FAYETTEVILLE -- Hundreds of art students and new residents soon will be milling about where not long ago groups of high schoolers grabbed burgers and farmers restocked feed and supplies.
A pair of major projects south of downtown are set to hit milestones within a year.
Specialized Real Estate Group's South Yard project will put a combination of apartments, restaurants and retail space, and eventually a hotel on the southwest corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and South School Avenue. The firm plans to start accepting residential tenants early next year.
A block to the west, the University of Arkansas is building its flagship art studio and design center, which should be ready in time for the fall 2022 semester.
The city also should start work late next year on reducing South School Avenue to three car lanes with accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians.
City planners say the projects could spur development on the south part of town.
Before the projects came along, the two-block area served as home to Brenda's Bigger Burger, a joint across the street from Fayetteville High School with picnic tables outside.
The Art Experience, a community art education nonprofit started in 1993 by Hank and Jo Ann Kaminsky, sat in a vibrantly colored house near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hill Avenue. The nonprofit now is in a house on North College Avenue, near Mermaids seafood restaurant.
The Farmers Cooperative had a store at the southwest corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and School Avenue since 1982. It moved to Heritage Parkway in Prairie Grove last year. The old Korean Food Mart and SalaThai Restaurant on South School Avenue were part of the deal with Specialized Real Estate and have since been demolished.
Drivers can see the framework for five apartment buildings along South School Avenue. The northernmost building will have four stories, with potential office or commercial space on the ground floor. The other four buildings will be three stories.
The residential part of the project is about 40% complete, said Shaun Brock, construction superintendent with Huffman & Co., the hired builder.
Developers intend to lease the 128 units, said Kaitlyn Fondano, real estate development manager with Specialized Real Estate. Pets will be allowed. Tenants should start moving in within the first three months of next year, she said.
Most units will be studio and one-bedroom apartments, Fondano said. Price ranges have not been set.
"You kind of have smaller-scale, market-rate apartments, which will typically bring in your young professional-type clientele," she said. "I think the location will prove to be interesting for a myriad of consumers because of the proximity to the trail [system], the great connections we're going to have with the commercial and everything around it."
The Razorback Greenway runs through the site and connects to the Tsa La Gi trail to the west. Tanglewood Branch also runs along the southwest edge, with a public park planned along the stream bank.
The city will own the park, but Specialized Real Estate agreed to perform basic maintenance such as lawn care for 10 years. Anyone will be allowed to visit the park, Fondano said.
Another phase of the project timeline involves repurposing existing structures at the site. Four buildings attach to one another in a curved formation, abutting the railway that bifurcated the site decades ago.
Three of the buildings, and a separate building in front of them, are planned for food and beverage places and retail. The southern-most building is planned to attach to a new building as a hotel.
The hotel will serve as the final phase of the project timeline, Fondano said. Specialized Real Estate originally planned to build about 220 apartment units but decided to make one of the new buildings a hotel instead.
Aside from improving the project's financial feasibility, having a hotel near the university and downtown was too good of an opportunity to pass up, Fondano said. Having visitors from out of town will add to the liveliness of the site, she said.
The 350 to 400 students who will occupy the university's Windgate Studio and Design Center in the fall of 2022 will want places to go, said Gerry Snyder, executive director of the University of Arkansas School of Art. The commercial spaces at South Yard should suit them fine, he said.
The Windgate center should wrap up construction in about a year. The four-story, 154,600-square-foot building will serve as the anchor of the university's Windgate district, featuring a courtyard, amphitheater and coffee shop. The university's studio art and graphic design programs will come together under one roof near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hill Avenue, at the site's west side.
The Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation, which will serve architecture students at the district, is scheduled to finish construction in late 2023 or early 2024. Conceptual drawings show wooden trusses forming a cascading roof for the structure.
The two new buildings will join four existing ones at the site. An art annex, sculpture facility, library annex and an architecture fabrication laboratory will make up the rest of the Windgate district.
Several grants, including $40 million from the Windgate Charitable Foundation and a $120 million grant from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation for arts education, made the center possible.
Snyder and Fondano agreed that the two projects will complement each other, although they weren't designed in tandem.
"Faculty and students, without purposely trying to make it the point, will be part of the community much more," Snyder said.
Reconfiguring South School Avenue to the east is part of the next phase of bond projects that voters approved in April 2019. The city has preliminary conceptual designs as part of its 71B Corridor Plan, and money and time will determine the project's details, Public Works Director Chris Brown said.
Early drawings on the city's website show School Avenue south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard reduced to one car lane in each direction, with a turn lane in the middle. Plans show a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side of School Avenue. On the west side of School Avenue, facing the South Yard apartments, the plans show a two-way bike lane with rumble strips and pavement markers separating bicycles from cars.
The work likely will happen along School Avenue from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard south to 15th Street, Brown said. Improvements also are in the works for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and South School Avenue, specifically to help cars turn west with their own lane, he said.
Work on the South School Avenue changes is tentatively scheduled to start in late 2022, after tenants have moved into the South Yard apartments and the Windgate center is operating.
Industrial activity dominated the area decades ago when the railway ran through the property. Over time, the industrial uses faded, and the city rezoned the property to allow today's proposed land uses, said Jonathan Curth, city development services director.
Development varies widely along School Avenue, from Dollar General to Farmers Table Cafe to Vaughn Battery Co. and City Lumber Co. Several properties are undeveloped or being redeveloped, Curth said. Major projects such as the ones from Specialized Real Estate and the university could serve as catalysts for new and even more varied development, he said.
"We use infrastructure as a way of pushing development in certain places," he said of the city. "We built a trail running through the South Yard project site, and they definitely sought to incorporate that as an amenity to the project. I think that complements a lot of what's going on down there."