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BLOCK STREET&BUILDING

The Best of New Urbanism in Arkansas THE FUTURE OF

MAIN STREET INVESTING IN DOWNTOWNS

INCREMENTAL DEVELOPMENT

> PLANNERS & VISIONARIES > BUILDING COMMUNITIES > NEIGHBORHOODS & DISTRICTS

Volume 2 | 2016


BUILDING GOOD 12 STREET REVIVAL ON THE HORIZON TH

It takes vision for a neighborhood to adapt and thrive. The City of Little Rock is blending mixed-use development, historic preservation, and infrastructure improvements to move the vision for this vital corridor forward.

Jump Start 12th Street. Building good in the capital city.

littlerock.org


BLOCK STREET&BUILDING The Best of New Urbanism in Arkansas

12

the future of MAIN STREET

Investing in Downtown’s Uniqueness

18

from vision TO REALITY

What Cities Need to Do to Build Great Neighborhoods

32

one front PORCH AT A TIME

Community in the Bentonville Arts District

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art of the POSSIBLE

A Road Map to the I-30 Conversation

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embracing the RENAISSANCE

Forth Smith, El Dorado and North Little Rock Look to the Arts for Economic Development

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rebuilding HISTORY

Developers Bring Argenta Neighborhood to Full Bloom

Introduction

Features

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26 35 40 44 50 52 64 66 74 78

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A Message from the Arkansas Municipal League Letter from the Editor

New Urbanism Champions 16 Mark Zweig 24 Brent Salter 30 Jill Dabbs 34 Jimmy Moses 38 Sam Sicard 43 Ward Davis 46 Hannah Cicioni 48 Josh Olson & Ted Herget 55 Phil Baldwin 62 Carol Worley 4 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Pliable Plans Outlaws in Plain Sight Setting a Place at the Table Brick by Brick Urban Growth in East Village Cherry Picked Cooperation is Key Iconic Robinson Restored Hot Springs Hotels on the Rise Hot on the Trail

ON THE COVER: Newly-constructed homes by Newell Development located in the Bentonville Arts District. Photo by Novo Studio.


BLOCK STREET&BUILDING A Special Publication of Arkansas Times ALAN LEVERITT Publisher alan@arktimes.com PHYLLIS A. BRITTON Associate Publisher phyllis@arktimes.com EDITORIAL MANDY KEENER Creative Director mandy@arktimes.com DANIEL HINTZ Editor

LIVE. WORK. PLAY. Join us in our mission to create a more remarkable urban experience. From the revitalization of Main Street and the Creative Corridor, to newly burgeoning neighborhoods like South Main (SoMa), the East Village, and the Financial Quarter, we’re helping to make the heart of the city beat as one.

AMY GORDY Managing Editor amy@arktimes.com REBEKAH LAWRENCE Editor at Large rebekah@arktimes.com ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES ASHLEY GILL | ashley@arktimes.com BLAKE HANNAHS | blake@arktimes.com BROOKE WALLACE | brooke@arktimes.com LEE MAJOR | lee@arktimes.com LESA THOMAS | lesa@arktimes.com STEPHEN PAULSON | stephen@arktimes.com PRODUCTION WELDON WILSON Production Manager/Controller ROLAND R. GLADDEN Advertising Traffic Manager JIM HUNNICUTT Advertising Coordinator GRAPHIC DESIGNERS BRYAN MOATS, MIKE SPAIN, & KEVIN WALTERMIRE SOCIAL MEDIA LAUREN BUCHER lauren@arktimes.com OFFICE STAFF ROBERT CURFMAN IT Director LINDA PHILLIPS Billing/Collections KELLY JONES Office Manager/Accouts Payable ANITRA HICKMAN Circulation Director

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ARKANSAS TIMES PUBLISHING 201 E. MARKHAM ST., SUITE 200 LITTLE ROCK, AR 72201 501-375-2985 All Contents © 2016 Arkansas Times


Empowering communities

What makes a strong community? Educational and professional opportunities, relief to those in need, and the responsible use of technology. That’s why we proudly support our communities throughout Arkansas.

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SPONSOR, BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

A Message from the Arkansas Municipal League

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rkansas, in many ways, is a puzzle that has been pieced together very carefully and purposefully over the course of time. Our state includes 500 cities and towns, both small and large, spread across 75 counties. Little Rock, our capital city and the largest piece of our puzzle, contains 193,524 citizens, while our smallest piece is Blue Eye with just 30 residents. No matter the population, every city and town in Arkansas is an important piece of Arkansas’s revitalization puzzle. Our population spread among the cities and towns in Arkansas is wide-ranging and this makes for one fantastic state! On May 10, the town of College City (population 455) voted overwhelmingly to merge with Walnut Ridge in order to improve their services, making the total number of municipalities in Arkansas 500. All of our cities and towns were created voluntarily and have legislativelygranted tools to expand, shrink and merge as they so desire. The individual wisdom in all the various puzzle pieces (cities and towns) of Arkansas is phenomenal. Each of these local entities is striving to achieve their goals and utilizing that wisdom to make themselves better. Often, large accomplishments are widely publicized while the ongoing, incremental achievements are noticed to a lesser extent or sometimes only locally. Arkansas is blessed with many good planners, engineers and architects that provide much assistance and guidance on local projects. Utilization of trained professionals, coupled with the good common sense of our local elected officials, gives our communities an excellent chance to develop correctly and in accordance with the needs and desires of each locality. Circumstances and characteristics developed properly make our cities and towns unique and interesting pieces of Arkansas’s revitalization puzzle. Home Rule is a great tool that allows our cities and towns to reach their full potential and develop as their citizens desire. The collective wisdom of Arkansas’s municipal officials is also evident when they work together for their common good. The development of a set of Policies and Goals for all municipalities is adopted each year at the League’s Annual Convention. Contained in the current edition of the League’s Policies and Goals is a statement that lays out a wonderful plan for our state. The language reads: Arkansas must use its limited resources in the most efficient manner possible in order to achieve clean, safe and prosperous cities and towns. Preserving our beautiful natural areas where we have some of the best hunting and fishing in the world, supporting our thriving tourism industry, encouraging a strong agricultural economy and maintaining relatively low taxes are important goals for the future of Arkansas. To maintain this quality of life with low taxes we must allocate our resources very carefully and recognize that city living and country living are different. Supporting rural growth by providing municipal services into unincorporated areas dilutes the quality of municipal services while at the same time encroaches on our state’s natural areas, which more properly can be utilized by farmers, sports enthusiasts, tourists and naturalists. Following this policy would give our state the best of many desirable attributes. The benefit to our cities and towns is the ability to have the economies of scale necessary to offer good municipal services in a cost-effective manner. Municipal officials certainly have a knack for overachieving when it comes to getting bang for the buck. Proper development, as outlined in the policy statement, helps make everyone a winner. The Arkansas General Assembly has, over the years, given our cities and towns many developmental tools to utilize. These tools have accounted for great accomplishments. This spring, a Placemaking Summit and Small Developers Boot Camp was held in Bentonville. The emphasis at the summit and boot camp focused on making cities and towns into interesting places. Creating interesting cities and towns serves as great motivation for people to invest in localities and want to reside, visit and work there. Regarding motivation or incentive, another issue that Arkansans will be deciding this year is the question of changing the Arkansas Constitution to allow public funds to be given to private entities for the purpose of economic development or services. Many view this as furthering Home Rule and as an additional tool that cities, towns and counties will be able to utilize, as well as the state to an even greater extent than it currently does, to attract additional jobs for our cities, counties and state. The amendment will change Article 12, Section 5 of our state Constitution to allow, rather than prohibit, using city, town and county funds for private purposes. Some say this will be a great economic development tool while others call it “corporate welfare” that will tend to push taxes higher or potentially result in defaults. The main thing we all need to be concerned with is making sure the collective wisdom of Arkansans is used in addressing this major policy question during this year’s election. Arkansas voters must make a well-informed decision on this matter that will appear on November’s ballot. By submitting this question to the voters, the Arkansas General Assembly has once again given the people the chance to rule, as our state motto infers. Whether the voters decide this additional tool is needed or not, I know Arkansas municipal officials, along with the citizens of their cities and towns, will continue making improvements on a variety of scales to further enhance and revitalize hometowns across Arkansas. Again, whether small or large—every piece of our revitalization puzzle counts because “Great Cities Make A Great State.” Don A. Zimmerman Executive Director Arkansas Municipal League 8 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING 8 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


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Small or large—every piece of the revitalization puzzle counts! “Great Cities Make A Great State”

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BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Letter from the Editor

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” — JANE JACOBS, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”

I

It was an honor to have been invited to help the good folks at Block, Street and Building craft the second edition of the magazine. Steve Luoni and Matthew Petty from the University of Arkansas Community Design Center had set such an excellent foundation in the inaugural issue by covering the breadth and depth of the New Urbanist philosophy, and illustrating some great examples around the state. Our challenge for this issue was to uncover a new angle that would continue to bring this subject to life. As Jane Jacobs, the godmother of the New Urbanist movement, said, “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.” So with that in mind, we crafted this issue around the humans that build, activate and shape our communities. The stories inside highlight the challenges, failures and successes of folks like you, who took the first step (and second, third and fourth) to make something happen. Each endeavor in this issue underscores the saying that we have to be the change we seek. Small, incremental development was and remains the life-blood of cities. Flexible, functional and human-scaled, these projects are the vehicle for generating community wealth, and are contributors to that sense of place so many cities are fighting to maintain or revive. There are thousands of people in Arkansas that could fall into a category of doers, and this issue merely scratches the surface of the awesomeness that is going on in communities across the state. Please know that wherever you are, we applaud and appreciate your efforts. This issue is dedicated to you!

Daniel Hintz Editor, Block, Street & Building

10 || BLOCK, BLOCK, STREET STREET & & BUILDING BUILDING 10


the future of MAIN STREET

12 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

PHOTOS BY MAT THEW MARTIN

PHOTO COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

W

e are at a confluence. Whether you take the research from reports, blogs or books that declare the power of place to heart, it is undeniable that there are two massive drivers reshaping Arkansas’s downtowns that put small developers right in the driver’s seat. The first great driver is demographics. From millennials to retiring baby boomers, trends show both young and old want to be in downtowns and urban cores. The lure of downtown living for these two demographic groups has been growing over the last decade and a half in cities across the nation, and now its pull is being experienced in Arkansas’s cities. According to the Nielson Company, 62 percent of millennials—those between the ages of 17 and 34—indicate they prefer to live in the type of mixed-use communities found in urban centers, where they can be close to shops, restaurants and offices. “We love living within walking distance of shops and restaurants, and having a short commute,” said Megan Feyerabend, who owns a local photography studio and frame shop with her husband, Matt, in downtown Siloam Springs. Likewise, baby boomer Beverly Rowe in downtown Texarkana touts walkability as the reason she and her husband downsized and moved downtown several years ago. Like so many other baby boomers, the Rowes want to walk to places like the Perot Theater and experience the arts and culture that are found in the heart of the city. Due to its density and activity, areas in or directly adjacent to downtowns hold some of the greatest potential for small developers to capitalize on this growing demographic trend. Jimmy Streett and Shane Butler with Russellville Downtown LLC invested $480,000 in the 110-year-old Deluxe Hotel. This investment resulted in five new second-floor apartments that help meet the growing demand for downtown living space, and attract young millennials to the downtown to provide more feet on the street. This project was awarded Best Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit project of the year by Main Street Arkansas. In addition, a new Thai food restaurant has opened on the ground floor, adding a new dimension to downtown Russellville’s dining options. The second driver is tax credits and financial incentives. Federal and state historic preservation tax credits encourage reinvestment in older and historic buildings, which are usually located in a central downtown location. “The state tax credit is 25 percent, with limits, of the approved rehabilitation expenses on a historic building, which is or will be an income-producing property, such as commercial, office, rental residential, etc.,” says Tom Marr, rehabilitation tax credit coordinator with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. For example, a historic building on the National Register of Historic Places with a project cost of $90,000 could receive a state tax credit of $22,500 with the potential of being sold to a bank at a variable rate such as 0.86 cents on the dollar totaling $19,350 cash back in the current market. With the lowest tax credit cap in the region, the state rehabilitation tax credit is currently only effective for small and medium-sized projects. Last year in Arkansas, the state saw a total of 76 federal and state tax credit projects resulting in more than $38 million invested. Some communities and local Main Street programs have taken matters into their own hands by offering financial incentives to small developers to put in craft breweries, restaurants and housing. All accredited Main Street programs in Arkansas are required to provide a mini-grant facade program. While the


Investing in Downtown’s Uniqueness BY SAMANTHA EVANS

South Main in Little Rock is bursting with businesses, restaurants and public spac BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 13


the future of MAIN STREET The Deluxe Hotel project in downtown Russellville.

amounts may be small in nature, mostly with a maximum of $10,000, these grants assist local property owners and small businesses with financial support to improve their commercial buildings and storefronts for a very low out-of-pocket cost. Recently, Citizens Bank of Batesville created a $10 million lowinterest loan pool to redevelop the downtown in addition to $100,000 worth of cash grants for qualifying projects. The first recipient was the Melba Theater. The Melba Theater is a historic location that holds a special place in the hearts of residents both past and present. As an anchor of Main Street, the theater was built in 1875 as an opera house and later remodeled into a movie theater in 1940. Two couples—Adam and Mandi Curtwright and Janelle and Joe Shell—purchased the building in 2015 in the hopes of restoring the building and returning it back to a movie house but with several upgrades, including being able to show digital films, host concerts, trainings and podcasts. The Shells and Curtwrights were able to develop a strong relationship with their local bank. Citizens Bank provided a pre-development loan at the beginning, a bridge loan pending approval of state tax credits, and a $5,000 grant toward their $20,000 Kickstarter campaign goal designed to raise money for the upgrade to a digital projector, which will cost upward of $60,000 total. The owners also worked with the Batesville Downtown Foundation to set up a donation option so gifts would be tax-deductible. The intersection of demographics, tax credits and financial incentives position small developers to take advantage of them by investing in the buildings and spaces that make Main Street unique as a place and as a program. 14 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Consider Little Rock South Main developer Anita Davis. She bought her first building in the South Main neighborhood during a time when much of Little Rock’s development was taking place in the River Market—in 2004. After meeting with the Main Street Arkansas staff and attending a National Main Streets Conference in Seattle, Davis was reinvigorated to take back what she learned and saw at the conference, and build upon the neighborhood’s assets: loyalty to place, a bit of rebelliousness, openness to diversity and an interest in art. An opportunity became available for Anita to buy the vacant lot next to her building and instead of leaving it vacant or developing an infill building, she assessed the area and saw the need for urban green space. With the help of a few Arkansas landscape architects and local sculptors, the Bernice Sculpture Garden was born as a privately-owned public space where people can connect. From hosting the annual Cornbread Festival, which brings 3,000 people to the neighborhood, or the local Farmers Market, Bernice Garden has truly activated the neighborhood. Davis has since gone on to buy and develop several more properties in the neighborhood, including the only purse museum in the United States—the Esse Purse Museum. Davis says she sees her enterprises not just as businesses, but as ways of nurturing the area by attracting entrepreneurs, artists and others interested in developing and recycling natural assets. And she wanted those already living in the neighborhood to benefit from her efforts. Davis serves as a mentor to local small developers by passing on what she has learned. She is cultivating an ecosystem that contributes to public investments and facilitates private development, which combines to continue South Main’s evolution as an attractive and active focal point for the district.


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RENOVATING DESIGN

MARK ZWEIG Energizing downtown neighborhoods. Founder and CEO, Zweig Group, Fayetteville Why did you get into developing? I started out doing individual gut-tothe-studs house rehabs. The reason I got into it is because I like to take something that is forlorn and needs work, and make it into something beautiful that people can enjoy and use. What is one piece of advice you would give to people thinking about making their first development investment? It sounds like a cliché, but it is and always has been about location. It’s the one thing you cannot change with a piece of real estate.

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What is one lesson learned from your project(s)? Your team is critical. Try to work with the same people over time—people you trust—and then let them do their jobs and only inject yourself as much as necessary to keep the project on target. It’s an art as much as a science. What was your biggest development challenge and how did you overcome it? The biggest challenge almost always involves the city. Getting the project permitted can be extremely difficult, costly and time consuming. Many of those on city staff seem to act as if they believe developers have unlimited amounts of time and money to do their projects because they make so much money. Rarely is that the case! What we perceive as unnecessary bureaucratic hoops, or people who want to say “no” because they don’t see the broader context of what you are trying to do and how it is good for all, can be very frustrating. What do you feel is the biggest risk in developing a property? The biggest risk is getting approval from the city. The financial risk is one you can mitigate through the right project, a good bank and having an end product that will be differentiated in a positive way from what else is available. What is one skill you wish you had that is vital to the development process? I wish we had a better capability to deliver a completed commercial building project of a certain size. Even though we are licensed commercial contractors, we don’t have the relationships with all the subs we really need, nor do we have an effective field project management organization for jobs of that type.

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What does success look like to you? “Success” looks different to a lot of people. To me, it means: You are proud of the projects you are doing and have done; you have a good reputation as an honest person who cares about other people and the environment; and you pay all your creditors and suppliers and subcontractors in a timely manner. What project are you most proud of? I’m proud of most of them. I think what we did at 1200 N. College—turning a total derelict strip mall into a high design office for our business, Zweig Group, was a significant accomplishment. But I have also been proud of the many houses we have completely gutted and redesigned and rebuilt downtown.


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PHOTOS COURTESY OF WARD DAVIS

A block of The Village at Hendrix in Conway.

18 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


from vision to REALITY What Cities Need to Do to Build Great Neighborhoods BY WARD DAVIS

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or real estate developers focusing on great places, the second greatest compliment we can receive is for a city leader to say, “What can we do to get you to develop in our town?” Incidentally, the greatest compliment is, “I love living in the neighborhood you built!” Fortunately and encouragingly, over the last decade many cities in Arkansas recognized the value of great development as a tool for economic development and improved quality of life. Several hired outstanding planning firms to formulate a vision for the city through the master planning process. A great master plan articulates goals for the city, and the planning process engages the public and provides a focal point for civic engagement. However, after the adoption of the plan and the excitement from the public design process dies down, a big problem remains—great places are still illegal to build. In Arkansas, as with much of the country, municipal codes present several significant obstacles to placemaking development, primarily in the areas of zoning, technical design and transportation planning.

ZONING Zoning approval historically has been the largest obstacle to developing walkable, mixed-use, mixedhousing neighborhoods. Euclidean zoning, which separates land by use and density, and which is the basis for almost all zoning in the country, has done more to cause suburban sprawl development than any other single issue. Most developers will take the path of least resistance, and currently fitting in single-use, single-unit type construction into existing zoning is that path. Fortunately, cities are increasingly understanding, and addressing the zoning obstacle by providing alternative zoning approaches. The gold standard for zoning is a form-based code. Form-based code as defined by the Form-Based Codes Institute (FBCI) is, “a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code.” Importantly, the FBCI goes on to say, “A form-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town or county law.” While no citywide form-based codes have been adopted in Arkansas, cities such as Fayetteville have adopted form-based code ordinances in specific districts, and other cities such as Conway have adopted floating codes allowing developers to potentially apply a form-based code to their projects. The next step down is the planned zoning district (PZD) or planned unit development (PUD) process. A PZD or PUD allows for a developer to apply for customized zoning for a particular project. Many municipalities have a PUD or PZD process, and we recently went through a very open and efficient process in the city of Johnson for a 74-acre mixed-use neighborhood. While a PZD or PUD gives a developer an opportunity to implement a mixed-use project, they don’t carry the same predictability as a form-based code, and their approval process still carries a large degree of risk for developers. In order to build great mixed-use neighborhoods, developers need zoning alternatives to working in a city. Quite simply, if a city doesn’t have a process for mixed-use zoning, then developers should focus their time elsewhere. BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 19


RENDERING COURTESY OF WARD DAVIS

from vision to REALITY

20 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


Artistic rendering of an aerial view of Johnson Square, Davis’ 74-acre mixed-use neighborhood in Johnson.

STREETS SHOULD BE CONTEXTSENSITIVE. One-size-fits-allstandards can’t possibly address the variety of conditions in a functioning city ...

TECHNICAL DESIGN While many city leaders in Arkansas actively recruit mixed-use traditional neighborhood development, they often aren’t aware of how their city’s archaic design codes and ordinances often discourage, and sometimes thwart, efforts to build great places. Technical design is where the rubber meets the road between desire for great neighborhoods and town centers, and the ability to create these places. Most of these issues are driven by the idea that the tail shouldn’t wag the dog. We should decide the types of places where we want to live and then design the services around them, not design our places around individual and myopic rules and standards.

STREET DESIGN Streets should be context sensitive. One-size-fits-all standards can’t possibly address the variety of conditions in a functioning city, and design engineers as well as municipal engineering staff are smart enough to work out design details for specific locations. Streets should not be widened to handle a flood of traffic for the 2 percent of the time that is rush hour at the expense of walkability 98 percent of the time, but should use connectivity instead of enormous streets to handle temporary increases in volume. Our municipal machinery, particularly fire and sanitation, should be designed to fit into the environment we all have to live in, not having our infrastructure designed around enormous trash trucks. Finally, antiquated design ideas that don’t stand up to actual safety data should be discarded. Signalized intersections, an absolutely universal design standard, have proven to be incredibly unsafe for both cars and pedestrians, while no downtown in the country could be rebuilt if we were to strictly follow the math dictated by “sight triangles.”

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 21


from vision to REALITY

WET UTILITIES Sewer and water utilities should be installed within streets where appropriate, not in front yard rights-of-way where water and sewer utilities often won’t allow fences or even tree landscaping. The straw man idea that infrastructure in huge rights-of-way reduces future maintenance costs doesn’t stand up when measured against the increased linear feet of infrastructure that has to be installed due to dramatically decreased density in these areas.

DRY OR FRANCHISE UTILITIES While not directly controlled by cities, best practices should be encouraged for the companies that supply electricity, gas and cable. Excessive easements and widely separated trenching can greatly hamper good design. Fortunately, clever utility companies such as Conway Corporation recognize the benefits of decreased linear feet of infrastructure per utility hookup in great neighborhoods.

TRANSPORTATION PLANNING At the macro level, a coherent and carefully followed transportation plan should guide city development versus the auto-dominated growth by serendipity that we have experienced since the ’50s and ’60s. The transportation plan should address two primary issues. First, alternative modes of transportation such as cycling and walking should be encouraged for their benefits of vibrancy, health and wellness, and their ability to decrease peak auto congestion. 22 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Residences and businesses mingle in the mixed-use Village at Hendrix.


More cities are expressing a STRONG INTEREST in placemaking and MIXED-USE TRADITIONAL neighborhood DEVELOPMENT. It is amazing to see first-hand the degree to which limited bicycling commuting reduces rush hour traffic in cities like Fort Collins, Colo., which has a 6.8 percent bike commuter rate. Second, transportation plans should focus on connectivity, which is much more effective than collector/arterial systems at reducing peak demand at congestion points, decreasing delays caused by accidents, and improving emergency vehicle response times. Cities often have to work with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) on the design of primary roadways within their city limits. Fortunately, the AHTD has recently expressed a willingness to work with local design authorities on state highways within cities and should be encouraged to continue its responsiveness in this area. In a welcome advancement for the state of Arkansas, more and more cities are expressing a strong interest in placemaking and mixed-use traditional neighborhood development. After all, traditional neighborhoods and strong downtowns improve quality of life, are increasingly crucial for business recruitment and economic development, and are fiscally responsible relative to conventional suburban development (more tax revenue per acre, while having less linear feet of infrastructure to maintain, as well illustrated by strongtowns.org). By adopting predictable, but flexible zoning criteria, context-sensitive technical design codes, and a comprehensive transportation plan as part of their master planning process, municipal leaders put into place the tools that allow developers to build great, vibrant neighborhoods and downtowns.

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ELEVATING RESIDENTS

J. BRENT SALTER Vice President, Salter Properties Conway Why did you get into developing? I grew up working for my family’s construction company, Salter Construction Inc. (SCI), and I enjoyed seeing the process create the finished product. I always had a critical eye for what we were building for other people. We saw an opportunity for our family in doing something for ourselves that we were already doing for others.

What does success look like to you? Even though it was small, we recently relocated the Conway Food Truck Park to Metro Square. I was walking downtown earlier this week and overheard people saying they had gone there on opening weekend and how great it was that downtown Conway had something like that. That’s success to me. Creating a place where people want to be and businesses benefit.

What is one piece of advice you would give to people thinking about making their first development investment? Be extremely conservative in your pro-formas! If you’re a developer, you’re an optimist. It’s just our nature. Know that it’s always going to take longer and cost more than you anticipate, so prepare for it.

What project are you most proud of? As of today I’d have to say our Argenta Flats apartment project. I can’t say enough about how great the neighborhood and city were to make it a reality. In the beginning, we had people tell us we were crazy for making that type of investment in Argenta. Now we have people in the neighborhood telling us the positive impact the project has made on their businesses.

What is one lesson learned from your project(s)? Don’t plan a project on land you don’t control by written agreement. We wasted a lot of energy planning a project based on a handshake. As much as I wish they did, handshakes just aren’t the same as they used to be. Rookie mistake. What was your biggest development challenge and how did you overcome it? Our biggest challenges are typically the opinions of people not involved in the project. We understand there’s going to be apprehension to change, and what we do brings change. So we try to engage those around the new project and show them our vision. If someone can understand what you’re trying to do and why, there’s a better chance for support. Who were some of your biggest supporters in your first development? My older brother, Nathan, by far. He is the president of SCI and it was our conversations about development opportunities and our similar aspirations that made what I do today a reality. He handles the construction side, I handle the development side. We each have our own responsibilities, but it’s great to know you have someone in your corner that you can trust implicitly. What do you feel is the biggest risk in developing a property? Each development has its own risks. And those risks can vary widely depending on the project. All you can do is prepare for the worst, hope for the best, use a contractor you can trust, and have some capital tucked away for when it doesn’t turn out exactly how you expected. What is one skill you wish you had that is vital to the development process? I wish I were a better public speaker. Like it or not, when you’re ultimately trying to sell or lease something, you have to let the world know about it. Sometimes that means groundbreakings and grand openings, and those typically require a speech. Not my forte.

24 || BLOCK, BLOCK, STREET STREET & BUILDING BUILDING

The residential Argenta Flats in North Little Rock.


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pliable PLANS Too many community plans sit on shelves collecting dust in part

PHOTOS COURTESY CIT Y OF BENTONVILLE PLANNING DEPARTMENT

because most of those plans do not contain any accommodation for rapidly changing conditions, unanticipated opportunities, or potential necessity for sequel or branch planning BY TROY GALLOWAY

T

his stiff and linear approach to planning often makes broad assumptions about a community or a neighborhood’s future based on current conditions, and frequently fails to take into account the dynamic impacts that cultural, demographic and economic forces can and often do create. Thirty years in the military and 25 years in city and regional planning taught me that all plans must have built-in flexibility. Flexibility or “pliability” allows our communities to easily adjust to changing conditions, to leverage unforeseen opportunity, or to branch from portions of a plan that may not be working as intended. Planners and good plans guide growth and community change, and help our communities confidently engage an uncertain future. Those same good plans help to provide fair certainty and predictability while acknowledging emerging trends, community preferences, growth patterns, cultural shifts and critical demographic changes. These constant sources of change require our planning processes and our plans to be nimble enough to acknowledge and protect those elements of our communities that deserve and require protection, while aggressively pursuing the changes that our communities must

26 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Thrive,developedbyERCBuildingCompany, offers modern apartment housing in the Bentonville Arts District.


Bentonville SE downtown.e x p e r i e n c e d i s t r i c t s PROPOSED BUILDING FOOTPRINT

CONCEPTUAL DISTRICT MAP North

EXISTING BUILDING FOOTPRINT

S Main st.

SW A st.

BIKE PATH

SE 6th st.

MARKET district

SE E st.

ARTS district

SE 8th st.

PROPOSED DISTRICT PLAN FOR SE DOWNTOWN BENTONVILLE • The SE Downtown plan identifies two areas where similar uses can be clustered -The Arts District -The Market District a Public Library

h Austin Baggett Park

b Theatre

i Mixed-Use Development

c Artist Live/Work

j Production Facility (Kraft)

d Farmer’s Co-op Building

k Public Plaza

e Public Art Center

l High Density Residential

f Parking Garage

m Production Facility (Tyson)/ Market

g Hotel

n Bentonville Square

• The Arts District is recommended to build off of the momentum of Crystal bridges Museum of American Art and 21 C Museum hotel to provide support for the arts community. • The Market district is proposed as a concentration of the culinary arts in an effort to provide a center for collection and distribution of locally produced foods. •Conneting the two experience districts is 6th street serving as the primary east-west multi-mode facility to accomodate vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 27


pliable PLANS

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The Hub is a grouping of businesses in the Bentonville Arts District including Pedaler’s Pub, Bike Rack Brewery and Downtown Bentonville, Inc., as well as a public garden space.

achieve to remain economically competitive in a global economy. Fine grain sub-area plans, such as neighborhood or district plans, many times function as a sequel plan to a grander citywide or regional plan. These sub-area plans are often nested with the broader city or regional plan, but provide the granularity necessary for a more detailed approach to the block, street and, occasionally, individual lot. This finer grain approach is often intended to help solve specific problems or leverage opportunities. Bentonville’s most successful sub-area plan to date is the Southeast Downtown Plan, a sequel plan to the original Downtown Master Plan. The original Downtown Master Plan, coupled with targeted infrastructure investment to support the plan’s implementation, provided an environment and the certainty necessary for private investment to flourish. This combination of collaborative planning, public infrastructure investment and private development rapidly transformed downtown

28 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Bentonville. Our new challenge, addressed in the Southeast Downtown Plan, was how best to physically expand the footprint of what people historically recognized as “downtown.” The geographic and population growth of Bentonville demanded an enlarged downtown to better serve as the urban center of the city, and to better accommodate the growing demand for downtown experiences and downtown living. The city and Downtown Bentonville, Inc. worked cooperatively to create the “Arts” and “Market” experience districts to serve as the foundation for the Southeast Downtown Plan. These two districts provided the flexibility and the catalyst necessary to encourage new growth and development in the southern portion of downtown, centered primarily on the Arts and Market districts. Millions of dollars of private investment are rapidly transforming this area into the arts and entertainment districts originally envisioned with the Southeast Downtown Plan.


Thegeographicandpopulation growth of Bentonville demanded an enlarged DOWNTOWNtobetterserveas

The Bentonville square remains the heart of our community, but the flexibility of the original downtown plan and the nimbleness of the Southeast Downtown Plan helped create the conditions necessary for our community to embrace the idea of a geographically expanded downtown. These plans helped lay the foundation for renewed interest in our downtown residential neighborhoods and in building on the vision of the Arts and Market District. Recent announcements within these districts include the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art contemporary art venue, Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food, a six-screen downtown cinema, a handful of new restaurants and food trucks, and additional retail venues. The feverish residential development that has also fueled development helps underscore the importance of pliable plans in negotiating ever-changing conditions and leveraging economic opportunity.

theURBANCENTERofthecity, and to better accommodate the growing demand for downtownEXPERIENCESand downtown LIVING.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 29


ENGAGED AND AWARE

JILL DABBS Mayor of Bryant What was your first introduction to the concepts of new urbanism, and what was your initial reaction? A walk audit through Bryant led by Dan Burden was my very first introduction to new urbanism. As he led the audit I thought, “Urban planning and development is the tool Bryant needs to grow into a city that sustains our community values and become a healthy, thriving city of the 21st century.” The built environment starts at the street and grows from there. If we don’t design our streets properly, everything else becomes a tragic compromise when it comes to building great places that will sustain the test of time. Which ways do you see these strategies as relevant to the economic well being of a city? Today, where people are choosing to live is weighed heavily by whether it is a place that supports a healthy, socially balanced lifestyle. The workforces in these communities are happier, smarter, have less depression, fewer missed days from work, and are more productive. Business owners and entrepreneurs already acknowledge this fact. This is why when searching for a site location, quality of life is high on the priority list. How are you currently incorporating these concepts into municipal policies? Bryant has zoned two Smart Code overlay districts that lend themselves to active aging in place communities, and are well connected to the amenities that will grow up and populate these areas. Schools, parks and neighborhoods will be connected through a network of complete streets, trails and bike lanes following the new Walk Bike Drive Bryant Master Complete Street Plan. What are the biggest challenges to implementing these policies, and how are you overcoming them? Collaboration and communication are the two most important aspects of thoughtful, deliberate implementation of any plan. Over the past few years we have assembled a strong team across the city’s departments as well as key community leaders and developers that embrace the active, healthy community vision. Fortunately, as our city’s vision is growing, our local private developers are also quickly learning that urban-styled development makes a lot of sense financially. The long-term return on investment is better when factoring lifestyle and community into development. Have you adopted any New Urbanist concepts into city code and if so, in what capacity? Have you seen direct benefit in doing so? The Bryant complete street policy allows for smaller, narrower streets that are more in character with the surrounding environment. This lowers the cost of development and creates safer streets for neighborhoods. As more complete streets are developed and community amenities such as parks, schools and commercial areas are readily accessible via bike or walking, property values will be better sustained and will most likely increase.

30 || BLOCK, BLOCK, STREET STREET & & BUILDING BUILDING 30

Great growth will follow where great places are built. Growth trends are currently following two generational sectors: baby boomers and millennials. The baby boomer generation is as tech savvy, health conscious, active and engaged as the millennials. The Heart of Bryant overlay district will create a more sustainable, vibrant, densely populated urban core that will better support mixeduse, retail and commercial development along Reynolds Road in the original township district of Bryant. Another benefit to adopting urban planning principles and policies is federal transportation dollars are more readily available for building safer streets, trails, bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Just recently Bryant received $2 million in infrastructure improvement monies following the approval of the Heart of Bryant overlay district. This work will be completed early next year. What alignment within city government is necessary to ensure quality development—particularly in your community core? Through continued community conversations, a clear vision for Bryant’s future has been cast. This vision is supported through planning policies, and implementation is supported by the Design Review Committee. We are continually working to meet with developers and help them understand the value of urban development versus sprawl development. This alignment is still on the steep side of the learning curve, but I believe the public and private sector is embracing this challenge head-on and is showing to be committed to better, more sustainable development. What tools are currently missing on the state level that could help strengthen our urban cores across Arkansas? Currently, Arkansas is great at supporting communities in their effort to become healthy sustainable cities through Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention, parks and recreation, community gardens and other programming efforts. The area of greatest need is supporting the planning, design and construction of the built environment. Our streets are often oversized for the intended use, we build width for a two-hour-a-day event instead of building a well-connected grid that supports how we want to live. Arkansas Public School Zoning requirements do not support quality urban core development. In fact, it greatly discourages it. An example would be the amount of land that is required for public school campuses. Great urban cores have neighborhood schools that are walkable and bikeable and do not create undue pressure on the transportation corridors.


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one front PORCH AT A TIME

PHOTOS BY NOVO STUDIO/BRAD STALLCUP OF DOWNTOWN BENTONVILLE, INC.

Jake Newell Creates Community in the Bentonville Arts District BY MONICA KUMAR

Homes under construction by Newell Development in Bentonville.

D

eveloper Jake Newell was ending a tour of his newlyconstructed homes on Southwest B Street in the Bentonville Arts District when he casually said, “I really think front porches are the best way to build community. You’ve got chairs, bikes and people hanging together in the evening.” After viewing his traditional homes with ample communal porch space, this closing comment somehow felt deeply relevant as images of porches, lightning bugs and cold glasses of sweet tea came to mind. True arts districts are seen as urban industrial playgrounds for creativity, culture and innovation. The Bentonville Arts District seeks to build a creative and culturally-diverse neighborhood by offering a variety of housing options, access to artistic and culinary amenities, and pedestrian- and bike-friendly neighborhoods that are safe, clean and inspire a sense of pride and ownership. Newell has an innate understanding of this vision, and has been able to develop homes that authentically inform the cultural and artistic landscape while at the same time building a human community. The geographical location of the district is between Southwest A and Main streets, and north of Southwest Eighth Street, but in reality the spirit of the artistic perspective can be felt throughout the city. Newell Development focuses its work on Southwest B Street, which is right in the middle of the district and purposely so. Newell credits the Hub, which houses various businesses, including 32 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Pedaler’s Pub, Bike Rack Brewing Co. and the apartment complex known as “Thrive,” for igniting his interest to build in the area. The concentration of residents from the apartments combined with the huge number of nearby Walmart Home Office employees ensures a steady flow of people, and coincides with Newell’s observations about sustainable building models. When the economy collapsed in 2007, he noticed that the builders who developed vacant or under-used land in urban developed areas— those close to recreation facilities, farmers markets, restaurants, stores, etc.—maintained their business through the tougher times. Those builders’ decisions to focus on infill development inspired Newell to do the same. He started early on in Fayetteville, and then moved into Bentonville. During the last few years, Newell Development, in partnership with local architects Rob Sharp and Dave Burrs, have made community-centric design the norm for Southwest B Street. This is evidenced not only in the townhomes and residences built in the area, but also in the commercial and business initiatives. A clear example of a community and artistically focused commercial project can be seen in the construction plans for First National Bank on the corner of Southwest A and Fourth streets. The lobby of the bank will feature local artwork and iconic cultural memorabilia. It’s a space that invites browsing and lingering, and defies the norm for a financial institution.


Certainly this holistic interpretation of an art district, catalyzed by the Downtown Master Plan, is exactly what inspired a group of civic leaders and community residents to draft the SE Downtown Area Plan, which conceptualizes two experience districts: arts and market. When asked what a typical client for one of Newell’s homes would be, he happily revealed that his own prediction on this matter— millennials or older professional couples—was completely disproved. “It’s a complete demographic from millennials all the way to independent, older adults. What all of our purchasers, and really the majority of all the people who enjoy the amenities in this district, have in common is a love for a highly walkable and bikeable lifestyle,” he said. Newell opined that these same folks want to leave their cars behind and jump on a trail, or walk to the farmers market, or grab drinks after dinner without getting in a vehicle. “Then you throw in a world-class museum and some of the highest culinary experiences in Northwest Arkansas, and we really have a quality of life that is unsurpassed anywhere in the country. Our homes incorporate open living with natural light

Building COMMUNIT Y is perhaps the most important NARRATIVE for every development. and whitewashed walls that allow each family, each individual, to uniquely express themselves within their space,” he mused. This idea is really what fuels Newell Development, its partners and the dreamers behind the plans for the experience districts: a deep understanding that our priorities are shifting, and where we live should support our active lifestyles and allow us to meaningfully engage with our community. In short, our “home” should organically extend into the place we live. Newell’s dedication to “home” and all the life-enriching amenities— including front porches—that go with it is evident. Front porches represent three ideals: a bridge between nature and home; an outdoor living space where families can relax, share their stories and continue familial traditions; and a safe communing area to build new friendships, meet the neighbors and welcome strangers. Newell is fast converting to new urbanism in terms of development style, and his inclination toward building homes with front porches speaks to this. It also represents a circular evolution back to certain American values: a love for connecting with people and nature, making time to share stories and food and, underlying all of this, a belief that building community is perhaps the most important narrative for every development. Thanks to developers like Newell, the Bentonville Arts District can be viewed through this lens as a stunning example of the traditional American communal front porch, and a place that feels like “home.”

Developer Jake Newell in front of his housing development on Southwest B S

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 33


GRAND CHAMPION

E D G Spearheading the Revitalization of Delta Communities

JIMMY MOSES Chairman of the Board of Directors, Moses Tucker Real Estate Little Rock How have you been involved in the development of East Village? What we [Moses Tucker Real Estate] primarily have done is work with the Cromwell firm in conceiving and trying to develop a concept for that new neighborhood. [The Sterling Paint building] has been for sale for a long time. And like so many things, all of a sudden it dawned on everyone: This could be the start of something exciting—a new, edgier neighborhood for downtown Little Rock. That building being available and interesting architecturally, interesting historically, and sitting in the old industrial district of our city—all of a sudden that made all of the previous thinking gel. All of a sudden the idea of the East Village starts to take shape.

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What makes this the moment? I think we as a city have suffered mightily from the demolition and destruction of our urban core. We’ve had a history of it for 50 or 60 years, going back to urban renewal. Little Rock was the largest urban renewal federal clearance project in the United States. Well, we just lost all the fabric of our city, and we were left with a raft of surface parking lots, even today. In contrast to that, there is a significant number of interesting warehouse-type structures left over on the east side of I-30 that remain and speak to the history of the city. The opportunity to work with some of that interesting architecture and the history of that neighborhood—all of that works together to make you want to think about saving it and working to adapt it to a new modern use, and not wholesale demolition. What are the boundaries of East Village? I think boundaries are best left unstated so that creativity can help establish the boundaries eventually. It could go six, eight, ten blocks further east, pick up the Carver Magnet Elementary School and the single-family neighborhood that’s in place. We’re hopeful that a lot of the property to the east that has been residential can stay just that, and get healthier. Not necessarily replace anybody, just add to the housing stock. Are there any impediments to continued growth and development? As it develops with office use, more housing and restaurant, and commercial activity, the nature of the way the streets work, particularly Sixth Street, needs to be re-examined. Curbside parking becomes desirable. Slowing traffic down. Making it function more as a neighborhood you can walk around in. And then the general connectivity to the existing downtown core. It’s quite obvious that I-30 divides this area from the current downtown area. The connectivity between the two as the I-30 project moves forward, all of that needs to be thought about and planned for. What do you think the neighborhood will look like in five years? Different than it does today. The next significant project will be the Sterling Paint building redevelopment. I think it is going to be a fun, neat addition that’s mixed use, and should be in place by summer of next year. The eStem school plans to be in that neighborhood. That would be an incredible addition. But as to what it will really look like, I don’t think any of us really knows yet. I think it needs to grow organically. But it will be quite different than what is there today. continued on page 28


OUTLAWS IN PLAIN SIGHT

PHOTOS BY MAT THEW MARTIN/NOVO STUDIO

We Can Learn Everything We Need to Know From the Neighborhoods We Already Have BY MATTHEW PETTY

The Quapaw Quarter in Little Rock.

O

ur most cherished places are outlawed. Almost every city has adopted codes without bothering to check for compatibility with their historic and Main Street neighborhoods. Places like Little Rock’s Quapaw Quarter, downtown Siloam Springs and old Helena are remnant neighborhoods grandfathered into compliance. A development proposal to expand or replicate one of those iconic neighborhoods—or any of the other dozens in Arkansas—would require so many special exemptions as to be unachievable. From the layout of the streets to the placement of the homes, traditional neighborhoods are illegal to build new. Most conventional codes are based on over-simplifications, with zerotolerance policies intended to isolate uses and limit urban intensity. Codes like this have sabotaged our communities by preventing new projects from matching time-tested patterns. Changing zoning laws is something we can figure out, and planning departments can be reformed. Far more challenging is restoring a literacy of community placemaking. Whereas today city planning and property development are esoteric topics, they were once rooted in everyday culture. The nuanced understanding of townbuilding we used to have has been reduced to its most basic terms. If we want our communities to thrive again, we have to turn the neighborhoods

we treasure most into case studies. Then, according to what we learn together, we must change our laws and our approach. We must turn to old and iconic neighborhoods to understand how we can retool the way residents and planning departments approach development decisions. The kind of neighborhood that gets put on a postcard can achieve densities more than double that of conventional subdivisions, but any rise in density is anathema to vocal neighborhood advocates and the politicians they elect. Negative reactions to proposals that increase density or allow new commercial ventures are presumed for every project. In all fairness, the critiques are frequently justified, but the reliance on density and other metrics has confused consideration of smaller-scaled infill proposals, which break all the newer rules by copying older precedents. Calibrating present-day codes against our Main Streets, town squares and their adjacent blocks reveals our collective planning literacy requires remediation. We should start at the beginning, as the origin stories of our Main Streets and town centers are instructive. These neighborhoods were built at a time when codes—if they existed at all—were based on local observations. So-called developers (really anyone with the motivation to build something and the time to do it) built traditional BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 35


OUTLAWS streets asIN PLAIN SIGHT

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neighborhoods by simply copying what they liked. Communities grew remarkable variety in how buildings are used is unified by their similar in a patterned manner. Every new building and street was built with forms and scales. In these neighborhoods, a three-story building is small changes according to personal tastes and ambition, and this is large and almost everything looks like an old house or Main Street the core history lesson of our town centers. It is a summary of all the best storefront. When people are allowed to copy what they love and add a contemporary planning practices: allow small variations by right. dash of originality, neighborhoods make their identities stronger and Almost all of our oldest neighborhoods started out as a commercial economies more resilient. market bordered by a growing number of single-family residences. This axiom of aspirational planning is central to the narrative of Immediate variations abounded. Shop-houses put living and working every lasting urban revitalization. Cities and neighborhoods function spaces under the same roof. Housing evolved to include apartment as self-reproducing organisms, and the best codes today operate as houses, cottage courtyards, fourplex corner buildings and more: platforms for evolution. In the best approach, changes in use and each a simple variation on something nearby. High- and low-density density are not merely allowed or passively encouraged but are housing was mixed together, and residential uses coexisted with stewarded through active and ongoing coordination. Neighborhood commercial and even light industrial ventures. Not everything was trajectories emerge from a placemaking process not unlike genetic successful, but failure generated adaptation. Communities thrived. It replication, and the art of city planning is regulating where and is how they created their identities. when mutations occur. Most cities don’t realize just how many Regardless of a community’s size, it is simple-minded to assert opportunities are shelved when entrepreneurs discover the codes are similar arrangements are not tenable today. For two generations, we self-conflicted, expressing a desire for variety while enforcing hyperhave been conditioned to understand multifamily development as an reactive ordinances. Some development variations have a capacity apartment campus or high-rise, and commercial enterprise as a traffic to metastasize neighborhoods and are to be prevented, but other and noise nuisance. Our study of old neighborhoods helps us unlearn experiments must be allowed to flourish or fail. Innovation is bedrock this conditioning and realize they looking can be north built in harmony. The Repertory to our hometowns; Rendering of the Creative Corridor from the Arkansas Theatre. their future depends upon it, too. COURTESY UACDC

36 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


Almostallofouroldestneighborhoodsstarted out as a commercial market bordered by a growing number of single-family residences.

The Quapaw Quarter contains more than 200 structures on the National Register of Historic Places. BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 37


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What do you see as the primary role of the banking industry in the economic development of downtown Arkansas? Has that changed since First National Bank was formed five generations ago, and if so, how? The vast majority of reinvestment projects in downtowns require bank financing. Providing the funding for worthy endeavors that improve communities, create jobs and increase commerce is still the primary role of the banking industry. Certainly having more vibrant downtowns through bank-financed private and public investment results in communities with a much stronger “quality of place,” and helps create a more fertile environment for economic growth. That hasn’t changed since our founding in downtown Fort Smith in 1872. What do you see are the biggest challenges to small, incremental development in the next five years and how can banks play a role in overcoming those challenges? The hardest challenge to beginning small, incremental development in downtowns is getting started. For the bank and the investor, it can take a leap of faith, as the results are never certain. What stands out in my community was the first new residential development project in downtown Fort Smith in decades, our West End Lofts project that added 32 upscale loft apartments to downtown. There were no comparable properties to know with certainty the demand, nor if the residents were willing to pay a sufficient rental rate to make the project feasible. The developers did the best they could with feasibility studies, and fortunately the studies along with our intuition proved correct, and the project has been successful. That led to additional future small residential projects. Once a community gets over that first hurdle, the next is creating the critical mass needed to drive other amenities to their downtown. You must have enough people living and working downtown to create the demand for retail amenities: a place to buy groceries, shop, eat, etc. In order to create that critical mass, it usually requires a multitude of small, incremental development projects in order to do it wisely without undue risk and not get your community in the unfortunate position of having supply exceed demand. While progress through small incremental projects can feel too slow, it is important to remember that success breeds success. Every small project that works is a building block for the next one. What are some of the primary tools banks have at their disposal to support and fuel small development in Arkansas? Funding. Depositors have entrusted us with their savings, and we then in turn reinvest those savings back into the communities we serve by financing development. We have a responsibility to invest those funds wisely but also in a way that improves the quality of place of our community and fosters economic growth. We also have knowledge and information as tools. We often have more experience with financing development projects

38 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


COMPLETING THE CIRCUIT. At Entergy, the circuit means more than electricity. It means connection and potential. Families. Neighborhoods. Businesses. We’re all part of a circuit. So we invest in industry. Inspire education. Nurture community. We empower each other. And together, we power life. than the developer we are working with due to the many developer relationships we have and the career experience of our lenders. We also may be more aware of what is happening or is planned to happen in our community than our customer, and we can assist them with decision-making and direction based on this information we have access to. In the era of bank consolidations and “too big to fail,” why are community banks still important? Community banks are still important to a community because of the close partnership they have with the communities they serve and the unique value proposition they can provide to their customers. All loan decisions at our community bank are made by people who live in our community and who usually know our customers. There is value to this community connection, it allows us to provide loan approvals sooner, and at times allows us to take a risk on a project that a non-local bank wouldn’t due to the confidence we have in the borrower we know. I also believe the community benefits from having a community bank that is completely dependent on the community for its existence and survival. I can promise you that when your livelihood depends on the success of a community, you are going to be highly motivated to support it and do everything you can to help it prosper. How has the lending environment for small developers changed since Sarbanes Oxley? Bank regulations like Sarbanes Oxley require more documentation from banks. It makes our lives as bankers a little harder, but we do our best to minimize any negative impact it has on our customers. For the most part, I believe we have been successful at minimizing any customer impact. What does a bank look for when assessing the viability of a small development loan? To assess the viability of a project, we must have confidence in the due diligence of the developer. Do they have detailed cost estimates that they can support with confidence? Have they done a thorough market study to determine demand and revenue potential? Are they knowledgeable on building codes and other regulations? The experience of the developer certainly helps. If someone has little experience, we like to see that they are working closely with someone who does have that experience. How does your bank play a leadership role in community and downtown development? Why is that important? Beyond financing projects, it is incumbent on First National as a community bank to support our local citizens in other ways as well. We must be advocates to promote the overall community, we expect our bankers to volunteer and support local causes, and we believe we are obligated to share in our profits by being a donor to various nonprofit initiatives that address challenges and opportunities in our community. A message from Entergy Arkansas, Inc. ©2016 Entergy Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 39 11791 Entergy WePowerLife EAI Brand 3.875x10.indd 1

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Setting a Place at the Table Food Fuels Northwest Arkansas’s Economic Development

MEET THE FOOD REVOLUTIONARIES Emily Lawson is a creative, restless soul who left the security of a chef’s position to unleash her culinary imagination on Bentonville. She started Pink House Alchemy, Foxhole Public House and a soonto-be events staffing company. Pink House concocts simple syrups, shrubs and bitters for craft drinks and cocktails, while Foxhole epitomizes community and hospitality. The Foxhole is an anchor commercial tenant in ERC’s Thrive, a new 64-unit apartment building in downtown Bentonville’s Arts District. Danielle Dozier did not imagine that horticulture and Africa would change her direction and solidify her life’s calling. Studying greenhouse systems at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, she nourished a desire to impact the world with an affordable, accessible and sustainable food system. Danielle created a prototype for a hydroponic tower in Ethiopia, using liquid nutrients instead of soil, and now manages one in Fayetteville to grow lettuce, herbs and strawberries. Her company, Grow.Supply. Sustain, specializes in systems that use 90 percent less water than traditional growing methods.

Newly built at Thrive inBentonville,Foxhole Public Housejoinsthe localfoodmovement.

N

orthwest Arkansas prides itself as a great place to live, and recent regional efforts focusing on art, culture, outdoor activities and cuisine have even more intensified its power of place. The region has placed culinary arts and local food as a cornerstone of its placebased economic development strategies. Many of the area’s downtowns are also being driven by this unique flavor of new development. The culinary arts—and a robust local food movement—has fueled an economy driven by a diverse array of quality and types of restaurants, a dynamic network of chefs, farmers markets providing a bounty of local product, and numerous food entrepreneurs that range from a oneman operation to full-blown corporate initiatives. The rise of this foodie revolution in the region is not coincidental. What comprises Northwest Arkansas’s food movement? The list is long and impressive—community gardens, incubator kitchens, food incubators, food recovery, community supported agriculture, farm/grower cooperatives, job skills training, school gardening and entrepreneur skills training, among others. Food entrepreneurs have responded to their calling and made this area anything but ordinary.

40 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Within the unassuming structure in Elm Springs, Rick Boosey and his team create specialty chocolate bars, syrups and powders. Rick was so moved during his work with orphanages in Uganda that he decided to open a bean-to-bar chocolate company to create a sustainable project there. From Uganda he spread out to other lesser-known chocolate-producing regions to create a delicious niche for his company, Kyya, which produces hand-picked, single origin chocolate. Onyx Coffee Labs, a local roaster and entrepreneurial venture, believed in the product and Rick’s vision, and launched Kyya’s first retail sales. Such collaborative partnerships set Northwest Arkansas apart, and pave the way for future food projects. Bike Rack Brewing Co. is Bentonville’s first craft beer maker, its name is inspired by the region’s abundant riding trails. Its current location was an integral tenant to The Hub, in Bentonville’s nascent Arts District, which sits right along a spur of the Razorback Greenway. Steve Outain, who maintains a corporate day job, turned his love of cooking and a biochemistry background into a brewer’s obsession. Along with its business partners, Bike Rack strives for better local beer and deepening community experiences.

PHOTOS BY NOVO STUDIO

BY GLENN MACK


At the corner ofThird and Rock streets in Little Rock, the River MarketTower brings together condo-living,restaurants,shoppingandentertainmentinthegrowingRiverMarketDistrict.


setting a place AT THE TABLE Tusk & Trotter offers “High South”food just off the Bentonville Square.

Northwest Arkansas’s economy is known for its historical apple production, poultry industry, retail and transportation, but how did artisanal goods and agricultural innovation become the norm for new food ventures? More than a decade ago, community leaders envisioned leveraging the existing business infrastructure to support local food entrepreneurs, starting with the 2005 Bentonville Downtown Master Plan. Three years later, Downtown Bentonville, Inc. introduced a culinary development strategy for downtown, which included the downtown association operating the farmers market, aggressively leading restaurant recruitment, producing a monthlong Art and Culinary Festival, serving on the NWACC Culinary Program Advisory Council and reaching out to recognized organizations like the James Beard Foundation to create national culinary partnerships. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art subsequently opened in 2011, leading to an impressive spate of new dining options in the city. Critical mass for the varied food movement crystalized in 2013, when the Northwest Arkansas Council launched the Northwest Arkansas Regional Food Council, hosting a regional food conference and commissioning a regional food assessment. The food assessment identified several community and economic goals, many of which are coalescing today. One goal is to cultivate a culinary identity for tourism to the region. The Bentonville Chef Alliance, with the animated support of Visit Bentonville, expresses the regional food identity with a focus on local, seasonal and sustainable fare. Restaurants such as Eleven, Tusk & Trotter, The Hive and Oven & Tap deftly articulate the concept of “High South” cookery and the Ozark food culture. Other assessment goals include improving local food access and growing the regional food supply at various outlets. The study also recommended technical assistance and resources for food entrepreneurs, which should catapult Northwest Arkansas toward regional culinary prominence. 42 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Over the years, major contributors and agitators for entrepreneurial support include—to name only a few—Daniel Hintz of Velocity Group, Rick Webb and Ramsay Ball of ARK Challenge, and Startup Junkie’s Jeff Amerine. For 50 years, the region has been growing at an extraordinary pace, currently welcoming 25 new inhabitants each day. Food businesses create an enticing area for rapid growth and a compelling way to express a vibrant sense of community through food. “Food is sexy and just fun—it stimulates all the senses,” said Robert Egger of L.A. Kitchen during a recent visit to the area. “Food is a powerful way to engage people … but ultimately it’s less about food and more about a sense of community. People want to belong again, to feel like they are part of a larger movement.” The proliferation of food-related projects shows no sign of subsiding. Recently, Walmart announced a new focus on its own “food culture,” as well as a new food sensory lab built adjacent to its headquarters. Crystal Bridges just published ideas for refurbishing a building in the Market District for an interactive exploration of the visual arts, performance arts and culinary arts. Cobblestone Farms will also have a presence at Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food via a greenhouse and gardens. The Ladies Professional Golf Association event held every year in Rogers has expanded to include food-focused events with festivals, tastings, demos and workshops. Rogers has also opened an indoor, year-round farmers market. Underscoring the region’s reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship, another startup, Solve for Food, bids to build a Food Innovation Center to process food that requires neither additives nor refrigeration. For those who love food or working with food, Northwest Arkansas brims with activity that rewards those who prioritize community and sense of place. It’s time to broadly share the incredible heritage and innovation that exemplify the people and culture of Northwest Arkansas.


PROVOCATIVE RACONTEUR

WARD DAVIS Founding Partner, High Street Conway Why did you get into developing? I originally got into real estate because of the value proposition. My background is finance and I like how real estate investments generate actual cash flow, while with stocks you are generally counting on asset appreciation, which is riskier in my opinion. Somewhere along the way I fell in love with building beautiful places that people enjoy. What is one piece of advice you would give to people thinking about making their first development investment? Invest in something you genuinely appreciate. Projects that people truly love hold their value well over time compared to soulless sprawl.

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Little Rock Wastewater’s multi-year, city-wide capital improvement project to renew aging pipelines throughout the city.

What is one lesson learned from your project(s)? Warren Buffett pretty much nailed it when he said, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” Heavy speculative activity in a market can wipe out almost everyone, as we saw in 2006 and 2007. What was your biggest development challenge and how did you overcome it? Without a doubt it was rising from the ashes of the real estate meltdown in Northwest Arkansas. I was extremely fortunate that Hendrix College brought me in as the CEO of The Village at Hendrix in 2010 to lead the development of that fantastic neighborhood. Who were some of your biggest supporters in your first development? The list is too long to cover here, but the one I miss the most is David Banks, former president and CEO of Beverly Enterprises, who passed away in 2013. He provided financial support, but more importantly he was a valuable mentor when things were difficult. What do you feel is the biggest risk in developing a property? Timing. I particularly enjoy building traditional neighborhoods, but there is a minimum of a year between the primary design work and beginning construction, and usually two years before there is product on the ground for sale. A lot can happen to the economy in two years. What is one skill you wish you had that is vital to the development process? By the nature of the job a developer is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. A developer needs to be competent in the areas of marketing and sales, finance, accounting, architecture, engineering and construction. That’s a wide range. My weakest area is construction, so I am partnered with a very capable former contractor. What does success look like to you? My favorite moment is when a project I have worked hard to help create starts functioning like a true neighborhood. This is when the streets come alive at dusk with people walking their dogs, the front porches are active, and neighborhood events start cropping up consistently.

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What project are you most proud of? While I am exceptionally proud of The Village at Hendrix, I could not be more pleased with Johnson Square, a 74-acre traditional neighborhood in Johnson, Ark., which includes a mix of residences along with restaurants, shops and professional offices. BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 43


brick by brick Young Developers Transform Siloam Springs’ Historic

Downtown Fayetteville square

I

n a screen printing shop in Siloam Springs, things are bustling. A huge hand-lettered banner on the wall reads, “Making T-shirts Should be Fun.” The space is bright, clean, and has a near-palpable cool factor. Brick walls and tall ceilings show off the century-old age of the building. Lighting and modern wood furniture make the space more hip than traditional. Tyler Carroll, the 30-something shop owner, is at the front cracking jokes, greeting customers and keeping things moving. Carroll is one of several young developer-entrepreneurs who have recently bought and restored a historic building in downtown Siloam Springs. This small town of 18,000 in the northwest corner of the state is getting attention for its recently revitalized downtown and newly opened kayak park on the Illinois River. Several large industries and a strong private college campus, John Brown University, help sustain a growing economy. “I wanted my business to be downtown,” Carroll explained. He grew up in Siloam Springs, but moved to Orange County, Calif., after college. It was there that he started a successful screen printing company, TC Screen Printing. When he and his wife, Allison, moved back to Arkansas in 2012, they did so to be closer to family. After renting a space for a year, the Carrolls bought a onestory 2,400-square-foot building on the main drag that needed significant renovations, including foundation work, a new roof, plumbing and electrical updates. Carroll budgeted half again what they had spent to buy the building in renovation costs, but ended up spending dollar for dollar on the renovation what the property cost. A 10 percent tax credit on some eligible historic preservation costs helped some, but Carroll knows that budgeting and rebudgeting is part of the process for developing a historic building. “It’s worth it. I have a beautiful historic building that is solidly done, in the heart of downtown. It was still less costly than building

44 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

brand new somewhere else in town, and everyone who walks or drives through downtown sees our shop,” Carroll said. His investment in the building is paying off—his business grew 105 percent in 2015, and profits in 2016 are showing an 85 percent increase on top of that. The screen printing shop employs five other full-time staff, many of them artists and designers in their own right who help with design as well as ordering and printing. And indeed, some of Carroll’s business success may be from his location. There is a strong sense of community amongst, downtown business owners, and downtown Siloam Springs as a whole has experienced a tremendous upturn in recent years. Main Street Siloam Springs, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of the downtown district, estimates that over the last decade 35 new businesses have opened in the downtown area, which in turn created more than 100 jobs. Restaurants, retail shops and even a new taproom fill once-vacant storefronts, and upstairs residential lofts occupy the majority of the second floors. A jog up the street from TC Screen Printing takes you to another recent development project, Red Beard Fitness. Fitnessenthusiasts-turned-small-developers Randy and Kate Crafton share Carroll’s enthusiasm for downtown. “We moved to Siloam Springs because we were looking for a small town feel somewhere in this area. We read about Siloam Springs online,” Randy recalled. Randy is a software developer by day, and the Craftons, who have three school-age kids, have lived in Siloam Springs for four years. They started a gym in their garage, and friends started to exercise with them. They soon needed a larger space, and looked to downtown. After renting for a year, they bought a 7,000-squarefoot old Pontiac dealership that had been mostly vacant for more than a decade.

PHOTOS BY KATE CRAFTON

Streetscape One Building at a Time BY MEREDITH BERGSTROM


From left:Tyler Carroll outside of his business,TC Screen Printing; Heather Lanker in front of the historic Chevrolet Dealership she recently purchased; and Kate and Randy Crafton outside of their business, Red Bead Fitness.

“It was a lot of work,” Randy said of the project, “But I would do it again.” The Craftons got the community involved in their project. A crowdfunding campaign helped raise $25,000 toward their down payment, and gave people up-front memberships once the space was completed. The updates included electrical work, plumbing and lots of cleaning and painting. Development plans preserved the industrial feel of the building. “We always wanted to be involved in the community and further the conversations happening around health and wellness. Our [gym] members helped us so much in the process. One member ended up being our loan officer, and another our electrician. Others showed up morning and night to help with the renovation,” Kate recalled. Indeed, the finished space is a hub for the community. In addition to the gym, a local nonprofit will host Jiu-jitsu classes, and local bands have hosted free community concerts in gym offhours. The building was too large for just the gym, so the Craftons approached a bike shop owner who was looking to expand. As of January 2016, Cross Country Cyclery operates a retail shop at one end of the building. “Truly the best part of the project was experiencing the support of the community as they rallied together to help us out,” Randy said. The enthusiasm from these successful projects continues to pay benefits to Siloam Springs’ downtown. Momentum is high, and another historic car dealership is in development plans. Looking through architectural plans for the 12,000-square-foot space, new owner Heather Lanker exclaimed, “The building is so freaking cool!” Heather and her husband, Jason, are also transplants to this area from California. Jason is a professor, and Heather has operated a girls’ clothing business in a downtown retail storefront for the past seven years. After online sales of her products exploded over the last few years, she needed to expand her space.

The building she is renovating is large—its long facade fills almost a full city block—and has been sitting vacant and underused for years. Her business and two business tenants will likely fill three new storefront spaces, but the multiuse project will also include light warehouse rental in the back and a loft-style home for her family. Historic preservation tax credits are a notable part of her financing plan, and local banks are by now familiar enough with these incentives to see the overall feasibility of the project. “We want this project to benefit the community as well as our business,” Heather explained. In 200 years, we want this building to still be standing. We’ll do it right.” In each of these stories, the developer was not someone who saw a business opportunity in the property development first, although that incentive was there as well. It was someone who had a passion for his or her product or service, but also had a passion for his or her community and saw how those things fit together. Each created a development plan with the community context in mind from the beginning. In a world of small towns that have struggled to revive their downtown areas, Siloam Springs certainly stands as a success story that is hopeful and scalable. No one large developer bought a row of buildings to redevelop. The movement has been deliberate and incremental, as momentum continues to build after each successful project. The result is an authenticity-derived downtown in the process of revitalization, which is made possible by passionate individuals whose presence remains on the main street and in the community even after their development project is done. Brick by brick, building by building, business by business, Siloam Springs is becoming an Arkansas downtown destination and paving the way for other main streets to follow.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 45


HOMETOWN HEROINE

HANNAH CICIONI CEO, Cicioni & Co. Development and Consulting Rogers How did you get into developing? It wasn’t a career that I initially sought out. My path naturally progressed into this field. I’ve owned businesses since I was 20 years old, focusing on the outdoor industry and teaching youth the importance of the outdoors, land conservation and wildlife management. Through that work, I created relationships that allowed me to explore land development and consulting. It was baby steps into real estate development. What is one piece of advice you would give to people thinking about making their first development investment? Surround yourself with the best team possible! No one can be an expert at everything, yet there are people around you that are the best at what they do. Bring those people who are the best in their field together to support your development, and let them do what they do best. When you surround yourself with the best talent, you’re giving your development the best opportunity for success. What is one lesson learned from your project(s)? Your plans in one form or another will probably change from initial thought or design. More than likely, somewhere along the way, you will come across an obstacle that you will have to work around to overcome. But no matter what, do not give up. What was your biggest development challenge, and how did you overcome it?The biggest development challenge so far is on a pair of houses that I am currently building in my hometown. The downtown neighborhood where I grew up and still live today has a lot of history. There are families that have lived downtown many generations. I am building the first new construction in downtown since the adoption of our new master plan and downtown development code. The hardest part of this development is the negativity and pushback of just a few downtown residents calling into question my development, and what my allowed setbacks are for my zone. Change and new developments are not always easy for some. You move past these things by letting your actions and results speak for you, and by not letting opposition stop you from being successful. Who were some of your biggest supporters in your first development? My mentors, friends and community members were some of my biggest supporters. From my first major development as a 20-year-old, I went to one gentleman in particular to seek his guidance and advice because of his success in business, but more importantly because of his morals, ethics and the respect I had for him as a person. He believed in my dream, goal and passion for this project and supported me with advice, connections, direction and insight to logistics.

46| BLOCK, | BLOCK,STREET STREET&&BUILDING BUILDING 46

What do you feel is the biggest risk in developing a property? The biggest risk is bringing a whole new concept to an existing neighborhood, or simply being the first to develop and invest. There is something to be said about being the only and being the first. The risks might be big, but the rewards can be even bigger. As developers, we have to be willing to take those big risks and push the boundaries to create great things. What is one skill you wish you had that is vital to the development process? The skills of an architect. Architects are one of the more crucial pieces to successful developments, and are needed on every project. I am amazed by the talent and creativity of the ones that I work with, and I love meeting new architects to see their different ideas on how to make something possible. What does success look like to you? When, at the end of each day, I know my developments have had positive impacts on the local people, community and economy. The smiles on people’s faces and providing an opportunity for new businesses, homes and others’ success are what I look for in my projects. What project are you most proud of? I am most proud of the work that I have done and continue to do in my hometown of downtown Rogers. I love connecting businesses as well as the people who want to positively impact the community, to move projects from concept to completion.

The residential Poplar Street Project in Rogers.


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DEVELOPER ADVOCATES

JOSH OLSON & TED HERGET

Enjoy getting lost on your way to work. Josh Olson

Ted Herget

Midtown Development, Jonesboro The benefits of public transit go beyond affordable, quality transportation. Reward yourself by becoming a regular rider. Learn more at rrmetro.org.

Ride for the rewards.

@ r r m e tro

r r m e t ro

ROCK REGION METRO.5.20.16.indd 1

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Small businesses across Arkansas use social media to connect with customers and sell their products and services. Do you want to connect with your customers on social media? Let’s get started. To find out more, contact Lauren Bucher, Director of Arkansas Times Social Media

laurenbucher@arktimes.com 48 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Why did you get into developing? We wanted to improve the area around our children’s school and to positively redevelop an area that people did not seem to care about. What is one piece of advice you would give to people thinking about making their first development investment? Make sure your heart is in the project. It is much easier to endure the hard parts if you believe. What is one lesson learned from your project(s)? Spend more and overbuild a little bit. If it comes between building a little bit better or a little bit cheaper, go with better. Build something that’s going to last. Build something that your mom would be proud of. What was your biggest development challenge and how did you overcome it? It was hard to overcome the timeline of how slowly everything moves. You see a property and buy it and want to build immediately, but then have to go back and rezone and it’s a very slow process. You have to learn to be patient and move at the speed of the government. Everything takes twice the time that you think it would. Who were some of your biggest supporters in your first development? Our families, our community, Jake Newell of Newell Development, Rob Sharp and Ray Osment. What do you feel is the biggest risk in developing a property? Having a customer that appreciates the end result. It all boils down to what your customer wants, and attracting and retaining the customer— that’s who you are building for. So far it’s been great, and we’ve been successful in delivering projects people need and want. What is one skill you wish you had that is vital to the development process? We still don’t consider ourselves developers; we’re just trying to fix what’s broken in Jonesboro. This city has a lot of cool people, and after listening to them all day and the things they wish Jonesboro had, we just stepped up to try and help. We are able to come with the money to pay for the developing skills we need, and hire talented people like Jake Newell, who has developed in Fayetteville and currently in downtown Bentonville.


HEAVY LIFTING Project Management & Development

What does success look like to you? Producing a positive change and helping to bring pride to the area.

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS

What project are you most proud of? We are most proud of being a part of the revitalization of downtown Jonesboro over the last 15 years. If you look at a before-and-after picture, it’s just brilliant. We are proud of Midtown as a whole and the unfolding vision of that neighborhood. We’re proud of who we’ve brought in to help us with this project—all the people behind the scenes and all the planning to bring something to the community that will be done right. We’re super proud of that.

It’s no secret that Northwest Arkansas is undergoing a development and construction renaissance. From Fayetteville all the way to Bella Vista, the signs of growth and prosperity are all around. Colliers International has built a reputation in Arkansas as a brokerage and property management firm since 1971. We’re now proud to add project management and development to our full-service portfolio. When your business experiences growing pains, our team of professionals is here to help you find and develop the perfect place to flourish.

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URBAN GROWTH IN EAST VILLAGE

An Overlooked Corner of Downtown Little Rock Gets Its Moment

Present day Shall Street in East Village.

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n a recent Friday morning, Phil Brandon stood on the loading dock of Rock Town, the distillery he owns and operates at the corner of Sixth and Shall streets in the area of downtown Little Rock east of Interstate 30. The staccato sound of metalworkers a block away punctuated the background hum of traffic. Brandon surveyed the surrounding neighborhood, the sense of impending change as strong in the air as the smell of aging whiskey. “The building across the street,” he said, motioning to the former Sterling Paint building opposite the dock, its blue trim paint fading and cracked, “has been vacant since I’ve been here. But Cromwell and Moses Tucker are supposed to start construction mid-summer. Hopefully that will accelerate the change.” Cromwell Architects Engineers, the 130-year-old Little Rock architecture firm, owns the former paint buildings (which include the building that houses the distillery). The firm announced last year it would relocate to the neighborhood. They plan to renovate the two-story building opposite Rock Town. In addition to their offices, the building will include a restaurant on the bottom floor and loft apartments on the upper floor. After Cromwell made their announcement, interest in the area spiked. Run-down properties have been spiffed up, and for sale signs have appeared. Across Sixth Street from the distillery, for example, sits a fenced-off junkyard, hunkered next to a train spur. But just the week before, Brandon said, “They loaded up dumpster after dumpster after dumpster of trash and carried it off.” Now it’s a bare parcel, only its two metal-clad buildings remaining, ready to be transformed. And it’s not only businesses that are moving to the area. “The big deal is eStem, which just got approved,” Brandon said, referring to the state Board of Education’s decision allowing the charter school 50 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

PHOTO BY MATTHEW MARTIN/RENDERING COURTESY OF CROMWELL

BY JAMES MATTHEWS

to expand into separate campuses. “It’s going right there, where that ‘for lease’ sign is,” he said, pointing to the low-slung set of buildings down the street from the distillery. None of this was in the works when Brandon opened the distillery here six years ago (to the day). He chose the location because of its proximity to downtown and the size and quality of the facility. “I thought it made logical sense when I moved here. There’s no other direction for downtown Little Rock to grow.” Even so, some people questioned his choice of location, and not many people ventured into the area. “Here it is six years later,” he said, “and everybody is starting to talk about it. It’s great.” One of the things that has everybody talking is Lost Forty Brewing, which opened in late 2014, a few blocks from Rock Town. And now Rebel Kettle, the newest Little Rock brewery, has opened a few blocks further west on Sixth Street. Other new businesses are starting to pop up—Strongwill gym, for one—but this is still an area dominated by plumbing and electrical supply houses. Those businesses have been around long enough to remember the last time this area was touted as the city’s next big development. Almost a decade ago, after the Clinton Library was completed and Heifer International moved its headquarters nearby, the area was rechristened the Nonprofit Corridor. But before that idea could gain traction, the economy collapsed. The Lions World Services for the Blind, which had purchased a property on Sixth Street not far from where Lost Forty sits now, was forced to abandon its plans for a $25 million headquarters. That property sat largely unkept and deteriorating, eventually becoming a doggy daycare—until a few weeks ago, when the grounds were cleaned up and the ramshackle buildings emptied of their trash. “The economy is in a different place than it was 10 years ago,” said Gabe Holmstrom, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock


Cromwell’s vision for the future of Shall Street in East Village.

“The economy is in a different place than it was 10 years ago. It was just nonprofits, and now there are commercial enterprises and restaurants and breweries over [here].” —GABE HOLMSTROM Partnership and fan of Lost Forty’s honey bock. “I think you just have a different dynamic. It was just nonprofits, and now there are commercial enterprises and restaurants and breweries over there.” Holmstrom sees the interest in the neighborhood as part of a larger urban renaissance across the country, where cities are returning to their long-neglected downtowns. And it’s already been happening here in Little Rock, he said, with the revitalization of Main Street. But the area east of Interstate 30 is special, Holmstrom said. “The building space that is available is unique. It has this very raw texture that people are finding appealing.” And the area has begun to overcome its largest hurdle: getting people into the neighborhood. “One of the things that has been amazing to see is, with folks like Rock Town Distillery and Lost Forty Brewing, they have proven that people will go over there to spend time and spend their money.” But one thing has been missing: a name. Everyone I spoke with said the area had no real name before now, that it was simply referred to as “east of I-30” or “over there.” Or, worse yet, no one

really talked about it. So several weeks ago, the major stakeholders— the Cromwell firm, Moses Tucker Real Estate—hosted a meeting at Heifer International to share their ideas and to get other people’s ideas about what they’d like to see happen. They invited not only the big users, like the Clinton Library and Heifer, but also smallbusiness owners and residents of the neighborhood further east. One thing they discussed at that meeting was giving the neighborhood a name. “We put up 15 or 20 names on a board,” said Jimmy Moses, chairman at Moses Tucker. “The group voted, and overwhelmingly the East Village name seemed to be the preference.” All of which sounds good to Phil Brandon at Rock Town. He likes the name East Village, and he is happy to see Cromwell moving in. The firm’s renderings of what Shall Street could look like, with trees and redesigned streets to be more pedestrian friendly, would mean more people, and more people means more business. “If all that comes to fruition,” Brandon said, “it will be awesome.” BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 51


CHERRY PICKED How Curated Retail Clustering Is Transforming Downtown Helena-West Helena BY KATHLEEN QUINLEN

52 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

PHOTOS BY LAURA MILLER

W

hen Cathy Campbell first decided to open a gift shop in a restored building in downtown Helena-West Helena, people told her she was crazy. “They told me I would never be able to get customers to come to Cherry Street because it was too dangerous, and there wasn’t anything else around,” she recalled. Fortunately, she was undeterred. Seven years later, she is the picture of the selfassurance that carried her through those early days. Perched on a sofa inside her store, surrounded by pottery, jewelry, candles and other home wares, it is difficult to imagine anyone ever doubted she would succeed. Cathy and her husband, dentist Rick Campbell, bought and restored the buildings that now house Handworks and Bella, a home décor shop and women’s clothing boutique, back in 2008. They found the perfect spot on the south end of Cherry Street. “We chose this building because it was available, but also because the properties on either side were stable,” she recalled. KIPP Delta Public Schools already had completed a 20,000-square-foot building at the other end of the block. With the Delta Cultural Center’s restored Miller Annex on one side and a well-maintained retail space on the other, the Campbells’ building was the last piece of the puzzle. “The other buildings were in good shape. Our building was the blight on the block,” she joked. At that time, Handworks was operating at the north end of Cherry Street out of Cotton & Kudzu Mall, a retail incubator space that has launched multiple downtown businesses. When Campbell outgrew the space in 2009, opening in the newly-restored building was the next logical step. But Handworks was still isolated on its block, and downtown Helena retailers were still fighting to establish the area as a onestop retail destination. In 2013, they made another step toward realizing that vision when Campbell brought Jordan Yancey on board to launch Bella in her empty retail space. Yancey, a newlywed and recent transplant to neighboring Marvell, operated Bella out of the back of Handworks for the first year and a half. During that time, she not only built a loyal client base, but also completed an expansion into the adjacent building. In February of 2015, she opened the doors to her own retail space. Within the next six months, the vision of downtown HelenaWest Helena as a retail destination started to become a reality as more retailers opened for business. Bailee Mae’s, a coffee shop and cafe, opened near the north end of Cherry Street, and children’s clothing store Haute Paré moved out of Cotton & Kudzu and into a recently refurbished space on the 400 block.


BellaandHandworkshelped bring life back to Cherry Street in Helena.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 53


CHERRY PICKED Haute Paré is a lively children’s boutique on Cherry Street. The monthly after-hours event Alive After 5 brings shoppers to downtown Helena.

Down at the south end of the street, momentum was building as two more businesses moved in near Handworks and Bella: one next door, and the other just across the intersection of Cherry and Elm streets. While Kimberly Clement and John Mohead didn’t exclusively select the locations for their respective businesses based on proximity to other retail spaces, they certainly felt the pull. “I knew I had a couple of options, but this building was just in the best shape,” admitted Clement, who opened J.W. Hall & Co. Marketplace in October 2015. The specialty food store, which specializes in locally and regionally sourced groceries, sits catercorner from the two boutiques and Mohead’s pizza restaurant, Southbound. Clement says that the existing businesses were a big draw, though. “I knew I wanted to be on this end of Cherry Street— not just because of the other shops but also for proximity to KIPP and the Delta Cultural Center.” Mohead also had a couple of options available to him when he decided to move his Tunica-based pizza restaurant across the river to downtown Helena. “I was drawn to Cherry Street,” he said, pointing out the front window of Southbound. “Look at this view—you’ve got grass and trees. It’s one of the only places on the Mississippi River where you can even see the levee.” While he describes the small retail cluster at his end of the street as a “totally organic” development, he acknowledges that the other retailers and businesses surrounding him have contributed to increased foot traffic. The others agree. “We used to have a really sporadic lunchtime crowd,” said Yancey. “But ever since Southbound opened, we consistently have people coming into the store on their way to or

54 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

from lunch there.” Clement points out that they are intentional about sending their customers to each other’s stores as well. Fueled in part by this newfound synergy at the south end of Cherry Street as well as a desire to entice locals to venture into downtown Helena at night, Yancey spearheaded a monthly afterhours event called Alive After 5. “I wanted people to get over the idea that Cherry Street is scary after dark,” explained Yancey, alluding to a commonly-held belief among locals that downtown Helena is dangerous after sundown. Launched in November, this monthly event occurs on the first Thursday of the month. Yancey’s goal was to have at least 50 percent of the retailers on Cherry Street open and offering customers some sort of incentive to come downtown—a sale or special, a trunk show, or even just wine and hors d’oeuvres. “And we have to have live music,” she added. With six monthly events now under her belt, she has found that most, if not all, of the shops and restaurants in downtown Helena are eager to participate each month. The event extends to businesses up to three blocks away, and includes the recently opened businesses as well as downtown Helena retail institutions like Hart’s Shoes and Delta Gypsy Caravan. As much activity as the entire event attracts, the bustle around the intersection of Cherry and Elm streets is hard to ignore. People congregate outside between visits inside the shops, and live music streams out of Southbound—sometimes courtesy of Mohead himself. At the Alive After 5 on April 7, locals saw a sight they might not have imagined a year earlier. “It was 8 p.m., it was dark outside, and there were kids running up and down the sidewalk,” Yancey marveled. “That’s something new. People feel safe here.”


COMMUNITY CHAMPION

PHIL BALDWIN

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Citizens Bank President and CEO Batesville What do you see as the primary role of the banking industry in the economic development of downtown Arkansas? Has that changed since Citizens Bank was founded in 1953, and if so, how? When I think about community and economic development, I remember the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the Bailey Building and Loan and Mr. Martinez. The role of a community bank is to make change possible—to step outside the box and move a community forward. I believe it is very different today. The speed of modern life with instant communications, new technologies and rapid business cycles makes it both more promising and more challenging. What do you see are the three biggest challenges to small, incremental development in the next five years and how can banks play a role in overcoming those challenges? The first challenge is vision—believing a development/renovation effort will work. Bankers can encourage people and help them see a bigger vision of what is possible. I will call the second challenge a first step challenge—the hardest part of any journey is the first step. Bankers can be part of the development of a thoughtful plan that guides long-term development activities and moves people past the first step. The final challenge is money. This is actually the easiest to overcome through innovative financing, grant programs and government assistance. Bankers can help a community prepare a capital campaign structure to fund development initiatives. In the era of bank consolidations and “too big to fail,” why are community banks still important? Community banks do not generally occupy high-rise office buildings. We sit on the ground floor and from this perspective see community needs up close and personal. There is nothing wrong with big banks, and many large banks are tremendous supporters of important initiatives. I believe there is a need for both large and small banks.

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How has the lending environment for small developers changed since Sarbanes Oxley? Sarbanes Oxley added thousands of pages of rules and regulations. These rules and regulations greatly reduced flexibility and common sense decision-making. What does a bank look for when assessing the viability of a small development loan? We like to see a thoughtful business plan and an understanding of sustainability. If a development effort does not create cash flow, a bank can actually do harm to a person by providing funds. The first rule of development banking is “Do no harm.” How does your bank play a leadership role in community and downtown development? Why is that important? Citizens Bank participated in the development of Impact Independence, a 10-year strategic community plan for Independence County. This document captures the dreams and vision of Independence County residents. We also provided a low interest rate loan fund and grant program to facilitate the redevelopment of downtown Batesville. We believe low interest money removes development barriers and allows people to fulfill their vision.

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BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 55


This proposed alternate I-30 Crossing plan would look at ways to accomplish a solution to the problems without the need for a 10-lane corridor.

56 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


the artA Road of Map THE POSSIBLE to the I-30 Conversation

BY JAMES MATTHEWS

RENDERINGS COURTESY FENNELL PURIFOY ARCHITEC TS

I

n a second-floor room in Little Rock’s city hall, one man and his PowerPoint were trying to change the future of the city’s downtown. Norm Marshall, president of Smart Mobility, Inc., is a travel-demand modeler, “which means that I estimate regional traffic in the future and evaluate alternatives,” he said. On the afternoon of April 12, at a meeting of the Little Rock City Board of Directors, he presented the first phase of his own alternative to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s plan to rebuild a section of Interstate 30. Marshall, who has been hired by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, is one of several consultants and planners who have joined the I-30 conversation. The local design collective StudioMain has also been a major voice. And now the City of Little Rock has chimed in, hiring its own planning consultant, Nelson\Nygaard. The alternatives to the AHTD’s original plan, which called for widening to 10 lanes, range from designing a better freeway to tearing down the stretch of freeway and replacing it with a boulevard. Marshall and his clients fall along the tear-itdown end of the spectrum, though they are looking at a full range of options. Marshall is a vocal critic of departments of transportation, which he said care only about moving cars. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department specifically, he said, has defined this project as a simple problem (not enough freeway capacity) with a simple solution (add more freeway capacity), and Marshall’s phaseone presentation focused on the ways in which he said the AHTD used bad data and outdated models to reach its proposed solution. Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan, also has concerns that the AHTD’s original proposal would have a negative impact on regional travel of the freeway. McKenzie explained that a minor

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 57


the art of THE POSSIBLE

58 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


In January, Little Rock architect Tom Fennell, who is now part of the group who has hired traffic consultant Smart Mobility,proposedaboulevard alternative to the AHTD’s bigger-wider plan to rebuild Interstate 30 through the city.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 59


the art of THE POSSIBLE

The conversation seems to have coalesced aroundtwoalternativestotheAHTD’soriginal plan: TEAR IT DOWN or BUILD IT BET TER.

congestion point, like the section of I-30 in question, can actually act as a regulator, allowing the rest of the system to function smoothly. Removing that regulator only moves the congestion a little further down the freeway. “Where does that stop?” McKenzie asked. “The regional modeling that we’ve done indicates that it doesn’t stop,” he said, leading to endless widening projects and astronomical costs. Aaron Renn echoed McKenzie’s concern. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, which he describes as a center-right think tank best known for being the intellectual horsepower behind much of what happened in New York City under the Mayor Rudy Giuliani administration. State DOTs, Renn said, like to maximize free-flowing, high-speed traffic, which is better suited for rural and suburban areas. But we’re talking about rush-hour congestion in an urban area. “I’m guessing rush hour is more like 15 minutes,” Renn said of Little Rock traffic. He warned against over-engineering for what he called “the peak of the peak.” “If you have to sit at a light twice, is that the end of the world,” he asked, “versus wrecking your downtown the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day?” But Renn is inclined to be forgiving of state DOTs. Yes, Renn said, state DOTs tend to be very conservative, but isn’t that what you want when you’re designing things like bridges? “So let’s not demonize them as bad people,” said Renn. “I think it would be very helpful to show them the art of the possible.” So what is possible in this case? The conversation seems to have coalesced around two alternatives to the AHTD’s original plan: tear it down or build it better. But is tearing down the section of I-30 that runs through Little Rock’s downtown really a viable possibility? Several U.S. cities have torn down freeways, Renn said—San Francisco, Portland, even Milwaukee. He has supported teardowns in other cities but doubts that a section of a major freightmoving freeway like I-30 would be torn down unless—and this is an important caveat—“unless there is an extraordinarily good alternate route for through freight traffic,” he said. And it turns out that Little Rock has not one but two alternate routes that already connect traffic from I-40 to I-30: Interstate 440, the segment of freeway that runs past the Little Rock Regional Airport, connects I-30 to I-40 on the east end of town; and in west Little Rock, Interstate 430 again connects I-40 to I-30. 60 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

And it’s also important to remember that I-30 is not a transcontinental freeway like I-40. Interstate 30 only starts at the I-40 junction in North Little Rock. It’s not crazy to imagine the sixmile stretch through Little Rock and North Little Rock remade into a boulevard, tied into the street grid and accessible to everyone, regardless of their mode of transportation. Interstate 30 could simply begin south of downtown Little Rock, where it is already tied into I-440 and I-530. So the possibility of tearing down a section of I-30 deserves to be part of the conversation, but it is the other alternative—built it back better—that seems to be getting the most attention. And the default question within that option has become, how many lanes wide should the new I-30 be? “The number of lanes is almost irrelevant,” said Renn. “The question is, how is it designed?” Are there enough streets that cross over or under it to maintain the continuity of the street grid? Do those crossover streets have great sidewalks and bicycle paths? Are they well lighted? Most important, Renn said, is connectivity. “A really well-designed 10-lane freeway is probably better than a very poorly designed six-lane freeway.” StudioMain, the local design collective that’s had a hand in imaginative projects and pop-up events in Little Rock, believes in better design. It entered the fray last October when they sent an 11-page public letter to the AHTD, outlining its concerns about the project. Now, StudioMain is working with the AHTD. “I would call us a strategic partner,” said Chris East, a signatory on that letter and a StudioMain board member. “Since we had been involved from the beginning and we were being constructive in our criticisms towards the current design, the Highway and Transportation Department has asked us to work with them directly to identify solutions to the concerns we have.” The process has been successful at one thing already, said East: raising awareness as to the importance of good critical-design thinking. “It makes the difference between having a great city or having a city you want to drive through as fast as possible. And we’re really trying to make Little Rock become a great city.” Aaron Renn also has a positive outlook about the project. “The fact that they are going to reconstruct,” he said, of the AHTD’s project, “it is a huge opportunity for the city.”


Proposed improvements to I-30 include wide retail sidewalks, bike lanes, large crosswalks and six lanes of through traffic with a left turn lane at each light.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 61


New Urbanism Champion

THE BOTTOM LINE:

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SMOKERS ARETO33% YOU IN ARKANSAS COSTS MORE LIKELY MORE TO MISS By theLIKELY numbers WORK THANARE NONSMOKERS WORK THAN NONSMOKERS By the numbers $1.21 BILLION IN ARKANSAS THE 33% ANNUAL HEALTH CARE COSTS SMOKERS IN ARKANSAS DIRECTLY CAUSED BY SMOKING MORE LIKELY TO MISS SMOKERS ARE 33% WORK THAN NONSMOKERS $1.21 BILLION THE ANNUAL HEALTH CARE COSTS PRODUCTIVITY LOSSES

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Cut the Smoke not the BY Budget IN ARKANSAS DIRECTLY CAUSED SMOKING Cut the Smoke INSURANCE PREMIUMS $1.21 BILLION THE ANNUAL HEALTH CARE COSTS SMOKE-FREE POLICIES POLICIES LABOR SMOKE-FREE IN ARKANSAS DIRECTLY CAUSED BY SMOKING LEGAL LIABILITY INSURANCE PREMIUMS INSURANCE PREMIUMS MAINTENANCE LABOR LABOR SMOKE-FREE LEGAL LIABILITY POLICIES LEGAL LIABILITY MAINTENANCE INSURANCE PREMIUMS MAINTENANCE SMOKE-FREE POLICIES LABOR BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY LEGAL LIABILITY INSURANCE PREMIUMS IMPROVING MORALE MAINTENANCE LABOR BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY LEGAL LIABILITY BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY IMPROVING MORALE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CREATING A MAINTENANCE IMPROVING MORALE TOBACCO-FREE WORKPLACE, CONTACT: BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CREATING A Steven Del Rio at Lifeway FOR MORE INFORMATION ONInternational CREATING A IMPROVING MORALE TOBACCO-FREE WORKPLACE, CONTACT: TOBACCO-FREE CONTACT: Steve.DelRio@LifewayInternational.org BOOSTINGWORKPLACE, PRODUCTIVITY Steven Del Rio at Lifeway International 501-920-2531 Steven Del Rio at MORALE LifewayONInternational FOR IMPROVING MORE INFORMATION CREATING A Steve.DelRio@LifewayInternational.org TOBACCO-FREE WORKPLACE, CONTACT: Steve.DelRio@LifewayInternational.org 501-920-2531 FOR MORE ONInternational CREATING A Steven DelINFORMATION Rio501-920-2531 at Lifeway TOBACCO-FREE WORKPLACE, CONTACT:

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STAMP OUT SMOKING

Steve.DelRio@LifewayInternational.org

Steven Del Rio501-920-2531 at Lifeway International

CAROL WORLEY Managing Principal, Worley, Wood & Parrish, P.A. Little Rock Describe your latest project. The Kordsmeier/Jung Building at 1318 S. Main St. was built in 1920. My partners, Melissa Wood and Jarrod Parrish, and I (NMR Holdings, LLC) purchased it in 2013. Significant changes had been made throughout the years to the building, including changes to the facade. At the time of purchase, the first floor had been most recently operated as a nightclub, and the second floor as five apartments. The majority of flooring, windows and doors on the second floor were rotten and broken, and had to be replaced. The roof had been replaced as it had fallen in on the west side. The non-historical changes to the front were removed and replaced with a facade that more accurately matched buildings of the era of construction. Plumbing and electrical was brought up to code for both levels. The second floor was rehabilitated into office space for my law firm, Worley, Wood & Parrish, P.A. The first floor was developed into a restaurant, Raduno Brick Oven and Barroom. Why did you choose Main Street? I live downtown at 1300 W. Third Street. I renovated that house back in 2010. I worked downtown for 23 years before moving our office out west. I had been looking for an office to buy for several years, and absolutely loved the building the first time I saw it. It appeared to be the perfect fit for my law firm of seven employees. What program has been helpful with your development? The Main Street program has helped to revitalize our downtown area and promote local economic development, both north and south of Interstate 630. We used Main Street to create drawings for part of our project on South Main. The camaraderie and education provided by the program has motivated our community to work toward revitalizing this area. It takes businesses, property owners and citizens working together toward that common goal. Main Street Arkansas provides the vision and guidance to obtain that goal. Why did you get into developing? I acted as contractor in the renovation of my house. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of finding and coordinating subcontractors to work on that project. I think I have developed somewhat of a proficiency in effectively coordinating work, controlling costs and completing projects in a timely manner. It was a great challenge for me. It’s like putting a puzzle together with the end product being functional, beautiful and profitable.

STAMP OUT SMOKING

Steve.DelRio@LifewayInternational.org STAMP OUT SMOKING

501-920-2531 STAMP OUT SMOKING

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62 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

What is one piece of advice you would give to people thinking about making their first development investment? Overestimate everything. Rehabilitation requires skillful project management. Costs can easily spiral out of control if this is not done effectively. Also, don’t take on a project if you can’t visualize the finished project in your mind. You have to be able to know where you want a project to go. That vision will inevitably change somewhat as the project develops. However, without the vision, you lack direction, which is essential for a rehab project.


Thinking big picture starts right here.

What was your biggest development challenge, and how did you overcome it? Finding the perfect property to work with. Location is everything. I drive around constantly scoping out potential property. I have friends who contact me when potential property comes on the market. Who were some of your biggest supporters in your first development? My husband, Lech Matuszewski, and my kids Claire, Tanner and Jessica were all supportive of my first project. At first, they seemed overwhelmed and probably thought I was nuts. However, as it developed and they could see the progress, they fully supported and encouraged my efforts. My partners, Melissa Wood and Jarrod Parrish, fully supported the building on Main Street. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better support group. What is one skill you wish you had that is vital to the development process? A contractor’s license. What does success look like to you? Happiness and satisfaction that you’ve done the best job you can do regardless of what that job might be.

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What project are you most proud of? Both my house and my office on Main Street. I actually get more comments about my house, though. People in Little Rock know the house because of its location. They know that it was in disrepair for years before we bought it. They were pleased that we didn’t demolish it. Argenta Flats North Little Rock, Arkansas

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BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 63


cooperation IS KEY

Locals gather at Black Apple Crossing for food, fun and fellowship.

N

orthwest Arkansas is having a moment. The region of 500,000 people is the hot new item on the “it” lists of various types of media—those eminently shareable lists that make the rounds on social media, in magazines and on the web. Fast becoming the quirky undiscovered favorite for lists that run the gamut of culinary, mountain biking, art, boutique hotels and quality of life, Northwest Arkansas’s emergence as a national topic of conversation wasn’t just a quirk. The seemingly meteoric rise of chatter about the region was the intentional product of years of strategic planning, and more than a few carefully-forged partnerships. The multipolarity of the region forces a high level of cooperation and a collaborative way of thinking for success. Regional groups like the Northwest Arkansas Council, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission and the Northwest Arkansas Tourism Association help convene and steer conversations that are necessary for the continued evolution and health of the region. Even at the local level, that spirit of cooperation is just as crucial to success. Springdale is having, on a regional scale, the same type of moment that Northwest Arkansas is having on a national level. This town of 75,000 is one of the fastest growing in the country and has 64 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

PHOTOS BY NOVO STUDIO

Organizations Who Work Together Can Create Nationally-Successful Communities BY MISTY MURPHY

a diversity that lends itself to an urban melting pot feel. However, the once thriving downtown with taglines like “The Heart of Northwest Arkansas” and “The Marketplace of Northwest Arkansas” had been decimated by decades of disinvestment and lack of community cohesion. A regional interest on place-based economic development as well as the development of the 36-mile Razorback Greenway, which includes a downtown Springdale trailhead, helped spur Springdale leaders into action about two years ago with a renewed emphasis on downtown. Some of the major initiatives that have ignited renewed interest in the 640-acre downtown area include the announcement by Tyson Foods to invest in redeveloping several historical buildings downtown and move in about 300 corporate employees. In addition, the City of Springdale and the Downtown Springdale Alliance undertook the process of creating a comprehensive Downtown Master Plan. Supported by H3 Studios out of St. Louis, the Springdale City Council passed the plan in December 2015. In response to these actions, more than a dozen buildings downtown have changed hands with millions of dollars in renovations either underway or planned. Shops run by young creatives are opening, and a craft beverage scene is developing—the state’s only


Emma Street in downtown Springdale.

The City of Springdale, theSpringdaleChamber of Commerce, a nonprofitnamedHistoric Springdale and other business interests all came together to hammer out a new nonprofit—theDowntown SpringdaleAlliance—that would help sustain the revitalization effort.

hard cider house, Black Apple Crossing, is just a stone’s throw away from local beer staples Apple Blossom and Core breweries. These changes wouldn’t have been possible without deep collaboration and communication between key groups. The City of Springdale, the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit named Historic Springdale and other business interests all came together to hammer out a new nonprofit—the Downtown Springdale Alliance—that would help sustain the revitalization effort. Public-private partnerships were key catalysts for, and a big part of, the momentum for change both in downtown Springdale and in Northwest Arkansas as a whole. Northwest Arkansas’s downtown guru Daniel Hintz and his consulting firm, Velocity Group, oversaw this process. Hintz was at the helm of Downtown Bentonville Inc. in its early days, and has since been an active guide in regional placemaking and downtown initiatives. As Springdale and Northwest Arkansas continue to evolve and further their commitment to building exciting places, the spirit of cooperation will continue to play a key role in success. That doesn’t mean there won’t be instances of competition. It’sDowntown healthy forBentonville the groupshas to compete: That become an continual drive for betterment is destination what makessince Northwest acclaimed travel the Arkansas so innovative. that competition must of turn openingBut of Crystal Bridges Museum into cooperation when it’s time toAmerican work together—to create Art in 2011. a dynamic environment of “coopetition” in the region. BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 65


ICONIC ROBINSON RESTORED

Rendering of the preserved historic Robinson Center facade; (right) construction of the JosephTaylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1937.

T

he historic Robinson Center closed it doors in July 2014 to begin extensive renovations to transform the performance hall into a fully updated, state-of-the-art facility. In November, the dust will settle and the doors will reopen for guests to enjoy events with improved acoustics, interior finishes, technology upgrades and more. The Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium, a Works Progress Administration project, opened in 1939 as the largest air-conditioned auditorium in the state. Considered one of the finest buildings in Arkansas, reputable local architects Lawson Delony and George Wittenberg designed it in an art deco style characterized by exterior Greek masks and grand columns. This performance hall is a well-known historic site in downtown Little Rock, so the decision to preserve its iconic facade was an easy one for city officials. “When we originally did the concept study for addressing all the deficiencies of the previous building and examined financial estimates for that work, we found that utilizing the exterior historic structure would end up saving us around 30 percent,” said Gretchen Hall, president and CEO at the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. 66 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Thanks to talented architecture and design teams, Hall said, much of the historic exterior has been successfully preserved; and with the help of historic images, they’ve also been able to recreate much of the original grandeur of the facility’s interior that was removed during a 1970s renovation. “The interior of the original building didn’t have a lot of historical significance remaining. The real reason it is on the historic register is the masonwork on the exterior. We have a designer fully restoring the original performance hall lobby by recreating chandeliers and art deco medallions in the décor. Throughout the performance hall, main lobby and performance hall restrooms you’ll see many restored art deco references,” Hall said. Dealing with a historic structure—and the firm intent to preserve it—did not come without obstacles. Unexpected architectural discoveries, a high-traffic location, and coordinating with nearby structures all presented issues for the renovation team to overcome. “Once we got into the demolition, our first obstacle was making sure we were able to brace the exterior structure since we gutted the interior. We discovered a few unknown

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF LIT TLE ROCK CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU

After a Complete Interior Renovation, Robinson Center is Ready to Reopen Its Doors BY AMY GORDY


GRAND RE-OPENING NOVEMBER 2016

The historic re-opening of Robinson Center will mark a milestone in Little Rock’s ongoing revitalization. The center is the western anchor to the arts, entertainment and cultural district, complementing the Clinton Presidential Center at the eastern end of the city’s thriving and vibrant downtown. Its completely redesigned, state-of-the-art performance hall will be home to many of Little Rock’s performing arts organizations, and its new conference center addition will provide dramatic views from its grand ballroom and outdoor terrace overlooking the Arkansas River. • Performance home for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Arkansas and Celebrity Attractions Broadway Theater Series • 2,200 seat proscenium theater and performance hall • Conference center addition will include flexible ballroom, meeting and pre-function spaces, and a 5,800 s.f. outdoor terrace • Directly connected to the DoubleTree Little Rock, currently undergoing its own multi-million dollar renovation • Combined, the DoubleTree and Robinson Center contain 45,000 sq. ft. of conference space

Robinson Center > To learn more, visit RobinsonCenterSecondAct.com

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ICONIC ROBINSON RESTORED

(From top) The northfacing exterior will offer an excellent view of the Arkansas River; a redesigned auditorium offers fully updated acoustics; and a complete gutting of the interior was necessary to transform Robinson Center into a state-of-the-art facility.

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substructures like columns that weren’t on the blueprints, and had to navigate that.” The backside of the new Robinson Center will now physically adjoin with the DoubleTree convention center, but lining up the connection point for the two facilities presented some problems. “Making sure those aligned was a little complicated, and there were a few areas requiring more extensive restoration that we anticipated—there are just unknown things that can arise from dealing with a building of that age. We have a really great architecture and design team, though, and everyone believes in the value in saving that historic structure,” she said. While Robinson Center enjoys a prime location—at the intersection of Markham and Broadway streets—making it the ideal spot for weekend theatergoers, this location did require careful navigation for a renovation project of this massive scale. “We had a small footprint to work with. All the kudos in the world to our planning team, which includes our architects, general contractors and subcontractors,” Hall said. The team had to coordinate with an attached hotel that needed to continue business as well as work around two state highways that run adjacent to the project. Challenges with timing and street closures, along with the construction logistics of working in tight building space, and within a demanding time frame, were all issues throughout the process. Hall, however, was incredibly impressed with the team’s ability to work through those challenges. The more than two-year hiatus from live programming will surely be worth the wait when Robinson Center unveils its new look this fall. In addition to its aesthetic enhancements, the facility’s mechanical, acoustical and logistical issues will all be brought up to date. According to Hall, some of the major deficiencies of the original structure were largely operational and in its accessibility. The heating and cooling is updated, acoustic issues have been addressed by dropping the stage to ground level, loading has been re-routed away from its former troublesome location on Broadway, and the facility is now widely ADA accessible. Robinson Center will continue to be a thriving part of the Little Rock art culture by drawing huge names in music and theater, providing a home to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, and retaining its elegance and historic value. “By saving the historic structure, we are also saving historic memories. Everyone I have encountered has a memory at Robinson, whether it’s attending a first concert, playing basketball in the basement or watching a family member dance in a recital. It makes an economic impact, quality of life impact, and a personal impact in the community. This renovation is going to make it a true showpiece for years and years to come,” Hall said.


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EMBRACING THE RENAISSANCE

Fort Smith, El Dorado and North Little Rock Look to the Arts for Economic Development BY KODY FORD

70 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

PHOTO COURTESY OF STREET ART NEWS

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n the cool October evenings last fall, crowds gathered on Garrison Avenue in downtown Fort Smith. The post-industrial town, known primarily for its trucking industry and frontier past, had become home to a strange sight—forgotten walls being painted by some of the world’s top street artists who gathered there for a week for what was known as the aptly named The Unexpected Project. Named 64/6 Downtown is a nonprofit founded in November 2014 by Steve Clark, John McIntosh and Claire Kohlberg, who later joined with Charlotte Dutoit of JustKids, an organization that curates art events. 64/6 is committed to revitalizing downtown Fort Smith by creating vibrant spaces for the community to live, work and play. The team produced The Unexpected, and recruited major names in street art like Vhils, D*Face and Ana Maria to produce 11 murals with more planned for 2016. “[We] were curious what role art could play in economic development, what role it could play in recasting the image of the city,” Kohlberg said. “We looked at it like a grand social experiment. The building walls were the canvas on which we wanted to paint our future.” And those walls have begun to pay dividends for the town’s reputation. Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Advertising and Promotion Commission, is positive about the effects The Unexpected will have for the town’s tourism efforts going forward. Legris said that the most popular item the A&P Commission gives out besides its visitors guide is the walking tour brochure for The Unexpected. But most importantly, the town is seeing development arise from The Unexpected. “The arts are a potent force—it’s proven they spark creativity, innovation, and have positive economic impact … Fort Smith is seeing renewed growth, and companies who are headquartered in Fort Smith such as Propak, ArcBest, First National Bank and Baldor, to name a few, will continue to be able to attract and retain talent to the area because Fort Smith is proving to be an innovative community. New merchants are moving to downtown; since last year’s event there are at least three new storefronts on Garrison Avenue and more to come,” Kohlberg said. According to 64/6 volunteer and retired community and development planner Rusty Myers, The Unexpected Project has set the stage for greater economic development not only in the downtown area, but also throughout Fort Smith. The organization has enlisted the Dallas-based company Gateway Consulting to


Fort Smith wall mural by New Zealand artist Askew One.

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EMBRACING THE RENAISSANCE (From left) New Ana Maria wall mural attracts attention in downtown Fort Smith; North Little Rock’s Innovation Hub; and the El Dorado Festival and Events Inc. proposed downtown Master Plan.

draft a masterplan for the town, which should begin this summer. The masterplan will use some of the current initiatives such as The Unexpected Project and Garrison Commons, a pocket park downtown, as a jumping-off point for further development. Myers sees this as a necessity for economic development. “Events like [The Unexpected Project], particularly those that are top quality like it, do more than just bolster the development in that immediate area—they set the stage for a higher level of economic development in general in Fort Smith and the Fort Smith region,” Myers said. Some business leaders such as Steve Clark, founder and CEO of Propak, believe the arts are extremely important to Fort Smith, and he is already witnessing the benefits at his company through an amplified creative energy among the team and a real pride in being a Fort Smith-based business. “I see citizens responding very positively to other citizens’ efforts to improve the quality and diversity of life in Fort Smith. Our citizens are looking to one another for the change they want as opposed to the city and elected officials exclusively. I am certain many creative and beneficial initiatives will be born out of the risk taken by the creators of The Unexpected, Steel Horse Rally, Peacemaker Music Festival and others,” Clark said. Arts-related events such as Peacemaker Music Festival are important to revitalizing a community. El Dorado, Arkansas’s original boomtown, enjoyed years of prosperity due to the oil industry and manufacturing, but as globalization sent jobs overseas, the town began to see a downturn economically. However, a relatively new organization, El Dorado Festivals and Events Inc. (EFEI), has been working to turn the town into the cultural hub of south Arkansas. Within the last few years the city completed a new convention center, the first step in what EFEI President Austin Barrow called a “We are open for business mindset of the future,” that proved the town was no longer “chasing smokestacks.” The group had to 72 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

make a convincing argument that investing $80 million (primarily private funds) into the city for arts and culture or festivals and events yields a higher economic return than more traditional efforts like industrial park planning, plant preparation and other methods of growth. They cited examples of other cities’ efforts to bolster their case that such community investment will make the area a more attractive place to live and visit. This year EFEI has planned events such as the Southern Food & Wine Festival, Mayhaw Festival, El Dorado Film Festival, a performance by Arkansas Shakespeare Theater, four touring musical shows, Musicfest, six performances by the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, three plays by the South Arkansas Arts Center, nearly a dozen arts exhibits and a currently unnamed Halloween Festival. All of these events are the cornerstone for larger development plans. EFEI’s two-phase plan spans six city blocks with a price tag of nearly $80 million. Construction recently began on phase one, which includes a cabaret, farm-to-table restaurant, a music hall for 2,400 to 3,000 people, a 7,000-capacity amphitheater, a destination children’s playscape, farmers market pavilions and more than four acres of parkscape. Phase two will feature the renovation of the historic Rialto Theater and the addition of a 10,000-square-foot gallery with exhibits from Crystal Bridges and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It’s a monumental undertaking for a small town, but one that Barrow believes is beginning to pay off. One new hotel is under construction and another is planned for 2017. El Dorado has seen on average a 3.5 times boost in festival dollars in the local economy. A recent economic impact study on the new arts and entertainment district shows an annual contribution of more than $24 million into the region—not to mention a renewed sense of pride in the area. Murals and festivals are a great way to generate interest and economic activity in a city, but the Argenta Arts District in North

PHOTO BY MAT THEW MARTIN/COURTESY OF ANA MARIA AND ELDORADO FEST

The correct infrastructure investment will build prosperity.


PLAN OVERVIEW

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Little Rock has taken a different approach to infusing art and community with the Arkansas Innovation Hub. The Hub utilizes the arts and creativity to develop companies and products through its three main areas—making, coworking and design. Its philosophy is that none of these are mutually exclusive, according to Executive Director Warwick Sabin. “In order to create technology, start a business or advance an artistic concept, you need access to all of these different resources, and to be in an environment where you can interact with people who have complementary skills,” Sabin said. The Hub provides members with access to engineers, 3D printers and other ways to see an idea to fruition. This “hive-mind” mentality has allowed the Hub to be successful at retaining and attracting talent to central Arkansas. Its HubX Life Sciences division has brought entrepreneurs from places like Boston, Saudi Arabia and Portugal since the health care business accelerator program allows them to access knowledge and institutional support from Arkansas’s health care industry heavyweights like Baptist Health Medical Center and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “The Innovation Hub is an organic outgrowth of the cultural placemaking that has taken place in Argenta over the last decade,” Sabin said. “Creative professionals want to work in an inspiring atmosphere with a sense of community, and the Innovation Hub benefits from being in a vibrant downtown setting with restaurants, art galleries and other amenities within walking distance. And now that the Innovation Hub is attracting people of all ages with an interest in technology, the arts, and business, we will be contributing to further economic and cultural growth in the neighborhood.” While arts have often been viewed as a leisure activity, their economic impact on development is being taken seriously in places like Fort Smith, El Dorado and Argenta. Investing is a risky proposition, but sometimes you have to take a chance on a community. Factories may close, but art and culture cannot be outsourced. It’s time to embrace the Arkansas art renaissance.

CREATIVEprofessionals want to work in an INSPIRINGatmosphere with a sense of COMMUNIT Y.

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hot springs hotels ON THE RISE

Thompson Building Sets Pace for Hot Springs Redevelopment

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF TAYLOR/KEMPKES ARCHITECTS

BY DWAIN HEBDA

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n a late spring afternoon, architect Anthony Taylor lets out a long breath pondering the question of whether his head or his heart prevailed the day he and his partners Bob Kempkes and Robert Zunick decided to redevelop Hot Springs’ Thompson Building into a 62-room boutique hotel, slated to open this fall. “It was definitely both,” he said in a slow, lyrical drawl. “With our hearts we knew we wanted to do it because it needed to be done, and it was something that would possibly stimulate other developments downtown. And then with our heads, we had no question that financially it would work. “But it takes a lot out of you to do one of these things. You put a whole lot of your soul into it. So, the real consideration was, did we have it in us to do it again.” Taylor, who with Kempkes makes up Taylor-Kempkes Architects, had walked the preservation route before, both for clients and their own ventures including the Weir Building for their downtown offices, and the resuscitation of the Quapaw Bathhouse. Such projects put them on the map, put them on the strip and put them squarely in the middle of the protracted and laborious rebirth of the Spa City’s historic district. “It actually was rather serendipitous; when we opened our firm here in ’86, we had one commission for a residence in Hot Springs Village, and the next commission we got was for the national headquarters of Mountain Valley Spring Company, which was the first restoration we’d ever attempted,” Taylor said. “It ended up winning national awards and several state awards. We were suddenly restoration specialists.”

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(Opposite page) Rendering of theThompson Hotel at street level; (this page) view from Thompson Hotel rooftop.

Last year, 15 major historic commercial structures sold, 18 new businesses opened and a total of $23 million in capital investmentwasmadedowntown.

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hot springs hotels ON THE RISE

(From left) Before detail of the Thompson Building’s columns; street-level before construction began; and repaired terra cotta details on columns.

A shining example of Hot Springs’ raucous and romantic past, the five-story Thompson Building was constructed in 1913, its elaborate glazed brick facade was designed by architect George Mann, whose resume included the Arkansas State Capitol. As with the Quapaw Bathhouse, Taylor said walking the line between historical integrity and modern amenities came to the forefront immediately in the Thompson, a former doctors’ building. “Before World War II, insurance companies would pay for the thermal water baths if a doctor prescribed them, so there were hundreds of doctors in downtown Hot Springs,” he said. “Being doctor’s offices, the rooms were not large enough for a hotel room. So we took three and turned them into two. We’ve left the corridors exactly as they were, but behind the corridors we have pretty well gutted it and inserted new, thoroughly modern hotel rooms.” Taylor and Kempkes travel extensively, which provides ample inspiration for the renovation, the permits for which value at around $5.7 million. “A lot of what we have done is drawn from our own experiences staying in places in this country and others,” Taylor said. “We travel regularly, at least once per quarter, because if you stay in a small town in a rural state, you get kind of stuck in the mud and you forget about the larger world out there.” Ultimately, its owners hope, the Thompson Building will prove more than another pretty face and be both beacon and blueprint for 76 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

what’s to come in downtown. “We’ve had our own stake in the Central Avenue historical district since 1988,” Taylor said. “We have diligently tried for decades now to convince the city fathers that downtown Hot Springs is a good investment. That didn’t seem to go anywhere, for several reasons.” If the past 28 years yielded little, the past 27 months have moved at warp speed ever since the Majestic Hotel burned spectacularly through the night of Feb. 27, 2014. The hulking shards of brick still stand sentinel over one end of the historic strip, as if to both remind and inspire the neighborhood to rise from the ashes of the past. “You say a lot of work is being done in a few places, but there’s still a lot more need for improvements, and I would agree with that,” said Cole McCaskill, downtown development director. “As an insider, I can tell you plans are being drawn, financing is being secured and a lot of other things done for many of the places where work needs to be done.” Last year, 15 major historic commercial structures sold, 18 new businesses opened and a total of $23 million in capital investment was made downtown, McCaskill said. Also completed last year was the Downtown Economic Development & Redevelopment Plan, paid for with a grant by the federal Economic Development Administration. Consultants managed the seven-month project, crafting a vision for the future from a spectrum of stakeholder input. “Talk to 50 people and you’ll get 60 different opinions,” McCaskill


TAYLOR KEMPKES said. “[Consultants] met with more than 400 residents, individuals with some sort of ties to downtown, to Hot Springs, or no tie at all, just people that live out in the county. They ultimately released about a 500-page report where they synthesized all the things that had come out of those meetings. “It’s a pretty progressive vision, drawn from the local community. It was the type of deal where we didn’t want the people with the briefcases to tell us what we wanted to do. We hired them to come facilitate these meetings, and to hear us tell them what we wanted to do.” The planning document, like the Thompson Building, is a good start. But as Taylor notes, the level of commitment and cooperation during its implementation is what will truly tell the tale of downtown Hot Springs’ future. One controversial element that’s already flared is a recommendation to build parking decks downtown and remove parallel parking along Central Avenue down Bathhouse Row, thus better accommodating walking, bike lanes, sidewalk cafes and the like. “Hot Springs is not a city laid out on a grid, it is not a development started from scratch where you can place roadways and alleyways where you want them,” Taylor said. “Where downtown is trying to head is a real walkable, livable community, and that’s where I’m hoping Hot Springs gets to; a true new urbanist, slow-down-kindof-place to relax.”

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HOT ON THE TRAIL

PHOTOS BY NOVO STUDIO

How Trail Development and Bike Culture Fuel Small, Incremental Development Projects BY MICHAEL ANDERSEN

Local cyclists enjoy the Mud Creek Trail located behind Core Public House in Fayetteville.

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ore Brewing was scouting for its fifth pub location in Fayetteville when its management team scored pay dirt: a strip mall storefront that happened to have a bikingwalking path behind it. Last fall, Core Public House opened on Mall Avenue after a remodel of the 2,500-square-foot space that created a seated outdoor patio opening directly onto the Mud Creek Trail. “We want people to come in and have a pint and relax,” Core marketing director Jay Richardson said. “If they choose to keep running, they can. If they choose to have another one, they can do that, too.” Core is planning a similar trailside location in Springdale, opening later this year. Its expansion plan for central Arkansas will target similar spots, Richardson said. Founded in 2010 and posting just over $1 million in revenue in 2015, Core is the sort of small but growing company healthy economies are built on. And, like a growing number of small

78 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

businesses in Northwest Arkansas, it’s found that the region’s rapidly growing trail system—often integrated directly into commercial districts—has created a ribbon of places worth investing in. “Our whole business model is we’re trying to build housing in walking distance from trails,” said Jake Newell, founder of Newell Development in Bentonville. The 34-year-old residential developer skidded into the recession after starting his career “building more sprawl-type stuff for a company.” After looking around the country and realizing that the only profitable firms seemed to be constructing infill, Newell started his own. Today he’s in the middle of a $4.5 million infill redevelopment of three blocks of Southwest B Street in Bentonville. Part of the city’s nascent Arts District, the housing prices will range from $200,000 to $500,000. A similar $2.5 million redevelopment is coming in the next six months, Newell said.


The BUSINESS SUCCESS of land near human-scale public spaces like PUBLIC SQUARES and BIKING trails only seems new. “Our goal is to help strengthen the neighborhood fabric on B Street and have a positive impact in downtown when we finalize our developments in the next 18 months,” he said. Rob Husong, regional president for First National Bank of Northwest Arkansas, said he’s loaned $20 million to $25 million for development in the region’s downtowns over the last five years, especially the last two. The urban trails are threads on which he and his peers have been helping string retail gems like the Pedaler’s Pub in Bentonville or the Greenhouse Grille in Fayetteville. “We’re finding that if those properties are situated in or touching that trail … it’s translating into actual higher dollars and sales,” Husong said. “These are buildings that were boarded up, vacant or underutilized before the trail was there,” said Jeremy Pate, development services director in Fayetteville. “I would say we’ve had a real resounding success story.” Pate said Fayetteville budgets $1.5 million a year from its sales tax revenue for ongoing trail construction. It’s built 41 miles of paved trails so far. Northwest Arkansas’s experience isn’t unique. After Indianapolis opened the $63 million Cultural Trail looping through its central city, the share of citywide building permits in the surrounding ZIP code leaped 112 percent above the 15-year average—$147 million worth of additional real estate investment above previous levels during the first four years alone. The business success of land near human-scale public spaces like public squares and biking trails only seems new, said Jim Kumon, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Incremental Development Alliance. It’s anything but. “For thousands of years, we used to be really good at this,” Kumon said. “Think about any sort of European, Asian civilization, Middle Eastern civilization. They organized themselves with a center public space. … The church, or the civic building, or the castle, it was the thing everyone wanted to be close to. So that public space arrangement was universal up until the point that we actually started designing everything on the scale of the car.” Kumon, whose nonprofit organization looks to increase the number of small real estate developers in the country, said it makes fiscal sense for cities to build their public space in ways that maximize the value of private space nearby. “Highways are perfectly fine generators, but they can only serve a certain strata of uses,” he said. “Small-scale development and its more efficient use of space is a great way to create economic drivers.” Thinking like that is what convinced civic leaders across Northwest Arkansas to team up for the Razorback Greenway, a

$38 million, 36-mile network connecting six cities that scored federal grant funding in 2010 and ongoing private grants from the Walton Family Foundation. It’s put the region’s commercial cores within a few hours of one another by bicycle. “You can start in the morning, pick up lunch along the trail, in the evening go to the hotel restaurant, and go back on the trail the next day,” said Brian Bahr, Bentonville’s economic development manager. Bahr, too, is enthusiastic about the trail network’s ability to lure many small-scale investments, all of which fit together around Bentonville’s lively city center. “They really become feeders to the residential core,” he said. “The city’s intent is to run everything back to the core. It’s spokes on the hub.” Daniel Hintz of the Bentonville-based placemaking firm Velocity Group said it makes sense for cities to encourage many small-scale developments because they’re more economically stable than a few big ones. “Really what you’re talking about is small and resilient,” Hintz said. “It’s a lot easier to absorb one minor failure in a grouping of clustered small development projects than it is to absorb a failed $20 million convention center or 300-unit apartment project.” Patrick Sbarra of Lamplighter Restoration is another developer in Rogers and Bentonville finding ways to slip new buildings into central neighborhoods, especially near the trail system that he applauds the region’s leaders for envisioning 15 years ago. “We’re building homes, you know, within the concentric circle around the Bentonville Square, quarter-mile, halfmile,” Sbarra said. “And they all have rapid access to trailheads. So what does it make for? It makes for life here, work here, play here.” On D Street, his firm built five 3,000-square-foot freestanding row houses. Next to the square, he put up four 1,900-square-foot townhomes. Now they’re looking at a mixed-use project that would put apartments on a few upper floors and a coffee shop space at sidewalk level—the sort of small housing units that he said rely even more on having shared public spaces nearby. “Whenever my partner and I look for land, look for a place to build, I can’t tell you the number of times he turns to me and says, “It’s near the trail,” said Sbarra, who grew up in New York City and went to college in Rhode Island. “It’s like in New England: ‘It’s got an ocean view.’” Sbarra laughed. “God already put that ocean there,” he said. “We needed to make the trail.” BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 79


REBUILDING HISTORY

Developers Bring Argenta Neighborhood Back to Full Bloom

PHOTOS BY MAT THEW MARTIN/COURTESY GREG NABHOLZ

BY DWAIN HEBDA

Argenta Place houses a restaurant, offices and residences on the corner of Main and Broadway.

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ongtime financial planner John Gaudin wasn’t looking to start a new career in real estate development when he started nosing around downtown Little Rock. The renewed economic activity in the area, including efforts to revitalize some of the district’s historic buildings, caught his attention. “I was really interested in living downtown and loved what was happening in downtown Little Rock. I really couldn’t find a small building to do office space and potentially live above in downtown Little Rock, so I went to North Little Rock and the Argenta neighborhood,” he said. Gaudin found several empty buildings that fit the description. That was 10 years and nine buildings ago, with Gaudin either owning or revitalizing the projects solo, or in partnership with a development group he formed along the way. The projects shaped a core of attractive properties in the neighborhood nestled snugly between Verizon Arena and Dickey-Stephens Park, which is now thriving with restaurants, bars, brewpubs, theater space and specialty retail. “We created a gathering place for people who enjoy living among those who have different ideas and different paths,” Gaudin said of the neighborhood. “It’s where a lot of talented people accumulate and brainstorm and create new companies and new visions.” 80 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Argenta’s ongoing success provides a chapter in Arkansas’s urban redevelopment story currently capturing the imagination of elected leaders, private investors and civic institutions across the state. Greg Nabholz, CEO of Nabholz Properties in Conway, caught the downtown bug and has played a key role in pushing downtown redevelopment forward in Arkansas. A strong advocate for good urban design, he also believes historic renovation is vitally important. “Historic preservation is not just about renovating a building to keep for historical preservation, it is a new way of looking at economic development,” he said. He stressed that walkable neighborhoods with a lot of different types of buildings are very attractive to startup companies, creative companies and tech companies. This description is often found in historic areas of town. “You don’t need to tear down historic buildings to put something up when you’ve got plenty of underutilized properties that can be rebuilt,” he said. “At the same time, renovating buildings is great, but also look at the opportunities to take parking lots or underutilized properties and build new structures within the framework of connecting everything within the downtown.”


(From top) A historic image of the Koehler Bakery on Main Street in Argenta; the structure in 2010 before Nabholz began renovatio

You don’t need to tear down HISTORIC buildings to put something up when you’ve got PLENTY of UNDERUTILIZED properties that can be rebuilt.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 81


REBUILDING HISTORY

Argenta’s Main Street has seen many renovations to historic properties.

Nabholz said the most common mistake developers make is working in silos, which inhibits the development of an overall vision. The resulting hodgepodge of redevelopment greatly reduces a neighborhood’s overall appeal. According to Nabholz, the necessary community collaboration invariably introduces governmental or quasi-governmental oversight such as historic district designation. While critics claim this type of additional oversight from the standard municipal planning process slows down development through excessive regulation and red tape, Nabholz doesn’t necessarily agree. “I think the benefits of a historic district help more than they hurt,” he said. “Now I will say that, it’s like with anything, you have some historic districts where the governing body may be a bit overzealous on regulations than others. But by creating a historical district, you can really help to bring all of these structures into the eligibility to get tax credits, which is significant,” he said. In fact, state and federal tax credits play a critical role in the redevelopment of Arkansas’s historic areas. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP) administers Arkansas’s program, which allows for 25 percent of approved rehabilitation expenses on a historic building to be claimed as a tax credit, up to $125,000 per income-producing property. The AHPP also serves as the state’s liaison between property owners and the like-minded federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit program, administered by the National Park Service (NPS). Given the potential tax savings, you’d think these programs to be common 82 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

knowledge; amazingly, such isn’t always the case. “I’ve been astounded at the lack of knowledge of the banking community and the people who should be in the know—property owners, economic developers—about the historic tax credits, both federal and state,” Nabholz said. “[They’re] a huge tool in getting a lot of these projects done.” Gaudin agreed, saying the tax credits played a major role in his Argenta projects, but also said getting the buildings done and paid for is only part of the story. He said a major determinant for success is to consider what happens after the renovation dust settles. Supporting the development of a neighborhood at the same time as an individual project is essential, according to Gaudin. He believes that while a developer may create a successful building, it will function like an island unless there’s enough critical mass. “My advice would be to approach [projects] thoughtfully, more strategically,” he said. “If you’re in an Arkansas small town and you see a building to be redeveloped, I would just use caution. There are things to help redevelop the building, but unless you’re also simultaneously changing the culture of that historic district through placemaking and programming, you’re not going to be successful. “This critical mass comes in when you make the place beautiful and you have programming so that people want to be in the area. It’s safer to start redeveloping and eventually have your investment dollars come back to you if you’ve done a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to the redevelopment,” he said.


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Block, Street & Building Vol. 2 | 2016  
Block, Street & Building Vol. 2 | 2016  

The Best of New Urbanism in Arkansas