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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.

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.

Howard, her children and her husband were visiting Bentonville from St. Louis last week, checking out Crystal Bridges and 21c Museum Hotel as well as other area 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 Bentonville square and its fence around the play equipment, which provides parents with an added sense of security, said David Wright, city 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 master plan for downtown parks and public spaces.

The master 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 that 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 master plan the City 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 lighting in 2008. Community events, such as Downtown Bentonville Inc.'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 that more than 30,000 people visited the square during Downtown Bentonville Inc.'s Toyland, the November First Friday event.

Some events have become so crowded that nearby residents Jesse and Cortny Collett have opted not to attend as often as they did when they moved from Fayetteville five years ago.

Jesse Collett compared Bentonville to Fayetteville, where the Fayetteville square, Block Street, Dickson Street and the University of Arkansas feel naturally connected. Fayetteville's downtown area fills up, especially during festivals, but it's so big it doesn't seem like people are on top of each other, he said.

Bentonville Parks and Recreation workers replace the turf on the city square at least once 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 Bentonville continue to see success as the population and tourism grow.

It's a good problem to have, because it means 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," he said.

The park master 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 also will meet with special interest groups, Wright said.

The plan will go back to the public when it's about 90 percent complete, to make sure it fits in line with what the community wants. It will then head to the City Council for adoption. The process should take about nine months, Wright said.

The same firm will create the master plan and designs for Dave Peel Park. Wright said he hopes to have a firm selected by March.

Enhancements to the downtown parks would be a reason for Howard's family to visit again, she said.

Wright said the renovations may include some nontraditional, more creative and unique ideas like public art or a water feature. An example could be like 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. It features lush green grass and foliage and maintained themed gardens.

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

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

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

Metro on 01/04/2018

Print Headline: $453,600 grant to be used for 2 projects in city

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