Leading Downtown Revitalization in NWA’s Central City
Situated between Rogers and Fayetteville, many would say that Springdale serves as the central location for the Northwest Arkansas region. Though Springdale has experienced slower growth than some other Northwest Arkansas cities, especially in the revitalization of its downtown, that is about to change. The Downtown Springdale Alliance, led by Jill Dabbs, is on a mission to create an inviting downtown area that attracts new businesses, events and residents.
Springdale city leaders began the downtown revitalization discussion at least 30 years ago. A beautification committee was established in the late 1990s, and some hard-hitting work began in the mid-2000s. By 2015, Springdale had adopted a Downtown Master Plan and the beautification committee had expanded to what is now the Downtown Springdale Alliance.
The mission was set for the Downtown Springdale Alliance — to promote a vibrant downtown Springdale by activating downtown spaces, nurturing relationships within the downtown and creating community events unique to Springdale. City leaders knew they needed someone to lead the nonprofit organization who understood the importance of community and the value of creating a space that was reflective of the people within it.
Enter Jill Dabbs, who grew up in Malvern, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a major in speech communications and a minor in biology. Jill also graduated from the Community Development Institute at the University of Central Arkansas. After college, she worked in practice development for dental and chiropractic offices, displaying a real knack for growing successful practices. Jill was part owner in a chiropractic practice in Bryant while always reserving the time to be involved in the community through volunteer work.
Over the course of several years and conversations with community leaders, Jill felt like it was the right time to run for mayor in Bryant. “I loved the community so much and my skillset at that time fit with what Bryant needed,” Jill says.
Jill won the election by 9% and served as mayor of Bryant for eight years, with a goal to build an efficient local government. “I took my approach of growing small businesses to local government, and it worked,” Jill says.
While mayor, Jill was able to complete several capital projects that were huge progressions for the city. “I’m attracted to great potential, and I saw that in Bryant. I loved being able to help grow the city,” Jill says. “I believe that elected officials should serve where their skillset is needed. When I lost in my last election, I was OK with that. The next day I made a list of communities that were experiencing positive growth — and Springdale, Arkansas, was on that list.”
Jill Dabbs greeting the crowd at the 2021 Downtown Springdale Street Dinner.
Jill moved to Springdale in January 2019 and accepted the position of executive director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance. Mayor Doug Sprouse introduced her to the Downtown Master Plan. “I was impressed by how it was so thoughtfully laid out,” she says. “The bones of downtown Springdale are supportive of building the urban fabric. We have solid amenities in how our streets are positioned. We have access to community services such as The Jones Center and the Community Clinic. We have a train station, an airport and even a rodeo. And we’re at the center of the Razorback Regional Greenway. It looked like Candyland to me. It takes a lot of collaboration to grow a downtown like this and Springdale has that. The decision to come here was an easy one.”
The redesign of Luther George Park located in downtown Springdale. Rendering by Eleven Visualisation, courtesy of Trahan Architects.
By Glenda Graves | Portrait photo by Meredith Mashburn
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Jill and her team work closely with the city of Springdale and numerous community partners and are very intentional with these relationships. “We are a consensus-building and collaborative organization. We team up with arts organizations, schools, community groups and businesses, and we bring them together for the benefit of Springdale,” Jill says.
If something promotes a vibrant downtown Springdale, then the Downtown Springdale Alliance will be working on it. And what they are doing is certainly working. Around every corner, progress is being made. From old buildings being remodeled and revamped to brand-new construction, things are truly taking shape for a lively downtown.
Many in downtown Springdale are excited about the new Luther George Park. It will include a massive expansion and renovation of the park situated right in the middle of downtown Springdale. The project’s design was funded through a Design Excellence Grant from The Walton Family Foundation. The capital campaign for Luther George Park raised $10 million. “Upon completion, Luther George Park is going to be one of the top five attractions in Northwest Arkansas,” Jill says.
It was designed by Trahan Architects, a team whose name is associated with well-known parks around the country. “The park will have a performance feature that will make it iconic, but it will also have modern playground equipment and will continue to be a family park,” Jill says.
Jill envisions local theater, music and festivals of all kinds to find their home at Luther George Park. In addition, she imagines local schools will continue to utilize outdoor amenities, as they learned to do during the pandemic, and Luther George Park will be a perfect choice for that. “I can see (the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas) performing there, and the pavilion will be a piece of art even without anything going on there,” Jill says.
With $400 million being invested in the downtown’s infrastructure right now, there is no doubt that a transformation is in sight. “When you put a good plan in place for development, people come in and want to be part of that opportunity,” Jill says, “Downtown Springdale is an opportunity zone, and tax benefits come with that. It has encouraged the market to develop and build.”
Jill calls downtown Springdale the “hometown downtown.”
“Springdale will come to be seen as the city that bonds the cities of Northwest Arkansas together. We think our differences from our neighboring communities are a true strength,” Jill says. “There are generations of people that are deeply rooted in the city and committed to the success of our community. We are proud to celebrate that we have a multiculturally diverse city. As new people move in or visit Springdale, we hope they feel a sense of belonging. And when our downtown is complete, it will be star in the middle of Northwest Arkansas.”