Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Monday, December 04, 2006

Bella Vista – Notes on the Village Becoming a Town

Voters in Bella Vista Village approved incorporation at the November General Election by an overwhelming percentage – roughly 65% for, 35% against. If all the filings and other legalities fall into place as expected, Bella Vista will become Arkansas’ 520th municipality on January 1, 2007.

Now that the election is over, the work begins. Nothing will be easy or quick for the new town. They are literally starting from scratch.

Starting a town from square one with no financial resources is a formidable challenge. I think of it as a teenager leaving the nest with no money and trying to stand on his own. It can be done, but it’s difficult.

The Property Owners’ Association has governed things for many years. The association owns eight golf courses, seven lakes, two recreation centers, a tennis center and more. In addition to managing all the amenities, the POA has also been responsible for such necessities as street maintenance, fire protection and law enforcement. The association says it will retain ownership of the amenities and property owners will continue paying dues to maintain them.

The town can expect turnback money from the state to arrive sometime in 2007. Until then, there is no money to pay for police and fire protection, salaries for elected officials and employees, computers, phones, utilities, paper or pens, and all the other mundane and capital expenses necessary to run a town. (Arkansas turns back portions of the fuel and vehicle registration taxes it collects to municipalities. The amounts are based on census figures.)

In order to determine the amount of turnback funds Bella Vista can expect to receive, a census must take place. The U.S. 2000 census showed about 16,000 people residing in Bella Vista. However, the physical boundaries of the area have changed since 2000. One guesstimate is that only 14,000 people would have been counted within the boundaries of 2000.

Approximately 27,000 people now call Bella Vista home. Needless to say, more people in the town means more turnback funds. A special census would determine the official population – but there is no money at present to pay for the census.

It’s a catch-22 situation. The good news is the town will have help from various entities. Benton County Sheriff’s Department will continue to provide police protection until the town can assume responsibility. Cooper Communities, Inc., the developer that created Bella Vista in 1965, has agreed to donate office space and some computers for several months.

The new town and the existing property owners’ association must work together closely in the coming months. Many decisions must be made. Some assets will have to be transferred to the town while others remain with the POA. Costs must be determined. Compounding these problems is the fact that thousands of dues-paying property owners do not live in Bella Vista.

The elected mayor and aldermen have full plates. In addition to the items already mentioned and many more, they must draw wards of equal representation within the town. *

Overcoming the many hurdles coming up in the months and years ahead will be a daunting task – but it can and will be accomplished. I heartily commend and applaud everyone involved as they take on the challenges of developing a village into a town.

* Though Bella Vista is already large enough to be considered a city, the incorporation vote had to call for a town style of government because there was no town council in place to draw the wards. When the wards are drawn and population figures become official, the State of Arkansas will no doubt upgrade the designation to city of the first class.

For more information:


Also see my blog article dated March 19, 2006.

Manufactured Housing Could Help the Reduce the Shortage of Affordable Housing

Whether you call manufactured homes by their proper designation or still refer to them as mobile homes (or even trailers), there continues to be a stigma attached to them. On the other hand, with the increasing urbanization of Washington and Benton Counties, formerly rural areas are now becoming high-end subdivisions, so that the old mobiles in the area now detract from the value of the new housing being built.

It’s a “Catch 22.” We need affordable housing. Land prices have skyrocketed so that new “stick-built” homes are too expensive for many workers whose salaries have not kept pace with the cost of housing. Manufactured housing might provide a lower-cost alternative. But the current climate of development with regard to manufactured housing is “not in my backyard.” The old attitudes still apply.

New manufactured homes are built to an exacting Federal construction code implemented in 1974, known as the HUD Code. They are transported and installed under state and local laws and regulations. The HUD Code encompasses construction and performance of heating, air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing, thermal and electrical systems. Many manufacturers view the HUD Code as minimum performance standards and exceed those standards in their basic designs plus offer upgrades for increased energy efficiency and overall performance. And if such a home has a bank-approved permanent foundation, it is eligible for regular mortgages, rather than high-interest loans, and it has a decidedly increased re-sale value.

Some parts of the country (Arizona being a good example) have lovely parks, especially for retirees, where people can either rent a space for their manufactured home or buy their land in a park. Many of these parks offer swimming pools, community centers with large kitchens, pool tables and meeting spaces, etc. To assure ongoing aesthetics, regulations usually cover everything from maintenance of the exterior of the home to pets, fences, parking and clotheslines. Residents frequently become close friends with their neighbors and feel a deep sense of security because they care about and look out for each other.

I am sorry to say, this type of park does not exist in NW Arkansas. Most here are meccas for lower income dwellers, and they don’t have a lot of amenities such as those described above. But they do often develop a sense of community, according to local owners of existing mobile home parks. And they do provide a low-cost alternative for residents who cannot afford a “stick-built” home.

Let’s analyze the situation for a moment. The cause of the bad reputation of manufactured homes is not the quality of construction; it is what some people who live in manufactured homes do to their home sites. One does not have to go very far in NW Arkansas to find old trailers, mobile homes, and even newer manufactured homes surrounded by junk—the term for this is “trailer trash.” I have never been able to understand why some people prefer to decorate their yards with old washing machines, sofas, and vehicles that haven’t been usable for many years.

However, I must say that owners of manufactured homes do not have an exclusive on that type of décor. I have also observed many older homes where residents of stick-built homes do the same thing. A couple of these come immediately to mind. One has gone so far as to not only leave his junked vehicles and dead refrigerators in the front yard, he has even imported other refrigerators and freezers to keep them company. The other one is definitely a Ford man – every pickup he has owned in the past 30 years is parked in his yard where he can see them and be reminded daily of their past lives.

But there are many good things about manufactured homes that should not be overlooked. Foremost is affordability. With the escalating price of land in NW Arkansas, builders can no longer afford to construct "starter" homes for under $100K as was possible even a few years ago. So-called "moderately priced housing" now starts at about $140K because of escalating land prices.

The latest information I have from Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission defines affordable housing as a single-family home with a permit value under $75,000 (this does not include the land or lot). In NW Arkansas only 2.1 percent of housing units added in 2004 were valued below $75,000, and in the past couple of years the situation has worsened. It is easy to see a huge gap between what is being built and what is affordable for many families.

Prices are more affordable in the far western part of Washington and Benton Counties, and in the southern part of Washington County. Madison County and other more rural areas continue to be somewhat affordable but living that far out means longer commute times and increased travel expenses to the major NW Arkansas towns, where most of the jobs are.

Another problem is zoning regulations. Arkansas’ Affordable Housing Accessibility Act took effect October 1, 2003. It requires cities to allow prefabricated homes in at least one residential zoning district but implementation has been slow. The fear (and unfortunately, the reality) is that the new, often up-scale homes will be devalued by the mobile homes next door. Fayetteville and Bentonville have already changed their ordinances to conform to the new law. Fayetteville now allows them in an agricultural-residential district, and Bentonville has one residential manufactured housing district.

Since there has been no real zoning in the unincorporated areas of Washington and Benton Counties, the rural areas are where most manufactured homes are found. However in recent years, many people with land for sale place have placed deed restrictions on the land prohibiting mobiles/manufactured homes of any kind. It is increasingly difficult, even in rural areas, to find land where manufactured homes may be placed. Perhaps one answer (with the advent of zoning rules for Washington County) would be to designate some areas and/or rules for manufactured housing.

As more and more land is gobbled up for apartment buildings and stick-built homes, spaces in existing parks for manufactured homes have become ever more scarce. I can’t think of any new parks being built in NW Arkansas recently, although several have disappeared. Several existing mobile home parks have a zero occupancy rate, so the demand is there.

The challenge becomes more acute as NW Arkansas grows from being a predominantly rural area with a scattering of small towns to an urbanized metropolitan area. Now many people simply cannot afford the average stick-built home. Should they be forced to pay rent forever? Should they be forced to move somewhere else more affordable?

We need workers if we hope to sustain and grow the economy of NW Arkansas. The workers deserve a place to live – and a home they can call their own IS the “American Dream.” Our city officials must consider affordable housing alternatives in a realistic fashion and overcome traditional stereotypes. If manufactured housing is not included by planners, then what is the alternative?

For more information:

Friday, November 24, 2006

Third Quarter Skyline Report Released

A few weeks ago the Skyline Report for the Third Quarter of 2006 was released. I’m a little behind on my blogging, so I didn’t report the results immediately, but (as they say) better late than never.

The Skyline Report is an economic summary of the real estate market in NW Arkansas, prepared for Arvest Bank by the Center for Business and Economic Research of the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas.

Dubbed by some the “sky is falling” report, this summary provides a quarterly glimpse of present and future housing activity for Northwest Arkansas. For the past several quarters, the results have revealed a tendency of builders and developers to build too many homes, especially expensive homes, which are now sitting on the market. What this means for buyers is that it is a very good time to purchase a home, since interest rates are still low and there is a lot of housing inventory to choose from, especially if the buyer wants to purchase a new home. For sellers (including builders of new homes) this means that buyers are now calling the shots, so sellers need to price their homes competitively. Conditions are “worse” in Benton County than in Washington County for builders with a lot of new unsold homes.

Some of the statistics of the report summary include:

1. There were 20,791 lots in the 281 active subdivisions in NW Arkansas in the 3rd quarter, up from 19,326 in the previous quarter. Using the most recent annual absorption rate, the supply of remaining lots in those active subdivisions is sufficient for 46.8 months (almost 4 years worth).

2. In the 3rd quarter of 2006, there were 2956 complete but unoccupied houses. Benton County experienced an increase of 229% in available complete inventory from the 3rd quarter of 2005, with a 23% increase in the most recent quarter alone. In comparison, Washington County experienced a 17% inventory increase over the past 12 months.

3. From May 16 to August 15, 2006, there were 2,224 existing houses sold in Benton and Washington Counties. This is a decline of 1.9% from the same time period in 2005.

4. In the 3rd quarter of 2006 in NW Arkansas, the average sales price of existing houses increased from 3rd quarter 2005 levels by 2.3% in Washington County and by 6.1% in Benton County.

5. There were an additional 19,543 residential lots that have been at least preliminarily approved in NW Arkansas. Adding these proposed lots to those in active subdivisions yields a whopping 112.9 months of inventory in NW Arkansas (that’s 9.4 years for those who don’t want to do the math).

6. The volume of new building permits issued in the 3rd quarter declined dramatically year over year from 1405 to 870.

So what does this all mean for buyers and sellers of homes?

If no new subdivisions are approved, even in the ones already approved and underway, there are a lot of homes out there, ready for sale—almost 4 years worth in active subdivisions and almost 10 years worth in additional subdivisions already approved if these are built out. Economists might see the drop in new building permits as a negative factor, but I see it as an indication that builders and developers are finally getting smart and putting on the brakes to conform to the current reality. A further aspect of this data means that many of the approved subdivisions may not get built out quickly, given the supply of already finished homes on the market now.

Home prices as a whole are not going down. There may be some individual sellers who had their homes priced too high (from the recent seller’s market) and have adjusted them to current market conditions (a buyer’s market). But although home values are not increasing at the double digits of the past several years, there is still appreciation taking place. It’s higher in Benton County than in Washington County, but (I will repeat) home prices are not going down significantly.

Anecdotally, what I have observed is that instead of reducing prices, many builders and even sellers of existing homes are offering incentives to buyers—carpet allowances (for example) on existing homes and builder concessions and extras on new homes such as fences, blinds, closing cost help, etc., where in the past buyers would have had to pay extra for these. The prices aren’t going down (the builders had higher land, development and construction costs during the recent “boom” so it’s difficult for them to lower prices), but they are willing to help the buyers. Buyers can get more for their money now than they could last year when it was a seller’s market.

Another thing that is happening is that home sales have slowed a little compared to the last couple of years. But to put this in perspective, the last 2-3 years were the “hottest” in the history of the area and nationwide with record-breaking levels of home sales. Things are getting back to a more normal pace such as existed prior to the last few years of craziness. And a 1.9% decrease in home sales compared to 2005 is very small, which means that home sales continue to be strong in NW Arkansas. The builders and developers just kind of got ahead of the curve somewhat.

And to refer to my blog of a few weeks ago about the Bentonville development seminar, Jeff Collins of the Center for Business and Economic Research indicated that job creation is remaining steady at more than 600 new positions per month, and there are still about 1200 people per month moving to the area. This means that there is still a continuing stream of buyers available to purchase the homes that are on the market.

All in all, the “sky is NOT falling”, and I see the outlook for the NW Arkansas housing market as positive. Contrary to the national media hype, what’s happening in California and elsewhere is not happening here, and buyers seem to realize this. After a brief dip in sales in September and October (which could also be explained by seasonal factors), more home buyers are out on the streets again and seriously looking for homes. But because of the overbuilding as indicated by the Skyline report, some of those high-ticket homes may continue to sit for awhile.

One thing I should mention is that that Skyline Report is a phenomenal undertaking. What the Center for Business and Economic Research does is obtain data from the different cities about subdivision approvals, building permits, etc. Then they send out university students to physically examine what is happening on each lot in active subdivisions. They note whether lots are vacant, under construction, finished but not occupied, or occupied homes. The center also examines data from the NW Arkansas Multiple Listing Service as to home sales data and prices for homes, i.e. average and median prices for different areas

I have been working on a market report, which I (hopefully) will be able to finish within the next couple of weeks. This will provide more specific information about different price ranges, absorption rates, and availability of housing by town in NW Arkansas. Look for this in the near future.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Washington County Takes Action to Limit Density Near Cities

The Washington County Quorum Court voted November 9, 2006, to implement new zoning requirements near its cities. Because the new ordinance received the nine votes required in order to pass and by invoking the emergency clause, it became effective immediately.

Pros and Cons

Numerous discussions and proposals have been held in past months. As is usual in these matters, citizens held varying opinions on the subject.

Those in favor of limiting density cited lack of infrastructure, particularly fire protection. Rural fire departments have limitations by their very nature and high-density developments pose many problems. Lack of schools and high traffic on country roads were other major limiting factors. A desire to maintain the rural atmosphere also appeared to be a high priority item. Without zoning regulations, there was no way to stop apartment buildings or red-dirt pits from springing up next door to an existing farmhouse.

People against the vote, at least at this time, said more time should have been devoted to public discussion. Some were against zoning restrictions of any type because they don’t like being told what they can do with their land. That is the very reason they chose to live outside city limits. Owners of acreage felt that the new regulations would negatively impact the value of their land. One citizen voiced concern that the regulations were intended to keep less affluent people from being able to buy a starter home in the area.

Regardless, guesswork about when and how the Quorum Court might act have ended. The regulations are now law.

The Bottom Line

Any proposed development that did not have preliminary approval by November 9 is subject to the new ordinance.

The ordinance establishes zoning areas within two miles of larger cities and within one mile of smaller towns. Development in those areas is limited to agricultural uses and single-family homes, which must be situated on at least one acre of land. The larger cities are Fayetteville, Springdale, Farmington, Prairie Grove, West Fork and Lincoln. The smaller cities are Elkins, Elm Springs, Goshen, Johnson, Greenland, and Tontitown.

No action was taken to establish zoning outside the one- and two-mile limits around existing cities.

Certain commercial corridors such as U.S. 412 and sections of U.S. 71, U.S. 62 and Arkansas 16 will be exempt from the ordinance. The exempted area will extend 300 feet from the centerline of the highway.

Only One Other Arkansas County Has Similar Rules

Crittendon County adopted a master use plan in 1974, but it was basically ignored for years until being used again in 2005, according to Crittendon County officials.

It is interesting to note that Benton County was unsuccessful in its efforts to pass zoning ordinances a couple of years ago.

Wiggle Room

The new ordinance also created a Zoning Board of Adjustment, which can approve conditional use permits if the development is deemed compatible with the surrounding area. The Board will require a written application and fee plus notification to neighboring property owners that a variance is under consideration. The Board will determine whether the proposed use is compatible with the area and whether or not it appears to be detrimental to the area or a danger to the public. The proposed use must also not interfere with surrounding property owner's enjoyment of their land.

Currently, a permit is not required to build a single-family home as long as it will be on at least one acre and no land splits are involved. The Quorum Court has a proposal under consideration that would require a permit in the future. The proposal will have its second reading in December and its third and final reading in January 2007.

For more information:


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Housing Slump Slows US Economy, but NW Arkansas Still Strong

According to the Commerce Department, the U.S. gross domestic product (the sum of the value of all goods and services produced) grew at only 1.6% in the third quarter of this year, down from 2.6% in the second quarter and a phenomenal 5.6% in the first quarter. One of the key factors in the sluggish growth was a major slowdown in the national housing market (in both construction and sales).

In Northwest Arkansas, there is an adjustment occurring in the housing market as well. But some of the other economic indicators (which are weak nationally) are positive here, according to Jeff Collins, Director of the Center for Economic and Business Research at the University of Arkansas’ Sam Walton School of Business.

In a keynote address at the Bentonville Development Conference, held Friday (October 27) for builders, developers, and others, Collins outlined several factors which still make NW Arkansas a good place to live and do business and which bode well for a continuing strong economy here.

First, although there is an oversupply of homes available, particularly in Benton County, there are still approximately 1200 people per month moving to NW Arkansas. This will help in the absorption of current inventory. The current buyer’s market and a leveling of home prices, as well as continuing low interest rates, make this a good time to purchase a home.

Second, job creation in the area continues at over 600 jobs created each month. He noted that from 1996 to 2006, 49% of all new jobs in Arkansas were created in NW Arkansas. People who move to NW Arkansas (except for retirees), do so for employment reasons.

Collins did note a couple of warning signals, however, and stressed the need for creating high wage, high skill jobs. In the past these jobs were in manufacturing, but those are disappearing and being replaced with service sector positions. Service sector employment does not necessarily mean low wage positions but also can include professionals such as doctors, lawyers and others. The key to creating such high wage, high skill jobs is growth in education which will result in knowledge-based employment and higher-wage positions. At present, although NW Arkansas is one of the most affluent areas in the state, per capita personal income (PCPI) is only 80% of the national average. The rest of Arkansas is “poorer”.

Another challenge for the area is to manage the infrastructure required for the continuing growth. The trend in all of Arkansas is towards increasing urbanization in Little Rock and NW Arkansas, while other areas are actually losing population. But public resources are lagging, and must be brought up to speed.

All in all though, Collins seemed optimistic about the area’s ability to weather these challenges and about the current positive outlook for economic activity in NW Arkansas.

For more information about the Commerce Department report:


Bentonville's New City Website is a Winner!

Bentonville is to be commended on their newly designed website. User friendly, it is a wonderful resource for builders, developers and real estate agents in the area, as well as for the general public. It has lots of “goodies” and could serve as an example for other towns in NW Arkansas.

In their GIS (Geographical Information Sytem), there are interactive maps for all uses, including a link to Benton County parcel and lot information as well as FEMA flood zones (present and proposed), zoning and land use information, traffic counts on major streets, and the master street plan. For builders and developers, the utility maps show water lines, sewer lines, storm drainage, and fire hydrants. There are also school district, cemetery, street construction, and census maps. One must download a plug-in to use these features, but once done, the information is all there.

The eGov-Online section has 3 sections: one for paying utilities on line and checking your utility usage, the second for builders who want to apply for a building permit or check the status of a current permit, and the third for developers and others who have applied or want to apply to the planning commission for development projects, rezoning, variances, or conditional use permits. All of the forms are there and downloadable, along with instructions, calendars, and other information needed to guide users through the process.

The site also has general information for residents of Bentonville on such topics as recycling, the compost facility, city government, tax information and the like. There are also links to other sites such as Ozark Regional Transit, Bella Vista Village, and the new Crystal Bridges art museum.

According to Bentonville officials, the new site was developed with users in mind. Many of the phone calls currently received by city officials and employees are from residents with questions that can now be answered 24/7 by information on the website.

Good job, Bentonville!

The website address of Bentonville’s new website is:


Baby Boomers Will Continue to Dominate the Housing Market for Many Years

It is probably no surprise that the housing needs of baby boomers are still a hot topic of conversation. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) gives a great deal of thought to this subject and performs studies and surveys to help forecast future needs.

The largest population group in U.S. history, the 78 million baby boomers are just now starting to reach early retirement age. Boomers have tremendous purchasing power. Most live in two-income households, with a median income in 2005 of $64,700. That is 31% higher than the median for all households. This generation makes up 37.5% of U.S. households, but receives nearly 50% of all aggregate household income, which helps to explain why 80% of boomers are homeowners.

One surprising fact did surface in the most recent comprehensive NAR survey: even with the statistics clearly showing financial resources greater than any generation before them, most survey respondents were unsure of their financial future. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they are not financially prepared for retirement and many even expressed anxiety about their ability to retire.

The retirement needs and wants of the boomer generation are as varied as the people themselves. Boomers are sometimes referred to as the “sandwich generation.” Many boomers married later in life than previous generations and therefore may still have children living at home. At the same time, it’s not unusual to find boomers with aging parents to care for.

One cannot simply assume baby boomers will address their retirement years in a pattern similar to older generations. NAR’s study surveyed nearly 2,000 baby boomers from all over the country with some likely results interspersed with a few that may not have been expected:

1. With life expectancy steadily increasing and retirement age for full Social Security benefits gradually increasing to age 67, many boomers are expected to work 5-10 years past age 65. Approximately 27% said they have no intention of ever retiring. Taking this into consideration, it appears they won’t be as interested in downsizing as the generations before them. Indeed, with today’s focus on technology, many people may prefer to have a home office or even two home offices.

2. When asked where they want to retire, 42% said in the South, 32% in the West, 15% in the Midwest and 12% in the Northeast. Consequently the Sunbelt continues to be a desirable destination for retirees.

3. Boomers have traditionally been active in the second home market, owning some 57% of all vacation homes. Forty percent currently plan to convert their vacation home into a primary residence in retirement.

4. The study also showed that 58% of rental properties are owned by baby boomers.

5. Ten percent of boomers indicated they plan to buy some form of real estate within the next year – many are considering a new primary residence, but the rest are thinking about land, second homes or commercial property.

6. Half of boomers who live in an urban area would like to retire in a small town or rural area, primarily because they believe doing so would result in a lower cost of living.

7. Other relocation considerations included being near family, availability of quality health care, and a better climate. Many also cited a desire to live near a body of water.

8. At the same time, more than a third of all baby boomers want to retire in an urban or suburban setting, motivated by quality health care and cultural activities.

9. When asked, half of baby boomers said they would consider living in an age-restricted community.

10. Women head up 20% of households. Their needs are usually different than traditional couples. Indeed, women frequently cited safety as their primary concern.

11. NAR President Thomas M. Stevens, said the survey shows most boomers want professional services when they buy real estate. Not only do they expect professional service and guidance from real estate agents, they place great value on those services. Mr. Stevens also stated “When buying a home, they want agents to represent their interests in the complex transaction process, and when selling they want help to establish the right asking price. Regardless of whether they’re buying or selling, boomers want agents to explain all of the complicated contracts, forms and agreements, to manage the closing process from start to finish, and to negotiate on their behalf.”

There is no doubt in my mind that baby boomers will have significant impact on all aspects of the real estate market for the next twenty years. This is the first time the U.S. has experienced a huge generation of affluent people nearing retirement age. Whether it’s a smaller home near their children and grandchildren or a place in the sun, boomers will be the driving force moving the market.

I stand ready to offer my professional assistance to anyone interested in buying or selling real estate in Northwest Arkansas. As a baby boomer myself, with similar attitudes found by the NAR survey, I can identify strongly with anyone looking for retirement property or a second home. Please call me at 479-966-0435 if you have any questions on this article or any other aspect of home ownership.

For more information:


To read a previous article on the effect of baby boomers on the second home market, scroll down to the bottom of my blog and click Archives for June. The article is titled “Baby Boomers Dominate 2nd Home Market” and is dated June 14, 2006.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Rogers Opens Adult Wellness Center

Congratulations to the City of Rogers on opening the brand new Adult Wellness Center. As of October 2, 2006, anyone over the age of 50 will be able to join for a fee of only $25.00 a year. Residency in the city is not a requirement.

The 55,000 square foot facility is located at 201 W. Persimmon. It boasts two swimming pools, workout room with cardiovascular machines, full-size basketball court, an aerobics suite, 40-table card room, library, and a full assortment of activities. Hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The center will focus on helping senior citizens maintain functional strength and independence. Exercises can be tailored to meet special needs, such as people with hip and knee replacements.

It is a marvelous facility. Stop in for a visit.

For more information:



More Shopping Opportunities in NW Arkansas

Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., has finally come to Bentonville. It seems odd that it took so many years for Wal-Mart to open its own wholesale membership club in the city it calls home, but at last, it has happened.

The store is huge, the inventory is huge, and the crowds on opening day were huge.

The big box look has been updated a bit. The building boasts more than 140,000 square feet under roof with 54 skylights, a coffee bar and a large white pipe at the entrance that transports aromas from the store's bakery directly to the noses of incoming customers.

The only other Sam’s Club in NW Arkansas is located in Springdale. Plans call for that store to close when a new Sam’s is opened in Fayetteville. The new store has been delayed for several months while the courts settle opposition brought by local liquor stores over the sale of liquor at that site. Arkansas liquor laws are complicated so I won’t bore you with all the wrangling that has been going on. Suffice it to say the Fayetteville Sam’s Club is probably a year away.

Pinnacle Hills Promenade, the newest destination for upscale shopping, is now open at I-540 and Perry Road in Rogers. Everything (almost everything) you always wanted can be found there. The Promenade calls itself a “lifestyle.”

Anchors are JCPenney and Arkansas’ own Dillard’s. Malco Theaters will feature an updated look and 12 screens for your viewing enjoyment. There are too many specialty shops to list here in addition to food of all types. Some stores, such as Barnes & Noble, aren’t open yet but will be soon.

The open-air mall features almost 1 million square feet of retail and office space along with beautiful architecture, fountains and verdant landscaping.

Naturally, something of this magnitude creates a need for more infrastructure. New intersections have already been created and construction is underway in I-540 for new on- and off-ramps. When complete, they will replace the Perry Road overpass and the new road will be named “Promenade.” Time will tell what else has to be done as other businesses are lured to the area.

The City of Rogers will receive millions of dollars in sales tax revenue when everything is built out and operating.

But let’s not forget Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville. It has been open for several years and has been a mainstay for the entire area, including parts of Missouri and Oklahoma. It not only has JCPenney and Dillard’s but also a large Sears. All together some 100 stores are there – all heated and air-conditioned indoors.

NW Arkansas Mall is conveniently located on Hwy. 71B, where north Fayetteville and south Springdale meet.

Most likely NW Arkansas Mall will lose a bit of business for the first couple of months after the Promenade opens. That always happens because people just like to see what’s new. But I think there is enough growth to support both malls. I also think when it’s 96 degrees (F.) in August or a snowy 20 dgrees (F.) in February, many people will prefer indoor shopping.

For more information:





More Options for NW Arkansas Sports Fans

The City of Bentonville had big plans for a new sports arena. It recently outlined plans for City West, a 90-acre mixed-use development that city leaders hoped would be developed in the western section of the city.

It sounded great – in addition to a 9,000-seat sports and entertainment arena, the complex would also have had a bowling alley, a multi-screen movie complex, and a movie and sound studio. Hotels, office, retail and residential spaces would have completed the complex when it was built out.

Everything changed October 19th when the Rogers City Council announced the sports arena would be built in their city near I-540 and Pleasant Crossing. Seems the distance from I-540 and lack of infrastructure (mainly roads) were the deciding factors in moving the development from Bentonville to Rogers.

The name has also changed. It will be known as the Northwest Arkansas Sports and Entertainment Arena.

Talk has already started about bringing a WNBA team to the new arena. The plans for the arena are basically the same as before: 9,000 seats and forty luxury boxes. The project will include a training center, as well as two hotels and various commercial and retail businesses.

Site work is expected to begin in four to six weeks with a projected completion date of Sept. 15, 2008.

Meanwhile, the City of Springdale has formally signed a contract to bring Double-A baseball to the stadium it plans to build in southwest Springdale. The Kansas City Royals’ farm team of the Texas League, currently known as the Wichita Wranglers, will be renamed and call Springdale home when the 2008 season starts.

For more background on the baseball stadium in Springdale, please read my blog article dated July 21, 2006.

Both projects are huge undertakings and are sure to spur even more economic development in our area.

For more information:


http://ww .nwaonline.net/articles/2006/09/27/news/092806szrichvisit.txt


Sunday, October 01, 2006

World Trade Center – Another Huge Economic Boost for NW Arkansas

The Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas has been accepted as a member of the World Trade Centers Association, a non-profit organization of 284 members in 78 countries. The association was founded in 1970 by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and is dedicated to “peace and stability through trade.”

Offices will be located in Rogers in a brand new building currently known as Pinnacle Business Center. The building will soon be renamed Arkansas World Trade Center Building.

This achievement resulted from cooperation between the University of Arkansas, the offices of senators Blanche Lincoln and David Pryor, U. S. Rep. John Boozman's office, the Arkansas Department of Economic Development, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the city of Rogers, and the Pinnacle Group.

The Department of Economic Development provided a $200,000 grant to pay the initiation fee into the World Trade Centers Association.

The Walton Family Charitable Support Trust has made a five-year financial grant to the center’s operating budget.

It appears to be a win-win situation for everyone, including the university, Arkansas manufacturers, Arkansas as a whole, and NW Arkansas in particular.

University students will work with Arkansas companies at the World Trade Center on international trade consulting and the university will have ample opportunity to focus on international business and fair trade.

Manufacturers, particularly small to mid-size companies that usually do not have the resources to expand into world markets, will have access to market research, trade missions, support services, governmental agencies, and more.

Northwest Arkansas will gain the recognition and economic boost brought on by expansion into world trade markets.

Everyone involved is to be commended for their efforts and alacrity in bringing this home to NW Arkansas. It’s hard to believe that something that was just an idea a few months ago will become operational January 15, 2007.

For more information:




Saturday, September 30, 2006

Fayetteville’s Sales Tax Rate Increase and Extension

What do sewers, roads, and trails have in common? You guessed it, money! Lots of money.

Fayetteville voters went to the polls September 12th and voted to increase city sales tax by ¼ of 1%. They also voted to extend of the number of years before an existing ¾ of 1% sales tax will end. Thus, starting January 1, 2007, state, county and city sales tax on most purchases in Fayetteville will total 9¼% for the next 12 years. Hotel, motel and restaurant tax is an additional 2% on purchases of that type.

For those who haven’t lived here for several years, here is a brief summary of where we are on the sewer project, and how we got here-----

Back in the 1990s, city leaders realized that unprecedented growth would necessitate an improved wastewater treatment system. In 2000, city officials estimated $60 million to $90 million would be needed to cover sewer plant improvements.

In 2001, city administrators estimated $125 million was needed for the sewer project. Voters agreed and passed an increase of ¾ of 1% sales tax. The project was expected to be complete by September 2006. If everything went as planned, the bonds would have been paid off in 2013 and the increased sales tax increase would have ceased.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. By 2003, estimates had escalated to $140 million and completion was scheduled for 2007.

By 2005, fingers started pointing in all directions. Virtually everyone and everything imaginable were blamed for the cost overruns and delays. The engineers and designers, project directors, mayor, city staff, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, war in Iraq, China’s increasing demands for raw materials and energy – all were blamed. Some said it was no one’s fault - it was just that the original plan and cost estimates were “overly optimistic.”

Fast forward to 2006. Voters were told they would have to pay to complete the sewer project one way or another. They had two choices: (1) vote to increase and extend the sales tax or (2) pay considerably higher sewer fees each month for a much longer number of years.

Voters (the ones who vote anyway) are intelligent people. It was easy to see that approving the sales tax was the better choice. Everyone visiting the city would help residents pay for the sewers. Each time a visitor patronized a restaurant, spent a night at a motel, bought a gift, or shopped for groceries, money would roll in to the city coffers.

Again, I am saddened by the thousands of registered voters who did not take the time to make their voices heard. Roughly 83% of voters did NOT vote! But, I digress. Back to the subject of sewers.

The increase in sales tax revenue will be used to (hopefully) complete the sewer project. I have to say “hopefully” because at this point, no one can be certain about total costs. Some portions of the project have not even gone out to bid.

In addition to the $42 million sales tax increase that will be used to repay sewer bonds, voters approved additional expenditures for street improvements and trails. $66 million will help widen roads and reconfigure some extremely congested intersections. It will take several years for the planned improvements to be completed and I say the sooner the better.

And lastly, voters approved spending $2 million to improve hiking/biking trails. This is another example of what gives Fayetteville high rankings for quality of life.

For more information:


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bikes, Blues & BBQ Rally in Fayetteville

The 6th Annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ Rally will be revving up the engines and getting underway Wednesday, September 27th through Saturday, September 30th, 2006. Polish your motorcycle, if you have one, and “Come on Down” to Dickson Street in Fayetteville. If you don’t have a motorcycle, come by car, truck, bicycle, or on foot. It doesn’t matter how you get here, just don’t miss it!

Bikes, Blues & BBQ bills itself as the fastest growing motorcycle rally in the world. Last year, approximately 250,000 people enjoyed the event, which featured about 100,000 motorcycles. Organizers expect some 300,000 people this year.

So many events are scheduled that everyone will find something to their liking. Live music shows are free every night at the Randal Tyson Track Center.

You won’t want to miss the Parade of Power Saturday when bikes will be lining the streets for miles. Dickson Street will be closed to the usual traffic.

If you like food, there will be free BBQ venues or you might want to stop by the state Championship BBQ Cookoff competition.

Not to be overlooked (perhaps I say “looked over,”) is the final competition in the Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ Contest.

About 140 vendors will set up their wares and food in throughout the area.

A free, indoor, air-conditioned beer garden is sure to be a big hit.

The Fayetteville Fire Fighter’s Association Poker Run takes place at 8:00 a.m. Saturday.

And, if you and your sweetie haven’t had a chance to tie the knot, legal weddings will be performed starting at 2:00 p.m. Saturday. Just don’t forget - you will need to obtain an Arkansas Marriage License no later than Friday, Sept. 29th.

The Ozarks in early autumn are simply magnificent. The weather is great and the community welcomes its visitors. Fayetteville is located only six hours from Dallas and St. Louis, five hours from Memphis and Kansas City, and two hours from Tulsa, Oklahoma and Branson, Missouri.

Perhaps best of all, Bikes, Blues & BBQ is a non-profit organization that donates proceeds to area charities. This year, a new Harley Davidson Classic Road King will be raffled off September 30th with proceeds going to the Fayetteville Boys and Girls Club.

In 2005, Bikes, Blues & BBQ raised over $125,000 for local charities. In addition, this rally is good, clean fun. A lot of effort goes into keeping it family friendly and in keeping with community values.

For more information:



I am becoming increasingly concerned about the difficulties many working people are encountering in their quest for the American dream – home ownership.

Probably the most important factor is, as I have mentioned previously, wages have not kept up with land and construction costs. But there are additional factors that enter the picture – zoning regulations, density requirements, impact fees, and lack of incentives for developers to build smaller, more affordable homes. Several weeks ago, there was a feature article in the NW Arkansas times about this issue in Fayetteville, but the problem stretches across NW Arkansas.

In Fayetteville, a contributing factor is tree canopy regulations. I agree that an essential part of Fayetteville's flavor is the trees. On the one hand, the rules that developers must follow make sense to me. But conversely, following those rules costs a lot of money that gets added to the sales price of the home.

Impact fees provide the funding for roads, water and sewers, police and fire protection, public parks, etc. No one argues the necessity for this infrastructure but the impact fees add several thousand dollars to the cost of each and every new home built, regardless of the value of the home. Essentially this is a regressive tax. Why not have a sliding scale for impact fees? Lower the fees for an affordable home and increase the fees as the value of home increases.

If NW Arkansas is to continue growing and prospering, we must find a way for the average worker to own an average home. Lack of attainable housing for workers puts serious constraints on growth. Employers cannot fill jobs if the workers cannot afford to live within a reasonable distance of their workplace.

I frequently hear complaints from residents who don’t want lower-cost higher-density neighborhoods built next to their more affluent neighborhood. But let’s face facts, folks, not everyone has a high-paying job. We need people who are willing and able to work at ALL of the available jobs. We need truck drivers to bring food to stores, we need factory workers to build products, we need hospital and restaurant workers, janitors, daycare workers, construction workers, store clerks and thousands of other workers. Without these people, very few of us would want to live here. Let’s be realistic – the average worker needs and wants a home just as much as a more affluent person.

It is imperative that cities establish criteria and develop policies that will encourage and enable builders to build more modest homes. This situation deserves serious consideration and action now. Let’s not waste several more years while we just talk about the problem.

There are many ways to make housing more attainable for working people. Perhaps it’s time to consider neighborhoods with row houses. Or, consider detached homes with less space between each one. Duplexes or quadplexes would be another idea. Built more as permanent homes instead of basic rental units, these multi-unit homes would be affordable because the owners could live in one unit while rental income would provide funds for the mortgage payment.

Condos can be another affordable way to own a home. Developers, especially in Fayetteville, are building condos at a record pace, but I can’t think of any that will be for the average working person. In many other parts of the country condos are affordable and desirable. Building costs are less per square foot, outside maintenance is usually taken care of by the homeowner’s association, and many condo communities share amenities such as a swimming pool that the average person could not otherwise afford.

However, after all this is said, housing is available in NW Arkansas if you know how to find it. Currently, there are some 150 homes available for less than $150,000. This includes lovely, desirable resale homes and even some brand new homes. You can get more information about them by going to my home search websites at http://www.findfayettevillehomes.com/ or http://www.nwarkansashomesearch.com/.

To find out how much home you can afford based on your annual salary, go to http://www.findfayettevillehomes.com/ and click on "Home Buying Calculator" in the Info Center at the right of the home page. Take a look at some of the other information and calculators while you’re there.

I can help you find a home – this is exactly what I do. It’s my full-time career. I am a Accredited Buyer Representative® (ABR®) and I represent buyers at no extra cost (commissions for homes listed by a Realtor® are included in the selling price of the home.)

Contact me at judy@judyluna.com. Helping people find a home they want and can afford is the most satisfying part of my job. I would be happy to help you do the same.

For more information:




Sunday, August 13, 2006

Existing-Home Sales Flattening, Prices Cooling

It continues to be a buyer’s market. Prices are up only slightly from one year ago and interest rates are still affordable.

Last year sales were at record highs. This year existing home sales (throughout the U.S.) declined 1.3% in June 2006 compared to the previous month. Looking back to June 2005, June sales this year declined 8.9%.

Looking from a different perspective, housing inventory levels nationwide rose 3.8% at the end of June to 3.73 million existing homes available for sale. That represents a 6.8-month supply at the current sales pace. By contrast, in June 2005, there was a tight 4.4-month supply on the market.

It appears to me that the market is stabilizing. I don’t think anyone believed the market could continue sales at the record pace of the past several years.

This is good news for buyers who may have been discouraged by bidding wars during the hot market of the past. Now is a good time for buyers to find the home they want.

When inventories increase, buyers have more choices and more time to comparison shop. Sellers have come to realize they must be more competitive these days.

The above statistical information came from The National Association of Realtors®, report for June 2006.

To read the full report, click on:


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Arkansas Has Budget Surplus of $402 Million

The bad news is: Arkansas has a reputation as a relatively poor state with a long list of needs from roads, sewers, and infrastructure in general to improvements in education, helping the needy, and everything in-between.

The good news is: Arkansas has a budget surplus of more than $402 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2006. As you can imagine, everyone wants a piece of the pie.

Many of the ideas are worthy of consideration. Using part of the surplus to create a “rainy day fund” is certainly an excellent idea. Just because income exceeded expenses this year doesn’t necessarily mean next year will as rosy.

Governor Mike Huckabee believes a good portion of the surplus should be refunded to taxpayers. The governor says the refund could be handled in various ways: state income tax reduction, reducing or eliminating the sales tax on food, or even a direct rebate to taxpayers. So far the legislature has been in no hurry to do anything.

Arkansas has become increasingly dependent on the sales tax. Arkansans pay sales tax on just about everything except medical care and prescriptions. The bare essentials - food, clothing, and utilities - are taxed by the state, county, and city. Add those taxes together and you will quickly see that cities such as Fayetteville and Springdale have sales tax rates in excess of 9%.

As we all know, the sales tax is regressive. Poor people need essentials just as much as their more affluent neighbors but they have to pay a proportionately higher percentage of their income for them.

I’ve also heard talk about eliminating the sales tax that manufacturers pay on utilities. Most states do not have a similar tax so this makes Arkansas less attractive to manufacturers who may be considering a move.

Education is another high priority. In recent years, we’ve spent a lot of money for improvements from kindergarten through university levels but capital improvements have been falling through the cracks. It’s reasonable to assume the entire surplus could be spent for education without fulfilling every need.

Other ideas also have merit, especially for NW Arkansas: infrastructure and affordable housing. I have written previously about both subjects but I can’t say it too often. NW Arkansas is in gridlock. New roads, widening of existing roads, toll roads, overpasses, bypasses, etc., no matter what you call it, we need to build it. Large projects such as the Highway 412 bypass are only dreams at this point. Funding does not exist to even buy the land.

NW Arkansas has a growing population of homeless people and affordable housing is practically non-existent. Part of the surplus could be used to help feed and train people so they can get jobs. Then help them with down payments and/or subsidized interest rates to get them off the streets and into housing.

As I understand it, the state used to give turnback funds to the cities, but they have not been awarded since 1986, when cities were allowed to enact local sales taxes to add on to the state sales tax.

Perhaps it is time to turn back some or all or the surplus to the cities to use as they see fit. They know better than the state what is needed at the local level.

While I know it cannot happen, I would love to see the entire surplus sent to NW Arkansas. NW Arkansas’ booming economy helps the entire state. We pay a proportionately higher percentage of taxes to the state than the other areas. We need help with infrastructure now if our economy is to continue expanding.

For more information:




Affordable Housing

Recent studies indicate that the term “affordable housing” is becoming an oxymoron.

The National Association of Realtors® surveyed 1000 people in June 2006. By a 2-1 ratio, respondents believed that high monthly payments were the biggest obstacle to buying a home.

The perception used to be that the down payment and closing costs were the biggest obstacles to home ownership. Now people are worried that monthly income cannot be stretched to meet monthly bills.

In addition to the mortgage payment itself, people worry about the cost of putting gasoline in their car, the ever-increasing price of utilities, rising property taxes, escalating healthcare costs, and higher insurance premiums.

If they have an adjustable rate mortgage, they know that soon that payment will also be higher.

For Middle Americans, home ownership is not only their dream but also the surest way to build wealth. Many feel that dream is no longer reachable.

The hurdles to home ownership are complex. However, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa succinctly summed up a large part of the problem, “…the fact that wages haven't kept up with the cost of real estate." While average hourly wages have risen about 20% since 2000, the national median home price has soared 55%.

Another large part of the problem is escalating land prices in most of the country, and NW Arkansas is no exception. Even as recently as 3-4 years ago, a few local builders were still building so-called "starter" homes. These were somewhat basic, but usually had about 1000-1200 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, and ceramic tile in the wet areas. These were usually available in outlying areas like Elkins and other smaller towns. Even in some of the major towns, there were homes for under $100,000. I can remember some new homes costing even significantly less than that.

Builders are no longer able to build “starter homes.” Because land is so expensive, builders are forced to build a larger home on a smaller lot and charge more for it. The new "affordable" homes start at about $150K to $160K in the major towns of NW Arkansas, although it is possible to purchase a less expensive, smaller home in some of the outlying areas, such as Siloam Springs, Lincoln, and Gravette, etc.

Another reason for higher home prices is the impact fees many communities charge to help pay for everything from roads and sewers to police and fire protection to parks and other municipal facilities. The fees, which amount to several thousands of dollars, are passed on to the homebuyer.

Thus, for people of modest means, increasingly this means they must choose whether to live in their own home farther from their work or pay rent and live closer. But with gas prices so high, living farther away means extra transportation costs and that increases monthly expenses. People who would have purchased a home in the past no longer qualify for these more expensive homes.

In the meantime, the glut of high-end homes continues.

For more information:


Monday, July 24, 2006

New High Schools in NW Arkansas

Springdale School District opened a second high school, Har-Ber High School, last year and drew new attendance boundary lines. It is a top-notch facility and one which the students, faculty and taxpayers can be justly proud. Another new high school is in the works for the east side of town.

Bentonville has already built a new high school to replace its older school and is studying future needs to keep up with growth in the district. It, too, is a first-class school.

Rogers has a new high school and is already planning another.

Prairie Grove just completed its inaugural year in a new high school after turning the older one into a middle school.

In Lincoln, city council and school district officials are studying the possibility of building a combined facility. As far as I know, that idea is new to NW Arkansas and might make a lot of sense in a small city such as Lincoln. For instance, they could reduce construction costs and save money sharing meeting rooms, maintenance and janitorial staff, etc. It’s a concept that certainly deserves study.

Farmington School District will ask voters in September to approve a 3.55 millage increase to build a new elementary school and purchase land for a new high school to be built in the future. If the measure passes, Farmington School District’s millage rate will rise to 43.85 mills - one of the highest tax rates in NW Arkansas. (Fayetteville’s millage rate is currently 43.80.)
For some months now, the Fayetteville School Board has been discussing how to keep up with growth.

Fayetteville High School had approximately 2000 students in 2005-06. Room exists to squeeze in an additional 400-500 students – but that would be far from ideal. Some programs are already squeezed past limits and the cafeteria is much too small.

The board has to decide whether to build a new high school to replace the old one, or do as Springdale did, and build a second one and continue using the existing high school. There is much to consider. Certainly cost and location are near the top of the list but education of the students must be the highest priority.

If the decision is two high schools, emotions enter the picture. Who will get to go to the new school and who must remain at the old facility? Will the quality of the education be equal? Will the value of real estate increase near a new school while values decrease around the closed high school?

In 2005 the district purchased 79 acres of land in northwest Fayetteville and is considering buying an adjacent 22 acres. Apparently, the rule of thumb these days calls for 100 acres to build a first-class high school and associated facilities.

There have been comments about the distance from downtown Fayetteville and more southern parts of the city, but even if 100 acres could be found close in, the cost would be prohibitive.
New schools are expensive. Some estimates put the cost of a new high school at $50 million. I don’t see how a new school can be built without a millage increase but Fayetteville voters have a recent history of defeating bond elections.

Fayetteville school officials are interested in hearing from citizens. Input is needed. It will probably be five years before construction begins. That sounds like a long time but formulating plans and raising money takes time.

I recommend staying informed and getting involved in the process. Go to meetings and help formulate intelligent decisions. The future of Fayetteville is at stake.

For more information:







Friday, July 21, 2006

Baseball for Springdale

Sometimes life throws us a curve ball and by so doing, makes everyone sit up and pay attention.

The City of Springdale’s election on July 11, 2006, had three questions on the ballot and the results made a lot of people pay attention. Voters approved all three, thereby paying off one bond program, starting a new bond program, and building a baseball stadium.

The first two questions regarded funding for street improvements. Not surprisingly, voters gave permission to extend the 1% sales tax to pay for much-needed improvements. Springdale, in general, has been doing a phenomenal job in this regard – much better than some of the other communities in NW Arkansas. Springdale planners seem to understand the need to improve infrastructure. Drivers will be much happier when three east-west connector roads are built, carrying traffic across the north, central, and southern parts of the city to alleviate the congestion on Highway 412.

The surprising thing, I think, was approval of a $50 million bond for land acquisition and construction of a 6,000-seat stadium for a minor league baseball team. Plans call for the stadium to be built in the southwestern part of the city, west of I-540 and south of 412.

If you have ever said something to the effect, “I have only one vote, why bother going to the polls,” you might want to reconsider that in the future. The stadium vote passed by 15 votes: 2408 for; 2393 against. In other words, more than 20,000 registered voters cast less than 6,000 votes!

As a former teacher of American Government classes at Northwest Arkansas Community College, I applaud those who got out to express their opinion on the issue. At the same time, I can’t help scolding those who didn’t bother to vote.

$50 million for a baseball stadium is a lot of money by anyone’s standards. The close vote showed that opinion is extremely divided. Those in favor of the stadium have gained the day, but it's a risky proposition for the city of Springdale. The city may or may not ever directly recoup that outlay. However, the indirect benefits could be immeasurable.

When I first moved to NW Arkansas and former friends asked me about the area, I described it as "suburbia without a central city." Each of the communities, as they formerly existed before the extreme urbanization now taking place, had a particular personality. Fayetteville was the college town and cultural center. Rogers had Beaver Lake (and now the new mall), and Bentonville had the Wal-Mart Headquarters.

Although Springdale had the Tyson Foods headquarters, its identity had largely fallen between the cracks. People frequently described it to me as the "working class" town just north of Fayetteville. As such, it never really had a special identity, except its association with the poultry industry (for example, the "Featherfest" celebration each year) or the site of the Rodeo each July.

It is quite possible that the baseball stadium could help create a special identity for Springdale in the "new" scheme of things in NW Arkansas. Sports, at all levels, are very important – recreationally and economically.

In one sense, the U of A Razorbacks have become such a phenomenon in the area (for all sports) because there were no other sports alternatives. The University fields good teams even by national standards, and there have been some great seasons. For example, back in the mid-90s the basketball team got to the "Final Four" and even competed for the NCAA championship, and the track team is well respected nationwide because of its coach, John McDonnell.

College sports are, in some ways, very exciting because the players are not professionals. School spirit enhances the excitement of the game. Witness, for example, the US Olympic hockey team which beat the Russians about 20 years ago for the first time in years – that team was comprised largely of hockey players from the University of Minnesota. Those guys got a hero's welcome (even a ticker tape parade in the middle of winter) when they returned to Minnesota, and with good reason.

The devotion of the fans (and alumni) here is incredible. It goes beyond school spirit. There are tail-gate parties and other activities, just like for major professional teams in cities across the country. The RV park in south Fayetteville looks like “Razorbackville” on any night before a big game with neon Razorback signs, etc. Cars with Razorback flags fill the streets.

Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, became known for their great sports programs, and although Springdale is hardly Plano, there is something to be said for good sports teams. I have had people relocating to the area who want to live in Springdale because the Springdale High School sports teams have a great reputation, and they want their talented sports-minded children to have good coaching and opportunities.

But professional sports teams frequently have a tougher time of it. It has been widely rumored that The Wichita Wranglers, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, is the targeted team. No contracts have been signed and at this point, it appears the City of Wichita is anxious to keep the Wranglers from leaving. The team’s record is far from stellar, attendance at games has been dropping, the stadium is very old and in need of improvements, but the city fathers don’t want to lose their baseball team.

For a small town like Springdale, gaining a minor league team could be just what a town without an identity needs. As NW Arkansas grows into a major metropolitan area, Springdale could capitalize on its image as the "sports" town and provide alternatives to the Razorbacks. Perhaps a move would also provide the impetus for the Wranglers to improve their performance. Much will depend on attendance at the games.

Just as they have done with roads, the city planners in Springdale are again looking ahead far beyond the present and are to be applauded for their efforts and vision for the future.

For more information:







Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sidewalk Cafes in Fayetteville

There is a proposal before the Fayetteville city council to allow sidewalk cafes on public sidewalks. What a wonderful idea! This would definitely add to the idea of making central Fayetteville a vibrant place where people could walk to work, leisure, and social activities.

Picture, if you will, some colorful umbrellas shading tables and chairs along the sidewalk where people are enjoying coffee or food. Some people are talking with friends while others are reading or taking a break from shopping. Doesn’t that image make you feel relaxed and comfortable?

One concern about sidewalk cafes is whether there is enough room on Dickson Street’s existing sidewalks. Closing several blocks in the area east of West Avenue to vehicular traffic and converting that section into a “walking street” could easily resolve this concern. Business for the shops and restaurants would actually be enhanced because people would be on foot, rather than just driving by in their cars. Pedestrians could walk safely in the street while the sidewalks were used as cafes.

In Latin America, it is quite common for a "shopping street" to be a "walking street." Examples can be found in Santiago, Chile, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras, among other major Latin American cities. These streets are always full of people, and businesses compete to get frontage on these streets because of the advantages of having pedestrians rather than vehicles pass by.

A similar concept occurred years ago in Minneapolis when the primary shopping street was closed to all vehicular traffic, except busses.

I say, “Let’s go for it!”


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bus Ridership is Increasing in NW Arkansas

I was pleased to read in the Northwest Arkansas Times newspaper that more people are using public transportation to get where they want to go. Of course, that isn’t a big surprise given the high cost of gasoline these days. As I write, gas in our area is averaging about $2.90 a gallon. Add that to all the other costs of driving a vehicle and it’s easy to understand why bus ridership is increasing.

But gas prices aren’t the only reason ridership is up. Ozark Regional Transit deserves a pat on the back for expanding service. Ozark currently has seven fixed routes serving 110 square miles. As they are able to obtain more funding, Ozark plans to increase the areas they serve.
I sincerely hope this trend will continue. Commuters face gridlock twice a day just trying to get back and forth to their work places. Even in the non-commuting hours of the day it’s not unusual to face traffic delays as people go about their shopping, appointments, and general business of the day. No one enjoys gridlock. It creates more stress on both people and the environment.

I have stressed for several years the need for a good public transportation system in NW Arkansas. Yes, I know it’s not nearly as bad here as New York or Los Angeles or many other large cities, but we need to make sure it doesn’t get that bad. Reliable bus service with a good route system and frequent trips will be a big plus for this area.

If people can rely on the bus to get them where they want to go in a reasonable amount of time, bus ridership will undoubtedly increase.

For more information:

Ozark Regional Transportation, http://www.ozark.org

Condo Mania in NW Arkansas--How Many is Too Many?

The debate has now been settled over whether the Divinity Hotel and Condos project can become reality. The newly-approved Divinity development has roused much controversy because of its size and scale in comparison to existing buildings in central Fayetteville. Its plans call for 30 condos and 137 hotel rooms above commercial space and restaurants.

A few years ago there wasn't a condo for sale in Fayetteville but that changed rapidly as developers began turning everything available into condos in central Fayetteville.

With the new mixed-use zoning plan expected to be approved soon, city planners anticipate turning Fayetteville into a "real city" with shops and commercial entities on the first floors of some of the new construction buildings, with condos upstairs.

There is already one large building under construction behind Dickson Street, and many older buildings have been already turned into condos, including the UArk Bowl, St. Joseph's Catholic Church and School, and others in the Dickson Street area.

Thanks in part to tax incremental financing (TIF), the abandoned Mountain Inn has been demolished and a new building has been approved for the site, conforming to the city's new guidelines. It will be known as the Renaissance building and its 18 stories will house a Marriott Hotel and condos.

The 9-story Lofts at Underwood Plaza is another new condo project located right on the square in Fayetteville. And the Legacy building is already underway, bringing 37 new condos to the Dickson Street area.

In addition, an apartment complex behind the NW Arkansas Mall (formerly Bristol Gardens, now called the Reserve at Steele Crossing) has gone through a condo-conversion and sales are underway. And there are new condos on Zion Road east of the mall for sale.

The problem is that land prices, especially in town, have risen so high that these condos are undoubtedly for an affluent group of people. The latest project to come before city planners calls for 20 condos, retail space and parking on a piece of land that is less than 1 acre in size. The land and existing building, which will be demolished, sold this year for $980,000.

Condos currently on the market in central Fayetteville are listed at close to $200 per square foot—certainly not for the average working person. Granted, many retirees who might be downsizing may have the money to pay these prices, as may some young, well-paid professionals who want to be within walking distance of restaurants and nightlife on Dickson Street.

I'm not arguing with the concept proposed by the planning commission--a vibrant center city where commercial entities are within walking distance. It's just that it seems that no one has asked the question, "will there be too many condos as a result"? Can Fayetteville's population absorb this large number of expensive multi-family units downtown?

A similar pattern is occurring in Benton County. Many condo complexes are being constructed in Rogers, and a development calling for three 15-story condos has been proposed for the shores of Beaver Lake. Much opposition has occurred for this project, leading to a question about what kind of development should occur near the lake.

A lesson could be learned from the folks in the Lake Tahoe area back in the 70s and 80s as lakefront condos proliferated. The pristine natural beauty was destroyed in some places due to lakefront condo complexes.

If you are concerned about condos, building heights, lakefront development or any other aspect of life in NW Arkansas, I urge you to make your voice heard. Stay informed, go to meetings, and take a stand. Your opinion counts.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Licensed Realtor® vs. For-Sale-By-Owner – Which Would You Rather Do?

A few Arkansas Realtors® have recently begun an effort to introduce legislation that would prohibit property owners from selling a home without contracting with a Realtor®.

I don't necessarily agree with the proposed law. Americans have traditionally been free to make their own decisions, right or wrong, and certainly property ownership is no exception. In fact, property rights were some of the basic rights the founding fathers of our nation valued. An early version of the “Declaration of Independence” stated the rights of the colonists to “life, liberty, and property” instead of the final version of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

On the other hand, there are many reasons to use the services of a Realtor®, some of which are so plain to see that I can’t understand why a buyer or seller would even consider trying to go it alone:

1. A person becomes a licensed Realtor® only after studying all the applicable laws, being tested on that knowledge, and continuing his/her education annually. Most Realtors® also seek advanced education resulting in designations such as Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR®), Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) and others. These designations require experience (a minimum number of transactions) as well as many courses to improve their knowledge to better serve their clients.

2. An experienced Realtor® knows the market inside and out and provides valuable advice to both buyers and sellers.

3. Most real estate agents primarily function as problem solvers. They provide a valuable buffer between buyer and seller to negotiate terms and solve problems without acrimony and to achieve a "win-win" situation for both sides. A lot of things can go wrong in a real estate transaction--from problems discovered during the home inspection, to problems with financing, to simple things like seeing that keys are delivered to the new owner. I don’t have enough space here to tell you about all the “fires” I’ve had to put out at the last minute to prevent a sale from collapsing.

4. Realtors® must comply with Fair Housing laws but owners selling their own property are exempt from the same laws.

5. Studies from the National Association of Realtors® have shown that for-sale-by-owners often receive less in net proceeds from the sale of their home than they would have if they had used a Realtor®--even after paying the commission. According to the National Association of Realtors®, in 2005 the median price of FSBO homes was $198,200 while the median price of agent-assisted home sales was $230,000.

6. Having a Realtor® saves a lot of time and trouble for a seller. The real estate professional will market the home, make valuable suggestions on presentation to help the home sell faster, assist with the complicated paperwork, and provide current data on home sales in order to price the home appropriately. Plus, because there will be a lock box on the home, the seller doesn’t have to go rushing home during his lunch hour to show it.

I don't argue with the right of a seller to sell his home himself. But as a buyer, I wouldn't even look at that home without the help of a buyer agent. How could I be sure that the person selling the home knows what he is doing? I would want to be assured of a clear title to the property. Would I know how to negotiate any necessary repairs? What if the seller would not cooperate in having the property inspected or properly repaired? What if the inspection discovers something so drastically wrong with the property that I ultimately don't want to buy it? Will the seller give my earnest money back or will I have to seek legal assistance?

For Sale By Owner (FSBO) sellers often think just getting their home on the Internet, putting a sign in the yard and ads in the paper, as well as having an open house, are all it takes to sell it. That is far from reality because:

1. Most buyers now have buyer representatives. This is especially important in NW Arkansas where many people are being transferred in (or out) because of employment. Most people relocating here do not pick up the newspaper to look for FSBOs or even look at FSBO websites. They get a buyer’s agent who knows the market and neighborhoods which will meet their family’s needs.

2. When the buyer’s agent looks for properties to show his buyer, he looks in the Multiple Listing Service. FSBO homes are not in the MLS.

3. People actively seeking a FSBO are few. According to statistics from NAR (National Association of Realtors®), 77% of homebuyers in 2005 purchased their home with a real estate agent, and 1/3 of For Sale By Owner homes were sold to someone the seller already knew.

4. Buyer’s agents bring qualified buyers to the table. Usually there is an interview process whereby the buyer’s agent assures that the buyer is able to get a loan to purchase the home. Many people who seek For Sale By Owner properties are those who ask for owner financing or other options because their credit is shaky.

5. Most important, the process of buying a home is a complicated one. The purchase of a home is the most important purchase most people will ever make. Until people are actually involved in the process, they sometimes think it won’t be much different than selling a car. Far from it! A home is way more expensive and there is a lot more to buying and selling one than simply signing the back of an automobile title and taking it to the DMV to get ownership transferred. A real estate professional can make sure that their client—the buyer or the seller—is informed of appropriate laws and procedures and handle the paperwork necessary to complete the sale.

6. Homes cost a lot of money and buyers need to be assured that the home is in the best condition possible, as well as being assured that they will receive a clear title to the property. Real estate professionals representing buyers and sellers can assure that the process goes smoothly, relieve much aggravation and potential conflict if there are problems with the sale, and obtain higher net proceeds for sellers, when compared to For Sale By Owners. On the buyer's side, an agent can guide the buyer as to his rights under real estate law and make sure the buyer does not pay too much for the home. In either case, the Realtor® does a lot of handholding.

I have been a real estate professional for many years. I don’t want to say that I’ve seen everything that can go right or wrong with a sale, but certainly I’ve seen most situations. I understand the financial and emotional impact buying and selling a home has on the average family.

What I don't understand is why people resist hiring a real estate professional. If a person is ill, he goes to a professional--his doctor. If he needs legal advice, he goes to his lawyer. There is no question of NOT paying for this type of professional help. Why do people feel that a Realtor® does not merit pay for professional services rendered? According to the National Association of Realtors®, the main reason sellers resist hiring a Realtor® is to save the commission.

Contrary to popular opinion, real estate agents earn every cent they make. They work long hours (including weekends and even holidays) on behalf of their clients and they defer payment until the home is sold. Real estate agents pay up front--out of their own pockets--for advertising, driving prospective buyers around, MLS services, website costs, telephone costs, computers, Internet access and so much more. It takes time, money, and effort to bring buyers and sellers together. Whether the agent represents the buyer or seller, if the transaction doesn't close, the agent receives nothing.

But if the transaction does close, the agent receives only a share of the perceived “standard 6%” commission. First, the commission is divided between the buyer agent's company and the listing agent's company. Then, and only then, does the agent get a share of his company's percentage.

If the house doesn't sell and the owner decides to not renew the listing or cancels it before the listing expires, the agent is out a lot of money and doesn't get paid anything at all. How does this square with the misconception that Realtors® "don't do anything?"

Most Realtors® work more than 40-hour weeks. They work when most people have the day off. They are not lazy people, and they put a lot of effort into getting their listings sold. Why do people not want to pay them? I'm still scratching my head.

Note: All real estate agents are not Realtors®. Realtor® is a term to denote a member of the National Association of Realtors®.

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