Collier exploring retail development at controversial Divinity site

A lot at the corner of Block Avenue and Dickson Street is under new ownership.

Staff photo

A parking lot at one of downtown Fayetteville’s most prominent street corners is under new ownership.

A company registered to Mel Collier of Collier Drug Stores purchased the land at the southwest corner of Dickson Street and Block Avenue for $2.7 million on May 2, according to Washington County property records.

Collier bought the property from the Alley family of Little Rock, who purchased the land in 2010 for $1.35 million.

Collier said his goal is to bring more shoppers to the Dickson Street area.

“I want to create something that we need, but also something that will draw more customers to the Dickson/Block shopping district,” said Collier. “With the proper choice of usage, I feel this property could easily accomplish that task.”

Recent controversy

The land was under contract last summer with Specialized Real Estate Group, a local development company who envisioned a mixed-use project on the lot. The company backed off those plans after a group, led by Block Avenue resident and site neighbor Nina Shirkey, mobilized to prevent the development.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Marsh brought forth a city ordinance with an emergency clause designed to immediately prevent tall structures from being built next to residential properties as a way to “preserve and protect historic homes and the historic nature” of Fayetteville’s downtown and entertainment areas.

Approved plans for a hotel/condominium project called Divinity on Dickson.

City of Fayetteville

An ordinance was eventually passed which requires a multifamily, commercial, office, parking deck or mixed-use structure taller than 24 feet to be built at least 15 feet from the side and rear property lines of single-family homes in the Downtown General or Main Street Center zoning districts. The structure can be built 36 feet tall before a “stepback” rule kicks in which requires the additional floors to be set back another 15 feet from the neighboring single-family home. Maximum height in Downtown General zones is 56 feet, but structures in the Main Street Center zone – where the lot at Block and Dickson sits – can be built to 84 feet.

Marsh later called the ordinance a “gross distortion” of her original plan. She said she intended to propose a set of “really extreme” restrictions that could be chiseled into something that everyone would agree to. She and Ward 2 Alderman Matthew Petty voted against the ordinance, but it was passed 5-2 with support from council members Adams, Gray, Kinion, Schoppmeyer and Tennant.

Divinity on Dickson

The property has a controversial history going back even further.

Former Fayetteville developer Brandon Barber planned to build a nine-story hotel and condominium project called Divinity on Dickson in the mid-2000s.

The plan was met with strong opposition from residents who said it was too big for the area and would cause traffic problems that could destroy the vibe of Dickson Street. Barber’s plan was denied by the Planning Commission, but the project was eventually approved by aldermen during an appeal to the City Council – a move that sparked a lawsuit from Nina Shirkey’s father, Mike, who lived next door at the time.

Barber, however, eventually abandoned the plans citing financial issues related to the project.

Moving forward

Collier said Thursday he has met with an engineer and an architect to explore a variety of options for the property. He said he imagines a mix of retail with plenty of parking and a small dose of residential units on the lot someday.

“Nothing is set in stone at this point, and I am certainly open to suggestions,” said Collier.