BENTONVILLE -- The city is asking voters to approve $32.75 million for parks in a bond election April 13.
The projects are part of a $266 million bond package on the ballot. The bonds would be paid by extending a 1-cent sales tax.
The plan for parks would focus on four areas: 8th Street Gateway Park/West Bentonville trails, downtown Quilt of Parks, Phillips Park and the Melvin Ford Aquatic Center at Memorial Park.
"Parks in the city are a fundamental feature of our city, as they offer a gathering place, as well as many sports and recreational activities. There is never too many of them," Councilman Octavio Sanchez said.
The Downtown Activity Center, Austin Baggett Park, Gilmore Park, Lawrence Plaza, Orchards Park and the Bentonville Community Center were paid for with money from a 2007 bond, according to the city.
City parks provide access to recreational opportunities, increase property value, spur local economies, combat crime and protect cities from environmental impact, according to the website of City Parks Alliance, a national nonprofit organization in Washington.
Adding parks and trails west of Walton Boulevard is a key initiative for the city as identified in the Play Bentonville Plan and Connect Bentonville Plan. Play Bentonville is the Parks' Department's 10-year master plan, and the Connect Bentonville Plan is the city bike and pedestrian master plan.
Approximately 58% of residents lived west of Walton Boulevard, but only 8% of the public park land was in the area when the Play Bentonville Plan was finished in 2017, said David Wright, parks and recreation director. The city had yet to buy park land in that part of town then, Wright said.
"With the rapid growth, we had to go and make something happen. The 8th Street piece is an answer," Wright said.
The 8th Street Gateway Park is a near 100-acre campus. Walmart donated 75 acres near the intersection of Southwest Eighth and Southwest I streets for the park in December 2019. A 23-acre donation also came from the Walton family, according to a news release issued in 2019.
Wright said 85% of the land will be left undisturbed.
Residents expressed interest in keeping some of the land for a passive recreation space in addition to amenities such as trails, playgrounds, splash parks, a food truck plaza, skate parks, pump tracks, court games and public gardens.
The park will be accessible by vehicle and bicycle, connecting via trail to the Coler Mountain Bike Preserve, the future 28th Street Park, Osage Park, Lake Bentonville, Citizens Park and the Bentonville Community Center. Wright said the park will have three unique areas -- a west park, a park core and an east park.
The core section will be built with the $5 million from the bond issue, Wright said. The estimated cost to finish the park is $20 million, Wright said.
"Our hope is that the trails will connect the future Walmart Home Office campus to the park so our associates can take advantage of even more green space and enjoy the natural beauty of our region. As we recruit top talent from around the globe, we will continue to invest in Bentonville to help make it a great place to live, work and play," Dan Bartlett, executive vice president of Walmart Corporate Affairs, said in 2019 when the land donation was made.
Quilt of Parks
Downtown has become the epicenter for public events and festivals such as First Friday, Farmers Market, Bentonville Film Festival and Bentonville Half Marathon, according to the city.
The Quilt of Parks Master Plan identified improvements for the downtown public space. The bond issue focuses on two projects at a cost of $5 million.
The renovation of Dave Peel Park is the first.
Emily Howard spends at least three days a week at a Bentonville park with her three children ages 7, 5 and 3. They were at Dave Peel Park on Monday afternoon. Howard said they come to Dave Peel at least once a month.
"I like that it has a fence around it," she said. "It's a nice little park. I don't feel there needs to be many changes."
One reason she enjoys living in Bentonville is because of the great park system, Howard said. She said she can ask her children each morning, "Hey, what park do you want to got to?"
The redesigned layout will add a modern and secure playground, restrooms and an enhanced plaza. It will connect with A Street Promenade, a planned pedestrian-only walkway, according to the city. The promenade is not part of the bond issue and could be built with private funding, Wright said.
The other bond project is Bentonville Commons at the south end of Southeast A Street where a 140-space parking lot will be turned into a plaza and activity space, according to the city.
Downtown parking is a concern, but two parking decks are under construction and a third will start later this year, Wright said. The city would not break ground on the commons until the third structure is finished, Wright said.
The commons would allow for a dedicated event area suited for activities such as a farmers market, Friday night movies and musical performances. The plaza area also will offer outdoor dining opportunities for adjacent restaurants and easy connectivity to businesses on South Main Street, according to the city.
The city hosts events on the downtown square, which draws thousands of people to one-fourth of an acre, Wright said. The commons would help spread crowds out.
Phillips Park Renovation
Plans call for a complete renovation of the park at cost of $15 million. Reconfiguring the design and adding multiple, tournament-quality sports fields for youth and adult recreation are some of the upgrades for the 50-acre sports complex.
The renovation would include new sports lights, restrooms, batting cages, playgrounds, a splash park, a passive recreation space, greenspace and parking, according to the city.
The plan could add nine to 13 ball fields. The park has five, Wright said.
The transformation will allow the city to host state and national sports tournaments. It also will create a destination park for families living in the southeast part of the community, according to the city.
"Phillips Park is old," Wright said. "The fencing is old, the dugouts are old, the lights are old. It has been used so much. It's time to go in there and spend some real dollars."
Jeff Goan, president of Bentonville Youth Baseball, said he is excited about the plan. Bentonville Youth Baseball uses fields at Phillips, Memorial and Merchants parks.
"As a baseball person, I am glad to see Phillips is going to be updated" if the bond passes, Goan said. "It has been talked about for several years, but there were other priorities. I am glad to see Phillips is finally on the books."
Melvin Ford Aquatic Center
The 50-meter pool at the center opened in 1993 in Memorial Park.
The pool is a hub of activity each year with 2,000 swimming lessons. There also are competitive and recreational meets for 600 swimmers and swim team practices for over 400 participants, according to the city.
The facility also has become an outdoor entertainment destination for residents and guests, averaging 35,000 visits each summer, according to the city.
The bond project would add a zero-depth entry, shaded play structure, shaded cabanas, new water slides and a lazy river in an effort to enhance play value and improve design function, according to the city.
Adding those amenities would give the aquatic center the best of both worlds when combined with the 50-meter pool, Wright said.
Resident Bonnie Adams said swimming is a major part of her life, and she is glad to see the improvements at the aquatic center. The update will increase accessibility for families of all ages and utilize multiple pools in one location, she said.
"As a resident who grew up here, moved away in the '90s and returned in 2015, it is impressive to see the renovations and new projects that have been completed and exciting to see what the city has planned moving forward," she said.
About the bond
Eighty percent of the revenue raised by the city's 1% sales tax goes to repay bonds already issued and 20% goes to ongoing capital needs. The city would maintain the same ratio if the sales tax is extended, according to Jake Harper, city director of finance and administration.
The 1% sales tax would expire in 2046 if extended. The tax brings in about $15 million a year.
Debbie Griffin, city community relations and economic development director, said she had not heard of any organized opposition to the bond issue.
The city has a website dedicated to the bond issue. It can be found at www.BentonvilleBond.com.