UA pupils to develop plan for housing, studios, venue


The University of Arkansas’ Community Design Center and architecture students will create an urban-design plan for an arts district in downtown Fayetteville during the coming school year, the center’s director said Monday.

The center received a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the work on the plan, which center staff and fifth-year architecture students from the Fayetteville campus will begin this fall, director Stephen Luoni said.

The design plan will propose two main things. The first is the transformation of the parking lot west of the Walton Arts Center, at the corner of Dickson Street and West Avenue, into a development that would mix artists’ housing and studio space with commercial space and a “pocket park,” Luoni said Monday.

The second involves the design of a new “streetscape” for West Avenue that would create a public venue for festivals and other gatherings, similar to the use of Fayetteville Square downtown, he said.

“Right now, it’s just built like a traffic throughput, so it feels like a traffic corridor,” Luoni said of West Avenue.

The plan may go for an “urban room” design that feels more enclosed, he said, so that it could accommodate foot traffic, limited vehicle traffic and public gatherings.

The artists’ housing and work spaces would be flexible so that an artist could live adjacent to or over a studio, the latter of which could be open to the public or closed, depending on the tenant, Luoni said. The housing flexibility also might mean that people in professions other than art might live and work there.

In fact, “lofts” built to accommodate either an apartment or small shop are the latest trend in urban housing around the country, he said.

“People want to live downtown, and they want a lot of open spaces with nice light,” Luoni said. That includes baby boomers retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day around the country, as well as the 80 percent of college graduates moving to cities these days, he said.

“So all the housing trends point to urban housing. You see that happening in Fayetteville already with the multifamily housing coming up in downtown.”

In a news release the university issued Monday, it said Steve Clark, president and chief executive officer of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, had written a letter in support of the grant proposal because the idea meshes with the city’s master plans. The plans call for making downtown more pedestrian-friendly and more attractive for people who want to live and work there.

The city also backs the effort, said Jeremy Pate, the city’s director of development services.

“We are a partner on this,” Pate said. “We wrote a letter to the National Endowment for the Arts, signed by the mayor.”

City officials are excited about the UA center’s design work, he said, because it dovetails with current plans, including the Walton Arts Center’s planned $20 million investment in expansion and the city’s Entertainment District parking-deck project. In early December, the Fayetteville City Council chose a site for the deck, which would add roughly 250 spaces, behind the arts center and bordered by West Avenue, Spring Street and School Avenue.

Decks like the one the city plans “free up the surface lots for higher and better uses,” Luoni said. “It’s classic ‘urbanism.’ You use the former surface lots for housing and other things that reinforce downtown livability.

“In Fayetteville, land is becoming more valuable, so this is a natural evolution for the city.”

The UA plans also mesh with a downtown master plan the city approved in 2004, as well as its citywide master plan for 2025-30, Pate said.

Luoni said his planners are mindful not only of the master plans and imminent projects, but existing uses of the city’s downtown spaces, such as farmers markets and the annual Bikes, Blues and BBQ festival.

The center and the students will complete final drawings and models in spring 2014, UA said in a news release.

Pate said the city’s subsequent actions could go a number of directions, such as accepting the design plans, accepting them with modifications, or determining they’re not feasible. The next steps after design completion would hinge on the magnitude of changes the plans envision.

The UA grant announced Monday was one of 50 awards in a category dedicated to design. In all categories, 817 projects totaling $26.3 million in grants were awarded, according to the university.

AuthorMatthew Petty