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Growing Populations, Strong Development Reported in Northwest Arkansas Downtowns

February 1, 2018
New Report Shows Benefit of Philanthropic Investments, Need for Accessible Housing Options

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Feb. 1, 2018 - Downtowns in Northwest Arkansas continue to experience strong population growth and increased demand for residential and commercial development, according to a new report commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation. Amidst the positive economic progress, the data also reaffirm the region's need for additional accessible housing options in Benton and Washington counties.

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"Trails, arts, schools and green spaces support vibrant downtown communities," said Home Region Program Director Karen Minkel. "Northwest Arkansas has created a network of desirable neighborhoods by connecting these amenities in our city cores."

The report was compiled by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas to measure the impact of the foundation's downtown efforts. The study, which highlights trends over a five-year period from 2012 to 2017, shows various stages of progress on the implementation of master plans in the five largest downtowns in the region. The data showed downtown Bentonville with the largest resident population at approximately 4,100 and Fayetteville with the fastest growth rate at 2.9 percent. Bentonville and Fayetteville also reported the largest number of building permits for commercial and residential developments, indicating the growing attractiveness of each area to private investors. Both cities completed downtown master plans in 2004, followed by Siloam Springs in 2014, and Springdale and Rogers in 2015. In addition to growing development rates, all five downtowns showed strong millennial populations. Downtown Springdale reported the youngest median age at 28, while downtown Rogers reported the highest at 35 years of age.

The report also highlights early housing trends that may limit residents' future accessibility to downtown living. During the study period, residential sale prices rose across all five downtowns. Prices per square foot increased by 207.5 percent in Bentonville, 104.5 percent in Rogers, 47.5 percent in Springdale, 31.5 percent in Siloam Springs and 12.9 percent in Fayetteville. The data showed significantly declining multifamily vacancy rates, even as units were added in the cities across the region, reaffirming residents' strong desire to live downtown.

To better understand and address these trends, the foundation today announced plans to commission a year-long study on workforce housing and long-term regional housing growth in Northwest Arkansas. The study will include a current analysis of the region's needs, as well as a comprehensive housing plan. It will also provide recommendations on housing options for residents from a broad range of income levels, with a special focus on downtown living. Planning for the study will be a community-embedded process. A housing council comprised of local leaders and stakeholders will ensure the work is relevant in and reflective of each community.

"This moment represents both a challenge and opportunity for the region," said Minkel. "Ensuring downtown living and its amenities are accessible to all will set our region apart from other top desirable places to live."

In addition to its housing study, the foundation awarded a $250,000 grant to the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design for the "Housing Northwest Arkansas" initiative. The grant will fund an advanced design studio on housing design research and prototypes in the spring 2018 semester; a design competition for mixed-use housing plans, including live-work units in Bentonville; and a symposium in Fayetteville and Bentonville from February 3-4 on housing policy, finance, design, development and construction in attainable and mixed-use housing.

The foundation recently announced a $400,000 one-year grant to Artspace, a nonprofit, real-estate developer and property manager, to assess the availability of exhibition, performance space, studio area and affordable housing for artists in Northwest Arkansas. Efforts also include a $120,000 grant to the Community Development Corporation of Bentonville/Bella Vista through the foundation's Design Excellence Program to develop schematic designs for four auxiliary dwelling units in downtown Bentonville. All design specifications and construction documents will be shared with the public and commercial developers to encourage additional attainable housing development in Bentonville and other downtown markets.

For more details, view the full report: Measuring the Vitality of Downtowns in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs, and Springdale

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 waltonfamilyfoundation.org, and join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.