SPRINGDALE -- The city Planning Commission unanimously endorsed plans for a 45,000-square-foot facility in downtown Springdale to help local farmers and cooks provide fresh, locally grown foods on a larger scale than traditional farmers markets can offer.
"This is not another car lot. It's bold," said Tom Lundstrum, a real estate developer active in downtown Springdale. Lundstrum is not involved in this "food hub" project but spoke in favor of it to the commission. Lundstrum called the project a major innovation and welcome addition to downtown Springdale.
No one among the crowd of at least 40 spectators attending Tuesday's meeting raised any objection to the planned project, which is to be named the Market Center of the Ozarks. The project goes to the City Council on March 29 for approval. The project's site occupies 10 acres west of the Springdale Municipal Airport and will connect to the walking trail system in the city.
The proposed center would allow local farmers to bring in their produce for sorting and wholesale distribution to local businesses such as retailers, school lunchrooms, hospital food services and other food providers. The facility will include washrooms for produce, cold and dry food storage, loading docks, office space, commercial kitchens, community spaces, and facilities for processing, such as cutting and freezing produce.
One goal of the center is to give small businesses operating out of homes a place to expand into commercial kitchens, said Karin Endy, a consultant to the Walton Family Foundation on the project. The center will provide space for technical assistance and specialized education for those business owners, she said.
The site was picked in part because of its central location within the region, the adjoining the trail system and its closeness to community resources such as The Jones Center, proponents said.
Endy presented the plans to the commission. The nonprofit family foundation, based in Bentonville, sponsors the project as a part of its Northwest Arkansas Food Systems initiative to improve access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. The initiative supports new and existing farmers by connecting them to educational opportunities, land, technical assistance, investment capital and new markets.
The center is expected to cost almost $31 million, according to the foundation. Patterhn Ives, a St. Louis-based architecture firm, will oversee the building's design. Construction is expected to begin in June, with an early 2024 completion date.
The foundation was created by the family of Sam and Helen Walton, the founders of Walmart Stores Inc. of Bentonville. The foundation concentrates on three areas: improving education from kindergarten through 12th grade, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in the family's home region of Northwest Arkansas plus the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta.