An upcoming phase of the ongoing overhaul of North College Avenue will include a series of medians, similar to those installed in the downtown Fayetteville area several years ago.
The new medians, however, could include an artistic touch not often seen in typical streetscape designs.
The work, which began in 2018, is part of the 71B Corridor Plan, and includes some major changes to the north-south arterial.
With the majority of through-traffic in Northwest Arkansas now traveling along Interstate 49, city planners have been rethinking the future of the Highway 71B corridor, which includes College Avenue and South School Avenue in Fayetteville. Officials have said the goal is to create safer travel for vehicles, transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians, but also to improve the aesthetic of the road.
Improvements have already been completed from the downtown area north to North Street.
The remaining plan includes two areas: North College Avenue from North Street to the northern city limits near Lake Fayetteville and the mall; and Archibald Yell Boulevard and South School Avenue from Rock Street to Cato Springs Road.
Part of the plan includes incorporating art into the redesign, so the city’s Arts Council last month was asked to weigh in on a theme for the medians, will help guide the design of other elements such as district gateways, bus stops, trail crossings and open spaces that could include larger art installations.
Cary Thomsen with RDG Planning & Design in Omaha, Neb. showed the group two options – one inspired by the works of architect Fay Jones, and another inspired by Googie roadside design.
Jones was an internationally known Fayetteville architect who was an apprentice for Frank Lloyd Wright. Thomsen said Jones developed a brand of organic architecture that could lend itself to elements in the topography of College Avenue, particularly the hill leading down towards Evelyn Hills Shopping Center.
Fayetteville’s hillsides and tree canopies are exposed on that stretch, which is set to include one of several medians along the corridor.
“That’s something that Fay Jones really looked at in his architecture,” Thomsen said.
Googie architecture features post-war, Space Age-influenced design aimed at diverting drivers’ attention to roadside attractions. Googie design was popular from roughly 1945 to the early 1970s, and was featured on motel signs and other businesses in towns across the country, including along College Avenue in Fayetteville.
The group ultimately chose to recommend the Fay Jones-inspired theme.
Sonia Harvey, a City Council member and local artist who serves on the panel, said the Fay Jones elements are more suitable for the entire corridor.
“They bring a warmth and beauty of design to the entire city, and they just feel more upscale,” said Harvey, “The (Googie theme) feels kitschy and fun, but I don’t know that it fits well everywhere.”
Work on the North Street to Sycamore Street section is scheduled to go out for construction bids this spring, with work beginning sometime mid-year.
Funding for the project comes from the bond issue that voters approved in April 2019.