Bentonville Stresses Its Small-Town Feel

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Mar. 17, 2014 12:00 am  

Thrive, a mixed-use apartment complex, will be just a few blocks from Bentonville’s downtown square. (Artist’s rendering)

As cities in northwest Arkansas continue to grow, Bentonville leaders are looking inward.

On April 4, ERC Cos. of Barling will break ground on a new mixed-use apartment complex, Thrive, at the intersection of Southwest A and Southwest Fourth streets. The site, currently an empty lot, is just a few blocks from both Bentonville’s downtown square and the city library.

The complex will be built by ERC Construction, the in-house construction arm of ERC Cos.

The apartment building fits nicely into Bentonville’s overall plan to refocus new developments in the city’s downtown, which covers about 1,700 acres. Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin, the Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce and ERC executives worked together to find the right spot for the 62-unit complex, which will also have retail spaces and a parking garage.

Tom Ginn, the chamber’s vice president of economic development, rattled off a series of developments that Bentonville has planned — or has seen put into action — for its downtown area. The Thrive apartments are set to open by the end of this year in what the city calls its Arts District.

McCaslin said people expressed interest in residential and business developments downtown after the square was renovated in 2008. The city decided to try to organize new developments as part of an overarching plan.

The city, McCaslin stressed, doesn’t dictate what goes where — other than through zoning laws — but does try to work with prospective investors to maximize the success of any venture. It makes sense for art-related businesses or for a housing developer to locate near a city-designated Arts District, too.

“Thrive is a classic example,” McCaslin said. “They have a desire to be a part of this. [People] think it is really cool to live close to downtown and experience that amenity year-round.”

The city is trying to help in more concrete ways as well, spending money to improve its infrastructure by widening and improving streets, modernizing sewer and water systems and upgrading landscaping.

“After 2008, investors wanted to be in or near downtown,” McCaslin said. “I think the trend is still going. It’s a wholesome family atmosphere you feel when you visit downtown Bentonville. People tell me it feels like Norman Rockwell.

“The aesthetics are what makes Bentonville. We’re trying to make Bentonville a point of difference.”

McCaslin said he doesn’t think there is one cause for Bentonville’s downtown revival. It would be silly to ignore the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2011, the improving local economy and the economic engine of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.



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