Written by Arkansas Real Estate
This week we had the opportunity to chat with Meredith Bergstrom, Executive Director of Main Street Siloam Springs. If you have not been to Siloam Springs, Arkansas in the last few years then you don't know what you are missing. Siloam Springs is most known for being home to John Brown University, but it also has a charming historic district that has taken on a life of it's own. The downtown Siloam Springs area's vibrancy of new and old business, community life, and beautiful landscapes make this part of Northwest Arkansas a "must-visit" area.
Thank you, Meredith, for chatting with us this week!
Siloam Springs's downtown really has an incredible story to tell. Just eight years ago, vacant or underused buildings lined the majority of the downtown streetscape. Features like Sager Creek, historic architecture, and pedestrian-oriented sidewalks gave visitors the impression of great potential, but lacked the ability to attract and sustain customers.
Since that time, 19 new businesses have opened and sustained their businesses downtown, adding a net of 75 new jobs in the community. Two coffee shops, a pizzeria and a restaurant now provide culinary experiences previously sought outside of town. An estimated $10.3M has been reinvested in property purchases, building rehabilitation, and public improvements. Local entrepreneurs have created unique business models in the form of hand-sewn children’s clothing (Heather Hill Clothing), surrey-bike rentals (Dogwood Junction Bike Shop) custom balloon artistry and event décor (Balloon Closet), vinyl record sales (Pour Jon's Coffee and Vinyl), and high-end pre-owned imported cars (Ehrlich Motorwerks). Now as a state and nationally recognized Main Street Community, Siloam Springs is becoming known as a town particularly aware of the importance of preservation and development of its downtown. In early 2012, Pour Jon's Coffee received Main Street Arkansas' "Best New Downtown Business Award, while Main Street Board President and now co-owner of 28 Springs won the "Main Street Hero" award. In summer of 2012, we were excited to see our town listed in Smithsonian Magazine's "20 Best Small Towns" listing.
In the 80's, somebody made these bumper stickers that said "Siloam's Got It." The phrase has come back with a vengeance. There's something really wonderful about this place. I think it's refreshing to see a relatively small town like Siloam Springs thrive and embrace an authentic identity - we're rural, a bit agricultural - the pastoral small town vibe is here for sure. But then we've also got this really great revitalized urban core in our downtown. The parks with Sager Creek running through them, great local coffee shops and restaurants, and some really unique, excellent retail spots. Everyone wants to know that places like this can thrive, and here we are!
We have some tried and true events that draw big crowds every year, and we have some really fun new events as well. The Chamber's annual Dogwood Festival in April brings hundreds of vendors and an estimated 30,000 visitors to downtown. Our annual Downtown Trick or Treat and a bit later the "Light Up Siloam" Christmas Parade bring four thousand and six or seven thousand people downt to the festivities.
Two years ago, Main Street started hosting a Bed Race event that pits teams of people who've built a bed on wheels against each other in elimination races down Broadway Street. There was a huge response - people loved it! The event continues to grow and we're looking forward to next year's races on April 26, 2014.
Well, that's a great question! We recently announced plans to facilitate the creation of a Siloam Springs Downtown & Connectivity Master Plan. We're currently in the process of hiring an Urban Design & Planning Firm to help us, and we're looking forward to the Public Input phase of the plan, during which we'll bring together stakeholders from all over the City to dream about the future. We intend for the plan to come alongside as a complementary, implementable document to current City plans, such as the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. The goal of the Master Plan isn't necessarily to do some big new project, but rather to focus our efforts and thoughtfully address downtown revitalization as an economic development strategy that will drive wellness and quality of life improvements in Siloam Springs.
Photos courtesy of Main Street Studios, Don Shreve, Kari Kidd Photography, Meghan Feverabend, and Aus10 Photoartists