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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK The view looking west over commercial properties on Shiloh Drive and south of West Persimmon Street on Thursday in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- About 230 acres in the heart of the city will be preserved forever.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously accepted an arrangement with the Walton Family Foundation to buy a section of open space near Interstate 49 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Centennial Bank. The foundation will cover roughly half the cost of the $3.3 million purchase, with an interest-free loan to cover the rest.

City Council

Next meeting

When: 5:30 p.m. March 6

Where: Room 219, City Hall, 113 W. Mountain St.

Source: Staff report

The city will pay back the loan over five years. The deal also hinges on preserving the area, known topographically as Millsaps Mountain and locally as Mountain Ranch, in perpetuity.

The land acquisition served as a first step. Later plans will include a series of soft trails for mountain biking and hiking and a connection to the Razorback Greenway. There's no timetable on development of trails and amenities.

The area will potentially serve as a draw for residents and outsiders, said Devin Howland, the city's economic vitality director. Mountain biking and recreational events and races could be held at the mountain, serving as a tourism pull, he said. The space also would remain open for anyone who wants to spend time there.

The property hits the triple-bottom-line of economic, environmental and social benefits, Howland said.

"What really makes this project so unique is the fact that it is so centrally located in our community," he said. The acreage sits just more than a mile from Kessler Mountain, which in 2016 the council also preserved forever.

Chief of Staff Don Marr described the move as a rare opportunity. City officials got a phone call about the land two days before it was set to go to auction, he said.

Council member Sarah Marsh asked whether the payments on the loan would come at the expense of smaller community parks, sidewalks and trails for other parts of the city or pay raises for firefighters and police officers. Paul Becker, the city's chief financial officer, said it wouldn't because the city has enough in reserve to cover it incrementally.

"One of the reasons you have reserves is in case you have an economic downturn, you have a cushion. Your bank account can handle it," he said. "But you also have opportunities that come along only once in a while to invest in. This is one of those opportunities."

Fourteen people, largely from city, recreational or related organizations, stressed support for the move.

Jeff Amerine, founder of Startup Junkie, an entrepreneurial consultant contracting with the city, said amenities attract talent.

"We have a chance to be world-class in many different areas," he said. "Attracting and keeping the best talent is one of the best pathways to get there."

Molly Rawn, director of the city's tourism bureau, said the acquisition falls in line with the specific goal of marketing Fayetteville as an outdoor destination.

Frank Sharp, who helped spearhead the effort to preserve Kessler Mountain, touted the move as a boon to quality of life.

Will Dockery, a resident who has advocated to save Lewis Park next to Asbell Elementary School from development, praised the environmental and economic asset the property will become. However, smaller parks also can serve the same triple-bottom-line purpose.

"Don't take commitment to a large park as an excuse to ignore community parks," he said.

Paula Marinoni said her family owned a portion of the property for nearly 70 years. She said her family worried the land eventually could be lost.

"When I heard about this the other day, I went just about airborne," she said.

NW News on 02/21/2018

Print Headline: City buys land to preserve

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