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Design Excellence Program Unveils Grants for New Parks and Public Spaces, Affordable Downtown Housing

November 16, 2017

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Nov. 16, 2017 – The Walton Family Foundation’s Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program today unveiled grants for five new projects that will enhance downtowns and urban parks.

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“The Design Excellence Program is focused on more than simply elevating design,” said Home Region Program Director Karen Minkel. “It’s about creating spaces that improve livability and quality of life.”

In March, the foundation invited local governments and nonprofits to submit grant applications for parks, green spaces and plaza projects. To be selected, qualifying entities had to present innovative ideas for spaces that would increase public access and leverage the region’s existing trail network. In addition, projects had to show a commitment to sustainability by encouraging residents and visitors to engage with the spaces in new ways. With these criteria in mind, the foundation announced $3.6 million in grants for the following projects pending final approval from the selected entities’ city councils:

  • The City of Bentonville will receive funding for the master planning and design of a “Quilt of Parks” that will thread together multiple downtown open spaces into a cohesive experience. Funding will also be used for a full redesign of Dave Peel Park near Bentonville’s Downtown Square. Both projects align with the city’s recently adopted Play Bentonville 2025 plan.
  • The City of Fayetteville will receive a grant to design a series of open spaces within an interactive, 12-acre Cultural Arts Corridor in downtown Fayetteville. Once complete, the corridor will provide easy access to arts and entertainment destinations such as the Walton Arts Center, TheatreSquared’s future facility, Community Creative Center and Fayetteville Public Library.
  • The City of Rogers will receive funding to design and rebrand Frisco Park and the surrounding open space as part of its recently adopted Downtown Rogers Initiative Plan. The urban park will serve as a gateway from downtown Rogers to key amenities in the area including residential neighborhoods, restaurants, retail and public spaces like the Railyard bike park, Rogers Historical Museum and Lake Atalanta.
  • The Downtown Springdale Alliance will receive a grant to jump-start implementation of its downtown master plan with the expansion and renovation of Luther George Park. The park is part of the city’s larger plan to create vibrant public spaces and plazas, with the flexibility to support public art, performing art and seasonal outdoor markets.

In addition to the green space projects, the foundation announced it will provide a $120,000 grant to the Community Development Corporation of Bentonville/Bella Vista to develop schematic designs for four auxiliary dwelling units in downtown Bentonville. Robert Sharp Architects & Massengale Architecture PLLC was selected from the Design Excellence Program pool of architects for the project. Once the process is complete, the design specifications and construction documents will be shared free of charge with the general public and commercial developers. All materials will be housed on a public online portal, with the goal of encouraging additional affordable housing development in Bentonville and downtown markets.
Since 2015, the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program has provided financial support to entities such as school districts; county, state and local municipalities; and nonprofit organizations that intend to develop spaces for public purposes. Funds are earmarked for all phases of design work. Its current pool of local, national and international architecture and landscape designers now includes more than 50 firms representing 15 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Denmark.

In addition to this year’s grantees, the Design Excellence Program has supported a new performing arts space for TheatreSquared; an adaptive reuse facility for the Rogers Historical Museum; a new facility and playground for the Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center; a municipal campus in downtown Springdale; a 5-acre park in downtown Siloam Springs; and a new campus and landscape design for Thaden School in Bentonville.

About the Walton Family Foundation
For three decades, the Walton Family Foundation has continued the philanthropic vision begun by Sam and Helen Walton. Their legacy is more important than ever as the foundation accelerates efforts to improve K-12 education for all students in America, to protect rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and to give back to the region that first gave Sam and Helen Walton opportunity. In 2016, the Walton Family Foundation awarded grants totaling more than $454 million. Learn more at, and join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.