Siloam Springs Gets Downtown Jumpin' Again (Main Street Preservation | Winner, Between 5,000-20,000)

Things are really hoppin’ in Siloam Springs, but just because it sits on the western edge of the burgeoning Northwest Arkansas metro doesn’t mean this sleepy college town didn’t experience a little recession hangover of its own.

Siloam Springs, a city abutting the Oklahoma state line in southwestern Benton County, has always been known for its quality of life: a quaint college town known as a safe, clean and scenic place to raise families.

Attractions such as Sager Creek and a pedestrian-friendly downtown that features historic architecture have always been great features, but by the peak of the recession, downtown Siloam Springs saw vacant and underused buildings lining much of its streetscape.

Since 2010, a nonprofit organization called Main Street Siloam Springs, in conjunction with the city and local community leaders, has led a downtown revival. Eight major rehab and restoration projects have pumped an estimated $6.3 million into vacant and under-utilized buildings downtown.

Thirteen new businesses have opened and remained downtown, adding 50 new jobs to the city. Plus, local entrepreneurs have sustained unique businesses that include a hand-sewn children’s clothing shop, a vinyl record store and even a Surrey bike rental shop.

New restaurants and shops sprung up along the Main Street corridor providing residents with options they previously had to seek out of town, and those options are attracting visitors as well.

These efforts to revitalize downtown have resulted in national recognition including the city being named one of the best small towns in America for 2012 by Smithsonian magazine.

Siloam can now add a 2013 Arkansas Business City of Distinction award to its resume. Siloam Springs is the winner in the Main Street Preservation category for cities of 5,000-20,000 people.

Main Street Siloam Springs is an affiliate of Main Street Arkansas and a branch of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The organization hosted 76 events in 2012 alone, including the Tuesday and Saturday Farmer’s Market that runs April through October plus other monthly events and even a quarterly Girls Night Out shopping event.

MSSS director Meredith Bergstrom said the city’s historic downtown has an incredible story to tell. Downtown provided visitors with the impression of great potential, she said, but lacked the ability to attract and sustain customers.

The group has spent more than $15,000 on downtown promotions since 2010, and its efforts are paying off.

“The organization has grown its capacity and impact tremendously and now offers a wide array of programs to benefit downtown businesses, host events in the downtown and cultivate a vision for the downtown as an economic development engine,” Bergstrom said. “Our vision is for downtown to be a vibrant destination where the community springs to life. Its mission is to lead the community initiative for the revitalization of downtown into an economically vigorous commercial center and a gathering place for hospitality, arts and entertainment, all within a carefully maintained historic district.”

In 2010, Main Street Siloam Springs came up with a plan to spur business growth downtown and fill up those streetscape vacancies.

“The strategy was twofold — incentivize and encourage downtown restoration, and host events that create customer traffic downtown,” Bergstrom said. “With this clear vision to communicate to investors, the Main Street budget grew from $50,000 in 2010 to $100,000 in 2012 with the help of corporate donations, event sponsorships and project grants.”

The organization created the annual Façade Grant Program that provided up to $1,000 in matching funds to three or more participants to restore or renovate building exteriors. So far, the program has awarded seven businesses with matching funds to help cover the costs of awnings, painting, signage and more.

A volunteer design committee was created to provide some of the façade detail work, and its work resulted in the creation of a design and style handbook for downtown business and property owners to use as a resource for future projects.

In addition, the group’s “Real Estate Hot Sheet” lists vacant properties for potential entrepreneurs and investors.

It boils downs to this: Main Street Siloam Springs and its neighbors decided to roll up their sleeves and help downtown realize its true potential. Their work may not be done, but one thing’s for sure. In downtown Siloam Springs, the joint is jumpin’ again.