Small Communities, BIG Impact
Main Street Programs Lead the Way
By Greg Phillips, Director Main Street Arkansas
Across Arkansas, everyday folks are working behind the scenes in communities such as Conway, Eureka Springs, Ozark, Mena and Fort Smith as part of the Main Street Arkansas and Arkansas Downtown Network community programs. To be successful, they follow Main Street America’s Four-Point Approach of organization, design, economic vitality and promotion.
The programs are overseen by Main Street Arkansas, now in its 35th year, and have grown from five original cities to 20 Main Street programs and 17 Arkansas Downtown Network communities. While many of these have small staffs, much of the core work is done by volunteers. The Arkansas Main Street program is a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
“I’ve been impressed over the years with the dedication of our Main Street and Arkansas Downtown Network partners, from the program directors to the volunteers. Their hard work really shows with Main Street Arkansas’s 2018 economic development numbers,” says DAH Director Stacy Hurst, citing growth in various new businesses and public improvement projects statewide. These include growth over 2017 investments in façade renovation, building rehab and new construction numbers.
“This program really works when communities buy into the four core values,” Hurst said. “You can see notable progress in these downtowns, thus setting a positive example for the entire state.”
Main Street West Memphis is a good example: Executive Director Deborah Abernathy has been working with the city for the past several years on a landmark project to transform the West Memphis water tower.
“It made no sense to paint it, like every other tower, or tear it down, both of which would have been much more expensive than turning it into an art form,” Abernathy says.
Ultimately, the city installed a lighting feature funded with a $245,000 grant from the city of West Memphis and designed by artist Randy Walker. The project highlights the district’s rich history relating to rockabilly and blues music.
“One of our goals is to bring tourists who are already cycling and walking The Big River Crossing to the Main Street District,” Abernathy said. “The tower was the original 1920s tower that supplied the first water lines to the business district of West Memphis. Just as the Harahan Bridge was maintained in its original state for The Big River Crossing, so is the water tower.”
Across the state in Northwest Arkansas, the Main Street town of Siloam Springs is in the midst of a $3.6 million amphitheater, splash pad, farmers market and green space project called Memorial Park. Funded by private grants, this project has been on the drawing board since 2014.
“We are delighted about this addition because it will bring new feet to our sidewalks and into our businesses,” Siloam Springs Director Kelsey Howard says. “But beyond the obvious benefits, the design and location of this park are sure to encourage a new level of community connectivity.”
The project, situated next to a new library, is intended to serve as a social and recreational hub between the historic district and the up-and-coming East Main Street. Howard said Memorial Park also opened the door for public art projects, and Main Street has already commissioned four original sculptures from artist Dave Andrus.
At the Downtown Jonesboro Association, Director Lindsey Wingo also reports growth along Main Street.
“In the last month, we have seen four new businesses sign leases,” Wingo said. “Main Street Arkansas has provided fantastic opportunities for Downtown Jonesboro. With their help, we have distributed thousands of dollars in façade grants and recently completed a beautiful new lighting project that enhances safety and aesthetics in our downtown area.”