Community visionary revamps town

Ron Drake is not afraid of a challenge. His undeniable initiative and passion for the community has led him to becoming a catalyst in restoring downtown Siloam Springs, Ark.

The vision sprung from Drake’s visit to the small town. As he sat on the downtown bridge overlooking Sager Creek, he found himself “mesmerized by this. . . postcard-looking community.”

Drake took the plunge and moved to the quaint town. He took up flipping houses. The challenge is what drove him, but an arbitrary comment is what redirected him.

This redirection came on a typical day when Drake was putting a sign up next to a house he had just purchased. A neighbor stopped her car and shouted out a thank you to him for choosing her neighborhood. “That’s when I embraced the responsibility of what I was doing. It’s more than just turning a profit,” Drake explained with a spark in his eye.

Drake began taking responsibility for his own community. The passion for renovating the central part of Siloam Springs slowly developed in Drake, but once the seed was planted he could not be slowed down. He recounted his first time trying to get a downtown building financed. He was met with the response, “if someone gave you that building we could not give you the money to finance it.” It was at that moment Drake believed he “realized the challenge.”

After a city council meeting when Drake had shared a part of his vision for downtown Siloam, a board member approached him and said, “I really appreciate what you are trying to do, but it just isn’t going to work.”

Without missing a beat Drake replied, “’Let’s get coffee and talk about it, and better yet, let’s get coffee in two years when it works.’ We have yet to get coffee.” Drake chuckled at the recount.

The first project he took on he refers to as,“[my] greatest business mistake, but yet my greatest business victory.” Drake purchased the Creekview Flats. He was attempting to bring the new trend of luxury apartments to Siloam, but Drake recounts that “Siloam Springs was not ready for it.” After five years, Drake still has not had a profitable month on the project.

The Creekview Flats did not bring success, but it did spur on Drake’s vision in other ways. “That project had several front-page stories. [It] opened the door to changing the historic codes. [It] gave Siloam Springs [an idea of] what can happen with some creativity and an open mind to the existing buildings that we have to deal with. Whether that was all worth all the tens of thousands of dollars we spent on keeping it going, time will tell.” Drake optimistically expressed.

The community’s reaction towards the project is one Drake will never forget. The grand opening was on a “cold winter’s night” with ice on the ground and sleet falling from the sky. Drake invited everyone he could possibly think of and the turnout was over a hundred. “[It] opened my eyes for how intrigued the community was on downtown development. The next time, when I would go to the city and ask for things it was a whole lot easier.”

Next, Drake expressed his commitment to the restoration of downtown by placing his office in a building in the center of downtown. It was a physical representation of his overall vision.

It was at this point that people wanted in on Drake’s vision. People began approaching him, asking to partner with him for revitalization.

Anyone who walks down Broadway Street in the middle of Siloam Springs will see the next steps of Drake’s partnership and vision. The buildings that hold the quaint shops are all a product of Drake’s hard work.

Slowly Drake’s vision has grown to be a dream not just of Drake, but of Siloam Springs. Meredith Bergstrom, the executive director of Main Street Siloam Springs, an organization that strives to create downtown as a place of community, has seen support of Drake’s vision. She claims, “Siloam Springs is very supportive of efforts to preserve, highlight and promote our downtown.”

Many people have dreams for their community.

“I didn’t just talk about it, I was taking action as well,” Drake explained. “If everyone would take that kind of action to what their beliefs are, imagine what kind of a community it would be.”

Rod Reed, the chaplain and faculty at John Brown University, takes his leadership class to hear Drake speak. One of the reason he does this is to show students that, “Ron wasn’t elected or appointed to any position; he just tried to use his abilities to make a difference in his community.”