Fayetteville to consider plans for Walton Arts Center parking lot

The city-owned West Lot, also known as the Walton Arts Center parking lot, stands at the southwest corner of West Avenue and Dickson Street.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan is ready to get serious about plans for one of the city’s most prime pieces of undeveloped real estate.

City Council members next month will consider a resolution of intent to begin accepting official proposals for development of the West Lot (aka the Walton Arts Center parking lot) at the southwest corner of West Avenue and Dickson Street.

While the municipal lot was built primarily to provide parking for the Walton Arts Center when it opened in 1992, the property was identified as a “strategic location for infill development” when the city’s Downtown Master Plan was adopted in 2004. The plan envisions some type of parking garage lined with a mix of commercial and residential structures along the street edges.

With construction likely to have an impact on parking, officials weren’t expected to make any formal requests for proposals until after the completion of the Spring Street Parking Deck, which opened in October.

And that’s when things started heating up.

Jeremy Pate, the city’s development services director, said in November that city planners had already met with multiple groups who were interested in purchasing all or a portion of the property. Each project, he said, varied dramatically in impact, scale of development, and financial consideration.

With so many ideas flowing in, Pate said it was time to formalize the process.

“In an effort to conduct an open, transparent, and equitable process, the (Mayor Jordan) decided to bring forward this item to get the City Council involved in the conversation early,” Pate wrote in a Jan. 14 memo to Fayetteville aldermen.

Pate said a primary factor in all conversations with potential developers has so far been the insistence that parking not be reduced by any new construction on the lot.

Jordan said as much in a recent phone interview.

“We aren’t going to do anything down there to reduce the amount of parking,” Jordan said. “Parking has been a problem on Dickson Street for a number of years now, and we’ve got to add parking down there, not take it away.”

The lot contains 290 parking spaces, a large underground storm drain system, and is accessed from both Dickson Street and West Avenue. Along the western boundary is the still-active Arkansas-Missouri railroad, and the Scull Creek Trail, which is part of the 36-mile Razorback Greenway. It also servers as the site of multiple festivals and outdoor performances throughout the year, the largest being the annual Bikes, Blues and BBQ motor cycle rally.

According to city documents, the lot draws an annual revenue of about $433,000 from daily paid parking, tickets, and event parking associated with large Walton Arts Center performances.

Pate said potential developers will be required to present a clear construction schedule and answers to the following questions, among others:

  1. How will parking be replaced or enhanced?
  2. How does the proposal fit with the Downtown Master Plan?
  3. How will current festival and event venue spaces be managed?

If Jordan’s request is approved, it won’t be the first time the city has asked for proposals to develop the land.

From Pate’s memo:

In 2007 the City issued a Request for Proposals for a public-private partnership to develop the subject property. A proposal was selected and a development agreement negotiated to construct two parking structures and a mixture of retail/commercial liner buildings. However, the construction of the development agreement did not pass legal review tests for a variety of reasons. About this time, the “Great Recession” hit our region along with the rest of the nation, and talks on this project ceased.

Jordan was scheduled to present his proposal at the Jan. 26 City Council agenda-setting session, but Pate said the discussion will have to wait until February because Jordan’s return from the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, DC has been delayed by weather.