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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Site clean-up work will begin this summer on a new project on Emma Avenue in the heart of downtown Springdale. The owner and developer of the project, Springdale Downtown LLC, says the project will include the renovation of the old Ryan's Clothing Store building and removal of the adjacent San Jose Manor building

SPRINGDALE — A project linked to the Walton family will bring retail, restaurant and office space to downtown Emma Avenue, the developer announced Tuesday.

Site work will begin in July at the old Ryan’s Clothing Store, which will be renovated, and the adjacent San Jose Manor building, which will be torn down, according to a news release from a company called Springdale Downtown. Construction is set to begin next year.

The announcement is the latest piece of a yearslong public and private push to transform the city’s downtown between Thompson Street to Old Missouri Road. Springdale has spent several million dollars on water and street improvement in and around Emma.

This new project sits in the middle, with recently renovated Tyson Foods offices to one side and the Razorback Greenway and redone Walter Turnbow Park to the other.

The release gives few details of the project, describing it as a mixed-use commercial development “customized to meet the needs of the downtown community.” A spokeswoman for the project Tuesday said the developers aren’t ready to share more information.

Mayor Doug Sprouse and the executive director of the nonprofit Downtown Springdale Alliance hailed the announcement.

“We are extremely excited to hear the plans that they have for the two buildings and know that this is going to be just another step in the right direction of bringing additional revitalization to downtown,” said Kelly Syer, the alliance director. “We know that this is going to have a really wonderful ripple effect.”

Invest Springdale

The Springdale Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Springdale will host Invest Springdale from 11:30 a.m. to

5 p.m. Thursday at the Jones Center. The event is focused on investment and development in Downtown Springdale. Tickets are $25. Register at springdale. com/InvestSpringdale.

Source: Staff report

New Emma dvelopment

The adjoining buildings have been vacant for several years, Syer said. Ryan’s Clothing closed in 2013 after almost 50 years.

Springdale Downtown is registered in Delaware with the same registering agent as the Walton Family Foundation. It also shares a Bentonville P.O. box with the Walton Enterprises real estate and property management company, according to Washington County property records and the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Springdale Downtown in 2014 bought 0.7 acres along Emma between Spring and Commercial streets for about $1.2 million, the records show. The group also bought about an acre to the north in 2014.

The developer for the project, Ropeswing Hospitality Group, is also registered under the same agent as the other companies in Delaware. The state is the registration location for a majority of Fortune 500 companies and other businesses drawn by relaxed incorporation regulations there, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Syer said Ropeswing, whose projects include the Record event space and others in downtown Bentonville, pays attention to detail and has shown it can pick the right kind of projects to best generate economic activity in an area.

The area in and around Springdale’s downtown is one of the most diverse and low-income sections in Northwest Arkansas, home to thousands of Hispanic and Marshall Islander immigrants and their families, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

A Walton Family Foundation-commissioned report from the University of Arkansas College of Business recently found Springdale’s downtown population was the youngest of the area’s five biggest cities and the only one whose workers were mostly blue-collar rather than in white-collar and service jobs.

It’s long been a hard place for businesses to take root, said Javier Yanez, who’s owned Yanez Alterations on Emma Avenue for two decades. He said his business does well because a lot of people need it, but others come and go quickly. Springdale’s road and utility work, which closed several sections of the street, cost him tens of thousands of dollars of business, he said.

The road work is done for now, but Yanez said he believes the task of truly revitalizing the place and bringing in enough people to sustain more restaurants and businesses is far from finished. One thing it’ll need is more parking, he added.

Sprouse agreed there’s more to do and more street work could come.

“This has been a pretty short timeline so far, and our downtown has come a tremendous way,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re actually just beginning to see it.”

Even after the lunch hour Tuesday, several people sat outside a taqueria and another food shop. Insects buzzed in the landscaped flowers and decorative plants along the road. Parking spots were mostly full, particularly west of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad tracks.

“There is a change, a positive change,” said Margarita Solorzano, who heads the Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas at its Emma office and lives nearby. “People are paying more attention.”

Residents worry a bit all of the new investment and corporate presence could raise property value and make it harder for them to afford the homes they worked hard and long to buy, Solorzano added. Already she and other neighbors get mailers from investors offering to buy their homes as-is — some pleasant, others aggressive and pushy, she said.

“We welcome the prosperity, but at the same time, we want to keep the homes we have,” she said.

Sprouse said he expects Springdale’s downtown to retain its identity even as it grows. The aim isn’t to become just like downtown Bentonville or Fayetteville, he said, and he doesn’t think gentrification will be a major problem.

“Downtown will always be a place that anyone can live in and enjoy,” he said.

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