Anita Davis Serves as One-Woman Economic Development Agency, Brings Vision to South Main

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 12:00 am  

Her interest in pedestrian-friendly urban revitalization and her exposure to “pocket parks” in New York and Seattle led her to transform the lot at 14th and Main into the Bernice Garden, which has become a community meeting place.

Last year, the garden became the site of a Sunday farmers market with an emphasis on Arkansas-produced fruit, vegetables and other locally sourced goods.

The theme of locally sourced green products carries through to the retail ventures that have found homes in Davis’ buildings along Main, including the Green Corner Store. The store, owned by Shelley Green, opened in July 2009.

The first couple of years were a struggle, Green said. Her enterprise was self-funded. But the rent she paid Davis was below market rates, helping her withstand soft demand and not much foot traffic.

Davis’ promotion of the neighborhood through events like the Farmers Market, the sculpture competition and the now-annual Cornbread Festival has attracted increasing numbers of shoppers and visitors to Main, and now “business is going in the right direction,” Green said.

“I’m guessing that she’s not requiring that she herself get a typical rate of return on her investment,” said Fox of Davis. “She’s doing this because she’s committed to the area.”

Her investment is not yet earning a return, Davis acknowledged. But “I’m here for the long haul.”

Davis is 67. “If you’re still in business at this age, you’re in a big hurry to make things happen, just so that you can enjoy seeing it,” she said. “I think that’s the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most. Right before my eyes I see people participating.”

“She’s made a difference,” Fox said. “You asked me what my first reaction was when she first came. My first reaction was that the real estate taxes on my property were ratcheted up. I went in to contest it. And they showed me what Anita had paid for her properties and said, ‘You know, that’s market value.’ At which point I had no argument left.”



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