Northwest Arkansas city parks to benefit from Walton Family Foundation grants

Posted: November 17, 2017 at 1:05 a.m.
Updated: November 17, 2017 at 1:05 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Josh Scarbrough (left) and Levi Roper, both with The Lighting Master, work together Thursday while decorating the caboose in Rogers' Frisco Park with holiday lights. Themed "Hollywood Christmas" this year, the city's annual Christmas parade is planned from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 1 and features an appearance by Santa Claus.

BENTONVILLE -- This year's grants from the Walton Family Foundation's design program are meant to improve access to downtown parks and public spaces across Northwest Arkansas, according to a news release.

The Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program is giving $3.6 million to projects in the four largest cities, the foundation announced Thursday.

Program

The Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program provides financial support to entities such as school districts; county, state or local municipalities; and nonprofit organizations that intend to develop spaces for public purposes. Funds are earmarked for all phases of design work. It is inspired by a similar enterprise in Columbus, Ind., by the Cummins Foundation.

Source: Walton Family Foundation

The projects will help develop a "quilt of parks" in Bentonville and establish a 12-acre, interactive cultural arts corridor in Fayetteville. Frisco Park in downtown Rogers will get a new look and serve as a gateway to amenities in the area, while Luther George Park in Springdale will be expanded to jump-start the city's downtown plan, according to the release.

The Community Development Corporation of Bentonville/Bella Vista will receive money for schematic designs for four affordable housing concepts.

David Wright, Bentonville's director of parks and recreation, said a "quilt of parks" starts with a study determining how the city will use the downtown area and nearby parks in the future. The grant is for $453,600, Wright said.

He said thousands of people attend events on the square, and city officials know it might not be sustainable for some events.

An estimated 30,000 people attended Toyland at this month's First Friday on the Bentonville Square. Wright said the attendance for the event and others will continue to increase, so they want to look at how to use Dave Peel Park, Town Branch Park and Lawrence Plaza, along with the square.

Wright said they want to see how they can weave each park together for special events and keep them usable throughout the week.

"We want to see what each one looks like in five or 10 years from now," Wright said.

Dave Peel Park could remain a traditional playground, for example, but what if the best use was more of a interactive setting, he said.

Wright said they will begin looking at the first of the year for a firm to do the study, and he hopes the city could hold a public meeting in May or June.

"There will be several opportunities for the public to provide input on what their parks will look like," he said.

Fayetteville will get nearly $1.8 million to design some outdoor elements on about 12 acres the city owns downtown. Examples include plazas, festival spaces, places for parking, streetscape enhancements, trail improvements, natural spaces, outdoor classrooms, green infrastructure or stream corridor enhancements, said Peter Nierengarten, sustainability director for the city.

The project will become part of a cultural arts corridor spanning about 50 acres downtown. The corridor runs from Dickson Street on the north down to Prairie Street and School to Gregg avenues.

City property in the area includes the Walton Arts Center parking lot and about 7 acres of woods near the library, known as the Fay Jones park land.

The City Council likely will accept the grant Dec. 5. The money will pay for designing the new features, but what those new features actually entail will be up to the community, Nierengarten said.

"It's a really exciting opportunity and investment in downtown that is a continuation of a lot of the great work that's already happening," he said.

Lance Jobe, assistant city engineer for Rogers, said the city will be using the design excellence award for Frisco Park and the Razorback Greenway. Jobe said they will be working with the NWA Trailblazers group to fix problematic areas, such as those at New Hope Road and Interstate 49, Stone Manor Street and near Rife Medical Lane.

He said Rogers will receive up to $1 million for those projects which will also include a display board for the trail.

Melissa Reeves, a spokeswoman for Springdale, said the grant will help the city as it works to expand and renovate Luther George Park. Reeves said the park is heavily used and a much-loved park in downtown Springdale.

"We are immensely appreciative of the Walton Family Foundation for this grant, " Reeves said.

Kelly Hale Syer, the executive director of Downtown Springdale Alliance said the grant is $642,638.

This is the third round of awards handed out through the design program.

"As Northwest Arkansas continues to grow, finding balance between the built and natural environments will improve livability in the area," said Home Region Program Director Karen Minkel. "This program will allow communities to preserve green spaces in accessible urban settings."

The first three projects, announced in September 2015, were a new building for TheatreSquared in Fayetteville; renovation of a 1940s building for the Rogers Historical Museum; and a new facility and playground for the Helen R. Walton Children's Enrichment Center in Bentonville.

Last year's recipients were design of a new criminal justice building in Springdale; a 5-acre park in Siloam Springs' Medical Springs Park; and design of a 30-acre campus for the Thaden School, a private school in downtown Bentonville.

Minkel said grants will be awarded next year, but they haven't yet announced if it will be an open application process.

NW News on 11/17/2017