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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF @NWABENGOFF Tonya Bibrowicz watches Dec. 21 while her son, Branden Bibrowicz, 5, of Springdale plays at Dave Peel Park in downtown Bentonville. A Walton Family Foundation Design Excellence Program grant is slated to be used to redesign the popular park near the downtown square.

Editor's note: This is the second in a four-part series on plans made by the 2017 recipients grants from the Walton Family Foundation's Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program.

BENTONVILLE -- Dave Peel Park was just the "little patch of heaven" Cabanne Howard needed to kill some time with her 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter before visiting Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Thursday.

Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program

The Design Excellence Program provides financial support to entities such as school districts; county, state or local governments; and nonprofit organizations intending to develop spaces for public purposes. Money is earmarked for all phases of design work. The Walton Family Foundation awarded $3.6 million to projects in the area’s four largest cities.

Source: Walton Family Foundation

Howard, her children and her husband were visiting from St. Louis, checking out Crystal Bridges and 21c Museum Hotel as well as other restaurants and attractions that have people in St. Louis talking, she said.

"I'm actually thrilled to find this playground," she said as her children tried out the swings. "We've been here for 24 hours and were on a quest to find a place for kids to be kids."

The park is highly used by parents with young children because of its proximity to the downtown square and its fence around the play equipment, which provides parents with an added sense of security, said David Wright, Parks and Recreation director.

City officials are looking at renovating the park because the playground equipment is about five years away from reaching its 25-year lifespan.

The renovation design is one of two projects that will be paid for with a $453,600 Walton Family Foundation grant. The second project is a plan for downtown parks and public spaces.

The plan's concept dovetails with the initiative in the Play Bentonville Plan, which suggests creating a "downtown quilt of parks" by expanding the square area to better connect Lawrence Plaza, Dave Peel Park, Town Branch Park and a new plaza area officials are referring to as The Commons, according to City Council meeting documents. The council accepted the grant at its Dec. 12 meeting.

The Play Bentonville Plan is the Parks and Recreation plan the council adopted in August.

"This will give us a really comprehensive look at all of our downtown spaces and how they complement each other," Wright said.

The Commons should be an area that includes hard surfaces as well as green space to better accommodate large events with high pedestrian traffic, Wright said.

The city renovated the square's street, sidewalks and street lights in 2008. Community events, such as Downtown Bentonville's First Fridays and farmers markets, have grown in attendance over the years, causing more wear and tear on the city's prized core, officials said.

"We love the downtown square, but it can only process so much activity and hold so many people," Mayor Bob McCaslin said.

Officials estimated more than 30,000 people visit the square during Downtown Bentonville's Toyland, the November First Friday.

Some events have become so crowded nearby residents Jesse and Cortny Collett opt not to attend as much as they used to when they moved to Bentonville from Fayetteville five years ago, they said.

Jesse Collett compared Bentonville to Fayetteville, where the Fayetteville square, Block Street, Dickson Street and the University of Arkansas feel naturally connected. It's full in Fayetteville, especially during festivals, but it's so big it doesn't seem like you're on top of each other," he said.

Bentonville Parks and Recreation workers replace the turf on the square once and sometimes twice a year because of all the traffic it receives, Wright said. Providing other public spaces nearby would relieve some of that pressure and help downtown continue to see success as the population and tourism grow.

It's a good problem to have because it says the combined efforts to help make downtown a vibrant area and help make Bentonville a destination have worked, McCaslin said.

"Now we have to look at what's step B."

The park plan's development is expected to start in the spring. There will be a public input session to gather residents' and business owners' ideas, thoughts and concerns. City officials will also meet with special interest groups, Wright said.

The plan will go back to the public when it's around 90 percent complete to make sure it's in line with what the community wants. It will then head to City Council for adoption. The process should take about nine months, Wright said. The same firm will create the plan and designs for Dave Peel Park. Wright said he hopes to have a firm selected by March.

Enhancement to the downtown parks would be a reason for Howard's family to come back, she said.

Wright said the renovation may include some nontraditional, more creative and unique ideas such as public art or a water feature. An example could be Citygarden in St. Louis but on a much smaller scale, he said.

Citygarden is an urban park and sculpture garden covering two square blocks in downtown St. Louis, which features lush green grass, foliage and maintained themed gardens.

"It is filled in cold weather, warm weather," Howard said of Citygarden. "People love it."

Dave Peel would be even more of an attraction if it were renovated, she said.

"Our only regret is that we didn't enjoy it yesterday."

NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF @NWABENGOFF Ainsley Stephens, 7, of Bentonville plays Dec. 21 at Dave Peel Park in downtown Bentonville. A Walton Family Foundation Design Excellence Program grant is slated to be used to redesign the popular park near the downtown square.

NW News on 12/31/2017

Print Headline: Walton grant to plan parks connection

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