The project to revitalize downtown Springdale brings back good memories for Philip Taldo.
Taldo, an agent with Weichert Realtors-The Griffin Co. of Springdale, remembers walking from Springdale High School after football practice to visit his father, Fredie, who worked at Watson Furniture Store on Main Street. He would go to Joyce’s Drugstore, where his uncle was a pharmacist, and have a cherry limeade at the soda fountain counter while he waited for his dad to finish work.
“They made them with fresh limes,” Taldo, 63, said. “That was a big deal back then. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
There is a sense of nostalgia in Springdale’s attempt to bring life back to its downtown, anchored by Emma Avenue. It’s more than simple nostalgia, though, as the city tries to rebuild its economic base.
The opening later this year of a Walmart Supercenter on the west end of town by Interstate 49 has stirred economic development interest there. Downtown Springdale is also seeing activity, not because of a Walmart but because of the Razorback Greenway.
The greenway, a 36-mile multiuse trail from Fayetteville to Bella Vista, will snake through downtown Springdale alongside Spring Creek. The trail stirred the city to action.
“Springdale is not unlike other cities,” Mayor Doug Sprouse said. “We’ve grown tremendously and a lot of attention shifted away from downtown. We’ve got an effort now that is going to take hold.”
Tyson, Walton Interest
The city’s master plan calls for about $20.5 million in improvements to coincide with the opening of the trail later this year. Not all the improvements will be done at once, and not all the activity is being pushed by the city.
Tyson Foods has bought properties along Emma Avenue and has told the city that the company will relocate one of its offices to downtown. Springdale Downtown LLC, led by members of the Walton family, bought the San Jose Manor building on Emma in mid-May.
Sprouse said the interest shown by Tyson and the Walton family has helped create momentum for the downtown project. He said he is unsure how many jobs Tyson plans to bring downtown, calling it a “fluid” situation.
It helps any effort, Sprouse said, when “you get the Walton family buying a whole block. They’re not stupid with their money.”
Taldo said two unidentified local buyers will close in days on the purchase of the Apollo Theater on Emma. Taldo is even getting into the act, saying he was in the process of buying the Watson Furniture Store building at the corner of Main Street and Meadow Avenue.
Taldo said downtown Springdale has a pull on baby boomers like himself who remember Emma Avenue as the city’s only market area and hang-out spot.
“There is a lot of private money going in there,” Taldo said. “A lot of it is from Springdale people. They’re jumping on the bandwagon and reinvesting in downtown.”
Talk to officials and brokers in Springdale and they will say that downtown Springdale has been targeted before. Nothing has ever panned out in the attempt to bring people and business back to the area.
This time around, the feeling is different.
“One of the biggest things is with Tyson Foods — they’re going to bring some corporate employees downtown,” said Lance Eads, vice president of economic development for the Springdale Chamber of Commerce. “You’ll have the people and then I think you’ll see some other development follow that, whether it will be places to eat or a coffee shop or something like that. The argument has always been, do you do the development first or bring the people? If you get the people, then the development will follow.”
That’s where the Razorback Greenway is playing a vital role, officials said. The greenway, helped along by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, gives Springdale an advantage not seen in the other main cities along its route because it goes through the heart of the city’s downtown.
Springdale also has Spring Creek running through downtown, and the city has made plans to “uncap” the stream. The creek was channeled through an underground culvert to control flooding and now travels under downtown, but the city envisions free-flowing water with a park setting alongside the greenway trailhead.
“That is why I’ve been telling people that Springdale’s downtown can probably be the best of all of them,” said Ed Clifford, the CEO of the Jones Center, a community and recreation center. “It has more basic elements than anybody else. It also has the railroad depot. It has the Jones Center, the Shiloh history museum and the Arts Center of the Ozarks.”
Clifford was the CEO of the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce and saw the work that went into that city’s downtown rejuvenation. He also is a board member of the Downtown Springdale Alliance, one of the leading forces in Springdale’s revitalization efforts.
Bentonville’s downtown success certainly influenced Springdale’s efforts, but Clifford said Springdale’s efforts have come together stronger and better. “It has come together a lot quicker than the Bentonville downtown did,” he said. “Now the leading companies have the same interest as the leading companies did in Bentonville.”
Taldo and Eads said the current effort appears more likely to see things through, unlike previous efforts. The long money is there, of course, and the city has mobilized, but the community has also responded enthusiastically.
“I really don’t think this can be stopped at this point,” Clifford said. “It has such momentum that everybody is talking about it, in the civic clubs, in the churches.”
Eads said it’s important that the city and private industry have teamed up. Eads said he has heard from other investors who have expressed interest in joining in as the projects gets rolling.
Taldo said he doesn’t know exactly what he plans to do with the Watson Furniture Building once he acquires it. He said he’s not buying it with the expectation of “making big piles of money,” but the building does mean a lot to him and his family. Taldo said he probably would have pursued buying the building even if the rest of downtown Springdale wasn’t the focus of an organized revitalization. The fact that the rest of downtown will be getting some special attention helps him sleep better at night.
“My brothers and sister are tickled to death,” Taldo said. “It’ll be an anchor for my kids and grandkids, and their connection to the downtown area. It makes me a lot more excited about it, rather than it just being a real estate investment. It adds a spark to it.”