Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

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

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.

For more information:








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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