existing spaces, cities must enlist Opportunity Zone developers to deliver precisely those things. And, in places where all three are needed? It is vital for cities to not lose sight of the whole vision when the first project comes along. With each success or failure, cities must refer to their plan, make an evaluation, and ask “What’s next?” That “What’s next?” question must always be answered in consideration for your community’s long-term goals. Understanding your own long-term aspirations for your Opportunity Zones is what it takes to recruit Opportunity Funds large and small to help you implement your plan. With Opportunity Zones, cities finally have a convincing financial argument to coordinate longterm, complementary investments in their communities. If it’s your job to advocate for investment where you live, you owe it to your neighbors not to let it go to waste.




CREATIVE COLLABORATIONS magazines, blogs and shares from The Unexpected page. The Unexpected program will continue to bring unexpected art to unexpected places. What role does the 64.6 downtown organization play in business recruitment and other direct economic development activities? Creation of a space that provides diverse amenities is crucial and 64.6 has played a major role in space activation with its inaugural event, The Unexpected. We view our role as a connector and convener of experiences that facilitate activity downtown. Other examples include the development of the first downtown pocket park with Garrison Commons and the transformation of Universal Chapel by Okuda San Miguel into Gateway Park, as drivers of the Propelling Downtown Forward Masterplan, as is upcoming renovation of the historic New Theatre.

TALICIA RICHARDSON Executive Director, 64.6, Fort Smith


alicia Richardson has acquired a wealth of knowledge crossing multiple business disciplines over the last 20 years of her career, including hospitality and health care. She served recently as the Development Officer for the Fort Smith Housing Authority, developing strategies for neighborhood stabilization and coordinating residential, mixed-use and mixed-income development. She played an integral part in the development of the Propelling Downtown Forward Masterplan initiative, which won the Main Street Arkansas’s Award for 2017 Best Downtown Improvement Project. It also landed the Arkansas Chapter of the American Planning Association Award for Achievement in Comprehensive Plan Development. This positioned her to take on her newest role, as executive director of the downtown association 64.6, where her prime responsibility is implementing that same downtown plan. What are some of the biggest challenges facing downtown Fort Smith? We are competing on a national stage and many communities are working to enhance their downtown experiences. Moving forward on quality projects with speed of execution will continue to set downtown Fort Smith apart. What are some of the solutions? Embracing our natural resources like the Arkansas River and unleashing its potential with 6.2 miles of trails, a world-class skate and bike park, the construction of the U.S. Marshals Museum and more to come. Only a bridge separates us from Oklahoma, so it is important to maximize our regional impact by reaching across the border and to increase collaboration with neighboring communities such as Van Buren, Alma and Greenwood. How did The Unexpected mural campaign impact downtown and what is next for the program? The impact continues to span across and beyond the city of Fort Smith. It is difficult to quantify the annual visits to downtown, however, in 2017 we had an estimated reach of 15 million across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, trade

How does your organization partner and work with the city and other community organizations? 64.6 works closely with the city on multiple projects, including the recently completed downtown masterplan. While we led the effort, the city reviewed and adopted the plan, pledging to work together in implementation. In addition, the city worked with us in the production of the Unexpected initiative, which was particularly important when we were programming civic-owned sites. The D*Face Arrows art installation was one of our favorite collaborative projects. With multiple private partners, the Fort Smith Parks Department worked closely with us to bring this massive installation to life. While the downtown district is the heartbeat of Fort Smith, we cannot do it alone. We work continuously with the business and arts community as well as the Chaffee Crossing Redevelopment Authority, Frontier Metropolitan Organization and Fort Smith Downtown Business Association on community presentations, grants and event support. We are one in Fort Smith. How did 64.6 get its name? The name 64.6 represents the square-mile footprint of Fort Smith. The 64.6 downtown organization was created to act as a catalyst for economic development in downtown by inspiring and engaging partners through art, education, place-making and other attractive amenities, as a means to accelerate development of diverse commerce. Does the organization hold a contract for services with the city? Where does 64.6 derive its resources for the work? We do not have a contract with the city. Fort Smith is a generous community and as a non-profit organization, we rely heavily on our strong volunteer base, grants, in-kind donations and the generosity of private donors.


Argenta Plaza: Shaping Life in North Little Rock



Framework rises out of Argenta’s Plaza along Main Street. The long-anticipated development will feature public spaces among showpiece corporate headquarters, restaurants and residential buildings.


ork hasn’t even completed at North Little Rock’s Argenta Plaza, but the centerpiece of the neighborhood’s redevelopment has already shown proof of concept. That being, if you build it, they will come. Following the announcement of the new $5.4 million Argenta Plaza, the first corporate tenant to seize the opportunity to build there was Charles Morgan, CEO of Little Rock tech firm First Orion Corporation. First Orion’s showstopper five-story headquarters is scheduled for completion later this year and will anchor the east side of the plaza. Following First Orion came the 600 Main Building. That project will house Taggart Architects on the top floor, the Arkansas

Automobile Dealers Association on the second level and The North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau on the first. The last piece of the plaza puzzle is the three-story Power + Ice Building, the brainchild of developer John Chandler. Power + Ice will anchor the north side of the plaza and will have upper-floor residences on the top two floors. The first floor will house the Power + Ice Food Hall, a creation of Brian and Eric Isaac, proprietors of longtime Argenta Italian restaurant, Capeo. The food hall will serve as a launch pad for six other concepts offering a wide range of cuisines. These upscale eateries will showcase an array of sights, smells, sounds and tastes


from open kitchens that put the art of cooking on display. The food hall is not the only new culinary experience on the horizon, either. Recognizing the impact the plaza and new private investment will have on Argenta, Jess McMullin of nearby Flyway Brewing plans a new gastro pub, Brood & Barrell, at 411 Main St. Targeting a summer 2019 opening, Brood & Barrel will focus on specialty lagers brewed at the Flyway location, available exclusively at the pub. Once completed, Argenta Plaza is expected to be a thriving public space, hosting multiple events throughout the year, and lending plenty of activity to this bustling, walkable neighborhood.

INTERSECTION OF CAMPUS AND COMMUNITY active participation and collaboration. With the growth of ASU, what has been the biggest challenge both oncampus and off-campus in accommodating that growth? The largest growth of A-State has been in our online programming, and our biggest challenge remains getting more students to come to our Jonesboro campus and then to graduate from here in 4-6 years. One of the challenges we face is the flattening, and soon to be declining, number of college-going high school graduates. There are fewer students going to college across the country and within the state, which means all colleges are battling for a shrinking pool of students. We believe that we have a beautiful campus and outstanding academic opportunities for our students. The challenge is making prospective students aware of what we have and then convincing them that college really is worth it.

KELLY DAMPHOUSSE Chancellor, Arkansas State University, Jonesboro


elly Damphousse became the 13th chancellor of Arkansas State University in July 2017. A native of Canada, he holds an associate’s degree in Law Enforcement, a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a Ph.D. in Sociology, all from Texas A&M University. His personal experience as a first-generation college student has created in him a passion for young people who are making the sometimes-difficult transition into college. What are the top demands for students as it relates to community experiences? When we recruit students to Arkansas State University, we are also recruiting them to Jonesboro. While students are certainly interested in what is happening on campus, both academically and socially, they are also interested in what is happening in the city. Some places are “college towns” and others are “towns with a college in them.” Students look for social and cultural activities that are relevant to their interests. They are also looking for towns that recognize the importance of the university and appreciate what the university does for the town. They love local and unique—places they cannot find back home—as well as places where they can just hang out either to socialize or to do their school work. What role does a university play in city planning? How has ASU worked with the city of Jonesboro? The “town and gown” relationship is vital and the college and the community have a shared responsibility for fostering it. It is so important that campus leadership understands that as the city goes, so goes the university. A thriving university brings welcome revenue, culture, jobs and a sense of well-being that is the envy of communities without a local college. When the relationship between colleges and the community becomes a struggle, both entities suffer. Unfortunately, there are some communities where the relationship between the city and the university is adversarial. The key to creating a strong town and gown relationship is clear communication and

What does the future hold for ASU? I came to A-State in 2017 because I believed then that the future of A-State had huge potential. I believe that even more now than I did two years ago. The strength of our university lies in its people. We have incredibly gifted faculty and staff members, many of whom are A-State alumni or who have a connection to Northeast Arkansas. As a result, they understand the challenges that our students face and they are incredibly invested in student success. In addition to all that, we are located in a lovely city filled with friends and alumni who are passionate about investing in our campus and our students. I am very bullish about the future of A-State, Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas. We serve a noble mission here, changing the lives of the young men and women in Arkansas and the upper Delta, and I cannot wait to see what happens here next.



ON THE FUTURE Arkansas Cities Await Impact of Casinos BY MARK CARTER


asino legalization in Arkansas will alter the way impacted cities plan for the future, but it may take some time for those plans to take shape. City planning updates have been launched in Hot Springs and West Memphis to accommodate the addition of live casino gaming at the cities’ respective racetracks and the commercial growth expected to piggyback off it. But city officials don’t yet know exactly what those updates could look like. The state’s 2005 allowance for “casinos-light” at Oaklawn thoroughbred racing in Hot Springs and Southland greyhound racing in West Memphis introduced electronic games of skill such as video slots and poker and nudged each city closer to live, full-time gambling. Arkansas voters upped the ante in 2018 with passage of Issue 4 in the November general election. That measure amended the state constitution to approve live casino-gaming licenses for Oaklawn and Southland and allow for casinos in Pine Bluff and Russellville. While legal challenges may yet derail any casino plans in Russellville, where local voters overwhelmingly opposed the ballot measure, Pine Bluff is ready to roll the dice. With the support of local voters behind them, city leaders endorsed a plan by the Quapaw Nation to build a casino in the heart of the tribe’s historic, Southeast Arkansas homeland. Quapaw leaders are optimistic their first Arkansas venture can duplicate the success of tribe casinos in neighboring states

while Pine Bluff officials simply hope it can help jump-start the area’s lagging economy. Pine Bluff city leaders aren’t ready to talk about any potential planning changes until the project receives a gaming license from the state racing commission in June at the earliest. Meanwhile, officials at Oaklawn and Southland wasted no time once the 2018 calendar turned to start the process of converting into actual casinos. Eight live tables were added to the Oaklawn stable of roughly 1,300 electronic games, while Southland now offers 40 live tables and about 2,000 traditional slot machines. More tables and slots are on the way, and both tracks plan to open sports books in 2019, giving patrons even more incentive to visit. Hot Springs officials welcome all the growth Oaklawn can give them. Opened in 1904, Oaklawn has been a big part of the city’s history and its $100 million-plus expansion represents another chapter in the city’s rich story. Begun in May following the conclusion of the 2019 racing season, the expansion includes 28,000 squarefeet of new gaming space; a sevenstory, luxury hotel with 200 rooms; an adjacent, 14,000-square-foot, multipurpose center accommodating up to 1,500 people for concerts, meetings and banquets; and various amenities including a new restaurant and other dining options, an outdoor pool, a fitness center and a spa. The full expansion is scheduled to be ready in time for the 2020 live racing season. The city’s new comprehensive plan remains in its early stages,


but one thing is certain—a portion of it will focus on Oaklawn and its neighborhood along Central Avenue. Some commercial development, possibly spurred by Oaklawn’s plans, has already popped up along the Central Avenue and Lake Hamilton corridors and downtown. Hot Springs Assistant City Manager Lance Spicer said it’s hard to predict just how much effect Oaklawn’s growth will have, but he expects it to greatly enhance the city’s already elevated hospitality profile. “It’s too early to tell exactly the impact of this large-scale expansion,” Spicer said. “Oaklawn and Hot Springs have grown up together somewhat and the Central Avenue corridor has, too. The impact likely will extend far beyond the confines of Oaklawn Park. It’s a game changer.” The most notable change will be a new entrance and traffic light at Central Avenue and Golf Links Road, south of Oaklawn’s current entrance. Spicer said the existing entrance and light will be abandoned and the reconfiguration should help move traffic more efficiently. The stretch of Central Avenue along the Oaklawn footprint tallied a daily count of more than 20,000 vehicles in 2018, according to the Arkansas Department of Transportation. Of course, it’s expected to swell post-expansion, and accommodating tourists represents job one for Hot Springs. “By spacing the traffic lights out further, it will ease the stacking experienced on heavy race-traffic days,” Spicer said.

Oaklawn’s $100 million expansion is targeting a 2020 completion.

OAKLAWN RACING AND GAMING Hot Springs EXPANSION STATS: $100 million+ investment

7-story, 200-room luxury hotel 14,000-square-foot multi-purpose center 28,000 square-feet of new gaming

Casino legalization in Arkansas will alter the way impacted cities plan for the future, but it may take some time for those plans to take shape. VOLUME 5 | 2019 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 63

gambling ON THE FUTURE A looming 20-story hotel anchors Southland’s $250 million expansion

In West Memphis, Southland’s planned $250 million expansion entails a 20-story hotel with 288 rooms, 12 penthouse suites and four restaurants. Project construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2019 and take 12 months for the casino, 18 months for the hotel. Southland plans to hire about 600 new employees once the expansion is complete, almost doubling its current workforce of 819. This in addition to three new hotels opened or under development along the I-55 corridor close to the track ,which has city officials expecting more commercial growth. The Grow West Memphis 2040 campaign will create a comprehensive city plan to manage new growth and identify where and

how the city should grow. Though still in development, it already includes a special planning district to address development possibilities and potential impacts of an expanded Southland. Mallory Darby, project manager for the West Memphis Office of Economic Development, said the city expects an influx of ancillary businesses tied to casinogenerated tourism. “The area in and around Southland provides great opportunity for growth as an entertainment district,” she said. “It’s all part of a focus on creating opportunity for consumers to have a more robust experience while visiting West Memphis and also elevating the quality of life for citizens of


West Memphis.” The timeline for any infusion of tourist dollars into Pine Bluff remains unclear as city and tribal officials await license approval. Assuming one is granted in June and ground is broken, the planned Saracen Casino Resort, named for a former Quapaw chief buried in Pine Bluff, could open by spring 2020. The $350 million project will sit on about 300 acres at the corner of Martha Mitchell Expressway and Highway 63 across from the Pines Mall. The casino portion of the project will entail 80,000 square-feet with 50 live gaming tables and 2,300 slot machines. Phase Two, also scheduled for a 2020 completion, includes a 350-room hotel with

SOUTHLAND PARK West Memphis EXPANSION STATS: $250 million investment 20-story hotel 288 rooms 12 penthouse suites 4 restaurants


600 new employees

meeting space, an entertainment venue, a spa and multiple restaurants and lounges. Also planned are a museum and cultural center and employee amenities including a health clinic, child learning center and onsite daycare. Hitching one’s wagon to a casino is no sure thing, but local officials are counting on the Saracen to help revitalize a city and region worn down by decades of declining population and industry. The economic impact of the tribe’s Downstream Casino Resort just outside Joplin, Missouri, has been significant. In its first 10 years of operation, Downstream profits provided more than $100 million to the Quapaw general fund, while a 2012 independent study estimated a

regional economic impact of $1 billion over the casino’s first five years. As stipulated under the new Arkansas law, Pine Bluff will take in 19.5 percent of casino proceeds while 8 percent will go to the county. Though the city’s growth plans remain unclear, the tribe is anticipating casinodriven growth for the area. Its purchase earlier this year of a truck stop on Highway 63 across from the project site is evidence of that optimism. The tribe anticipates hiring roughly 1,000 temporary construction workers and up to 1,100 permanent workers for the finished product. But count Larry Reynolds, director of the Southeast Arkansas Regional Planning

Commission, as very cautiously optimistic. He noted potential hurdles yet to be cleared once the gaming license is in hand include the annexation of site property not currently within city limits; the transfer of ownership from the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County to the tribe’s Downstream Development Authority, which will manage the property and supply security and fire protection; the development of necessary city infrastructure to accommodate a large casino; and finding local bodies to fill all the new jobs created by the project. “As far as the impact, that remains to be seen,” Reynolds said. “Around here, it’s a guess. Nobody’s ever dealt with a casino before.”


FINDING CULTURAL GOLD IN ELDORADO What is the management structure for the district? El Dorado Festival & Events, Inc. a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity, does business as the Murphy Arts District (MAD). We have a staff of 37 fulltime people who manage and operate the Griffin Restaurant, MAD Amphitheater, First Financial Music Hall and MAD Playscape. How has the city been involved? The city of El Dorado passed two consecutive economic development sales taxes and through these sales taxes helped to fund the development of the MAD Amphitheater, MAD Playscape and Oil Heritage Park. The city has also supported our construction through infrastructure. Additionally, the El Dorado Advertising and Promotion Commission has supported our marketing efforts. What are the funding mechanisms for programming and administration? Ticket revenues, food and beverage revenues, membership fees, foundation grants, corporate sponsorships and donations and individual contributions.


President and CEO, Murphy Arts District, El Dorado


Hope native, Pam Griffin has been a key player in the formation of El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc. (Murphy Arts District) since joining the organization four years ago. She was recently promoted to president and chief operating officer, previously serving three years as treasurer and chief financial officer of the organization. After graduating from Louisiana Tech University, she earned her CPA and spent 11 years in public accounting based in Little Rock. Several private company positions later, she decided to apply her unique mix of passions for business and entertainment to help revitalize the South Arkansas region she calls home. Griffin also enjoys serving the community in numerous volunteer positions, including past chairman of the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the South Arkansas Arts Center, Main Street El Dorado and Turning Point. What have been some key lessons learned in developing the El Dorado Arts District? Investing time in developing collaborative relationships with partner organization in the community, as well as key persons of influence, pay off with short- and long-term dividends, including community buy-in, legislative support and advocacy.

What advice would you give communities wanting to develop their own special entertainment and/or arts districts? Be willing to be flexible in your ambitions or vision. As the project evolves, new conditions will emerge and the ultimate result of the project may look different from the original plan. Additionally, ensure that you and your team are committed to thinking big and owning the tiny details.


Aside from tourism, what direct impact has the Murphy Arts District had in the recruitment and retention of talent to support your business and industrial base? MAD has been a powerful tool for employee recruitment and retention, as well as community pride. The El Dorado Promise has also provided a major boost by offering graduates of El Dorado High School with a scholarship covering tuition and fees that can be used at any accredited two- or four-year, public or private educational institution in the U.S. Furthermore, the Medical Center of South Arkansas is developing innovative partnerships with specialty hospitals to dramatically broaden the scale and scope of services provided. Partnerships with entities such as Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Arkansas Heart Hospital, among others, contribute to community vibrancy and sustainability. The El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce continually reports education and health care as the core issues for newcomers to the area. In the year after MAD’s opening, the chamber experienced a 5,000 percent increase in the number of monthly relocation information requests. What role does municipal planning—including downtown master planning — ­ play in the development of the Murphy Arts District? MAD founders looked around the country for other municipalities with assets and conditions similar to ours. We were not able to find any other place that matched the uniqueness of El Dorado that was also aligned with the ambitions of the Murphy Arts District. That resulted in us developing a plan that incorporated best in class municipal planning tools. MAD was fortunate to take advantage of previous downtown preservation efforts led by residents Richard and Vertis Mason as well as the work of Main Street El Dorado and the South Arkansas Arts Center. The Masons were instrumental in saving a significant number of downtown historic buildings, Main Street El Dorado tapped into the community’s interest in live musical entertainment, and the South Arkansas Arts Center fostered interest in community arts and culture through arts education and community theatre. The work of these individuals and organizations led to the arts and entertainment legacy of El Dorado, ultimately laying the foundation for the creation of MAD.

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85 Years o g fS in t a

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