Downtown parking woes: A good problem to have, Springdale leaders say

Road work continues on Saturday Feb. 18 2023 along Emma Avenue in downtown Springdale. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

SPRINGDALE -- Downtown Springdale has developed a parking problem, some store owners say. If so, it's a good problem to have, city officials respond.

Bella's Gifts last fall reopened its store on Emma Avenue and North Commercial Street, near the location it occupied for 13 years.

"It's been our dream to come back to downtown," said Amanda Farmer, owner of the boutique. Longtime customers wanted the store back downtown, and Farmer likes the atmosphere and possibility of foot traffic.

But the parking spaces in front of her store are usually full -- and not with the cars of customers, but of residents, she said.

Patsy Christie, director of the city's Planning Department, said city leaders wanted to create a downtown people wanted to be in.

"We knew we were going to have a parking problem, but we're working on it," she said.

Christie said downtown has about 425 parking places. The city's long-range plans include redesigning on-street parking and building shared-use parking garages with space on the ground level for restaurants, stores and businesses, she said.

The concepts are part of the city's updated Downtown Master Plan, which the City Council adopted in December. The plan would have the city developing the street redesigns and parking garages in three to seven years. Christie said the staff is considering those ideas now.

Bella's moved west several years ago when the Ryan's Clothing building, which shared the building with Bella's and other businesses, was sold to the Runway Group, a holding company headquartered in Bentonville backed by Steuart and Tom Walton.

The location is now home to 202 Railside, a mixed-use development with 55 occupied apartments on the upper floors and commercial spaces on the ground floor.

Farmer said those tenants come home and park on the street in front of her store, even with parking provided for residents behind the building. Christie said the city is working with the property management to educate residents.

The city also has painted several curb bumpers on Emma Avenue in front of Bella's, noting a two-hour parking limit. The parking spaces in front of businesses are not for residents or employees. Christie said she hopes everyone will consider two-hour limits even without painted reminders.

Farmer is unsure who enforces that time limit.

The Police Department has the responsibility because those parking spaces are on a city street, said Ernest Cate, the city attorney. Capt. Jeff Taylor, a Police Department spokesman, said the department can't enforce the time limit because officers have no way of knowing when a driver parked and how long the car occupied the space.

He also noted the department has received no calls concerning parking downtown.

"In retail, you don't want your shoppers to park two blocks away," Farmer said. "And they're going to build a 100-room hotel across the street, and a restaurant is slated down from us in a couple of months. Where are they going to park?"

Greg Taylor, a Springdale developer, owns several buildings around the corner from 202 Railside. He said his tenants "had some issues, but I believe they are being dealt with."

"When there is construction downtown and new projects, parking is going to be a problem. But everybody is trying to be cooperative and be good neighbors," he said.

Just west of Spring Street, Emma Avenue is a construction zone as crews work to realign the Razorback Greenway as it crosses the street. Springdale Water Utilities also is replacing a sewer line.

Rachel McClintock has set up her woodworking studio and showroom, named R McClintock, in a historic building on Spring Street, which is close to the construction of the Razorback Greenway.

Spring Street runs one way for drivers -- south to north. The mayor's and city attorney's offices and the human resources and engineering departments occupy the buildings on the west side of Spring as construction continues for a new municipal complex a block to the north. The building is expected to be open this summer.

Until the offices move, the parking spaces on Spring probably will stay full with the cars of city staff and residents going to -- meetings. Three Fire Department vehicles were parked there Thursday afternoon.

Colby Fulfer, the mayor's chief of staff, said McClintock had asked the city to leave two parking spaces in front of her store open for customers. Fulfer said city employees who work in the buildings now are parking farther up the street.

McClintock does not think her sales have been affected by the lack of parking, but she thinks the closing of Emma for construction has.

She said she's excited about the visibility of her store when the temporary quarters are vacated and the municipal campus opens and the cars go there.

"It will be a boon for my business," McClintock said.

Jeff Cooperstein, a senior research assistant with the Center for Economic and Business Research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said parking is definitely an issue with store owners and building owners where people live and work.

But the solution is not one-size-fits-all, Cooperstein said.

"Cities are moving away from set parking patterns because they don't want a giant parking lot," he said. "They have to weigh how many used parking spaces they have against how many unused parking spaces they want."

Cooperstein noted the Pinnacle Hills Promenade mall in Rogers designed a parking lot for its business people, leaving closer lots open for customers.

Jill Dabbs, executive director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance, said the city can gain more on-street parking simply by reconfiguring spaces and restriping the streets. She pointed to downtown Rogers as an example.

Dabbs noted city leaders are working with area churches, schools and businesses, which can open their parking lots when not in use. This is especially important after business hours for what has become an evening entertainment district, she said.

  photo  Parking is nearly full Saturday March 11, 2023 in front of Bella’s Gifts and the 202 Railside building in downtown Springdale on Emma Ave. Visit for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)

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