Magazine September 2019

Revitalizing Bentonville’s Market District


by Courtney Lanning | Photography by Meredith Mashburn

Redevelopment has galvanized experience for residents, visitors

The Walton Family Foundation has seen this demand and worked to revitalize downtown areas, particularly in Bentonville.

 In addition to building up Bentonville’s downtown, the foundation also is focused on redeveloping Bentonville’s Market District. This includes the area around Eighth Street, where venues like 8th Street Market; Brightwater, the culinary institute of Northwest Arkansas Community College; the Thaden School and others continue to bring in residents, students and visitors.

 Karen Minkel, home-region program director for the Walton Family Foundation, says focusing on redeveloping the downtown and Market District areas has been part of the foundation’s Home Region Strategic Plan since 2010.

 The plan specifically focuses on four areas: creating world-class options for students; strengthening coordinated regional economic development; establishing the region as a leader in arts and culture amenities; and preserving a sense of place.

 Downtown investment projects have hit multiple goals on that list, Minkel believes. Another development goal she aims to hit is making downtown greater than the sum of its parts.

 The Thaden School plays an important role in doing so, providing an independent education option within the Market District. The school opened its temporary location in fall 2017 with 50 students, according to Eve Rosin, communications manager for the school. In fall 2019, the first permanent structures on campus will be ready, and enrollment is expected to exceed 200 students.

 When the school is at capacity full scale, it’ll serve as many as 600 students in grades 6-12.

 “Our mission is to provide a balanced and challenging education that ignites in our students a passion for discovery and learning, prepares them to succeed in college, and inspires them to lead lives of integrity, purpose and responsible global citizenship,” Rosin says.

 The campus was designed to greatly enhance the quality of life in downtown Bentonville.

 “We are eager to develop educational programs that put our campus infrastructure to its highest and best use in the service of our greater community,” Rosin says.

 Those features include cycling facilities with a skills course, gardens, teaching kitchens and performing arts spaces. The school’s location is beneficial because of the wide variety of educational partners and assets within close proximity.

 “We are within walking distance from Brightwater Culinary Institute, The Momentary arts venue [which is scheduled to open in 2020], Bentonville Public Library, Skylight Cinematheater and the town square,” Rosin says. “It also matters to us that the land upon which we are building our school was the home of the Benton County Fair for nearly 80 years and before that, the home of Bentonville High School in the early 1920s when our namesake, aviator Louise Thaden, was a student there.”

 With its unique design, the school will be able to support signature programs while building up local resources. The school’s meals program will be outfitted with a teaching kitchen where students can learn about the science, economics and culture of the plate through the preparation of food. And much of that food will be grown right on campus in agricultural spaces.

 The school’s wheels program will make extensive use of nearby bike trails and feature big, open maker spaces where students can explore principles of mathematics, design and engineering as they make and repair bicycles and other types of wheeled machines under the guidance of master builders.

 Rosin says the reels program will have a large outdoor movie lawn and screening space where students can showcase films and other visual media they designed.

 While Thaden School provides great education options, Brightwater – officially, Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food — is another key part of the district’s revitalization. The Walton Family Foundation supports the culinary school, which helps local workforce development by training chefs for restaurants in downtown Bentonville and all over.

 Brightwater has a unique approach to food, envisioning it as art, wellness and business. The center’s goal is to develop leaders who combine culinary skills with the ability to recognize and address complex food issues. The center offers courses with a focus on culinary nutrition, food waste reduction and food security. It also offers special classes on applied farming, seasonal cooking and the art of fermentation and includes unique learning spaces in its 27,500 square-foot facility such as multiple, task-specific kitchens; kitchen laboratories; a beverage classroom; library; a 2,500 square-foot greenhouseand an outdoor garden.

 The property originally was the site of a Krispy Kitchens manufacturing plant before it became a Tyson chicken facility that closed in 2005. It’s surrounded by food-related businesses.

 The adjoining 8th Street Market is a community-focused food hub, complete with restaurants, food trucks, a farmers market, social spaces, merchants and more. The space shows how adaptive reuse can build on the history of a building and help create an experiential place for learners and makers of all ages, according to Brenda Anderson with Blue Crane, a real estate development firm in Bentonville.

 “I think 8th Street Market has and is playing several roles related to the redevelopment of the market district,” Anderson says. “The project was ‘early in,’ transforming the view of the neighborhood from a 20th century industrial core to 21st century space for active, social engagement.”

 The market entered planning phases in 2014, and developers broke ground on the property in 2016. Anderson says the 8th Street Market’s success has provided confidence for other businesses to invest in the neighborhood, further revitalizing the district and representing a prime example of how these projects tie into each other and propel the area forward.

 The market’s unique design offers a fun space for all ages, and it stays pretty busy, showing just how big of a hit it is with the locals and others who travel from all over to see it.

 Of course, surrounding all these projects is Bentonville’s network of bike paths and trails that link to the award-winning Razorback Greenway, an off-road, shared-use trail that runs 37.6 miles from Lake Bella Vista north of Bentonville to Walker Park in Fayetteville. Minkel says they’re “instrumental” to increasing pedestrian traffic and revitalizing the area.

 “I think trails will continue to be an important investment,” she says. “The Razorback Greenway was catalytic.”

 Trail development also boosts collaboration between different groups because they overlap with municipality plans and can be tied closely with multiple projects which often connect public and private partners.

 Local response to the district’s revitalization has been positive, and data related to it revealing. Minkel says the foundation’s most recent quality-of-life surveys show that 95 percent of residents who responded reported being “very happy” or “fairly happy.” Plus, 72 percent of those who responded rated their overall quality of life as “excellent” or “very good.” This is up from 59 percent in 2012.

 Minkel said the Foundation also looks at trail-use studies. Recent data shows bicycling in Northwest Arkansas provided $137 million in benefits to the economy in 2017, $86 million in health-care related costs and $51 million in business benefits. 

 Expectations for amenities are typically set by partners, according to Minkel. For example, the Scott Family Amazeum sets attendance goals and has exceeded them in multiple years.

 Current redevelopment of the Market District has galvanized residents and visitors to visit the area, to shop, eat and take advantage of resources — be they recreational, educational or vocational.

 Possibility is palpable in Northwest Arkansas, Minkel says she once was told.

 “And that’s what I feel,” she says. 

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