Breaking down downtown

Downtown Siloam Springs may look different in a decade. If everything goes according to the plan.

Main Street Siloam, a nonprofit focused on the development of the downtown Siloam Springs area, recently released its first ever Master Plan. The Plan outlines a process to formulate concrete recommendations for the city and create renderings of specific improvements the organization would like made.

“Over the last eight years we’ve grown tremendously in terms of our relationship with the businesses downtown and our partnerships with other community organizations and the City of Siloam Springs,” Meredith Bergstrom said, executive director of Main Street Siloam Springs, “There has been a lot of private development and our downtown has just grown tremendously, but a lot of the decisions we were making kind of shotgun.”

So instead of making recommendations based on whatever is happening at a given time, the Master Plan allows the organization to know what its specific goals are ahead of time.

“From the beginning this has been a cooperative effort in the sense that this deals with the physical infrastructure of the city and also encourages private development [and] has come out of a communal understanding that a plan is a good way forward,” Bergstrom said. “Basically what we’ve done is created a roadmap.”

Steve Beers, vice president of student development at John Brown University and a member of the Main Street Downtown Master Plan Steering Committee, describes the Master Plan as “planning to plan.”

Ultimately, the goal of the plan is to continue to spur private and public development in the downtown area.

Beers said that because the Northwest Arkansas area is experiencing growth, communities that plan ahead have an advantage.

In developing a plan to grow the city’s historic core, Beers said Siloam Springs is promoting a more appealing city.

“There are some really unique aspects of our town that we want to highlight,” Beers said. “Do you want a town with a cool coffee shop and a reading area … and music or just a Waffle House by the bypass?”

In service to the idea of growing the downtown area, the plan calls for exploring expanding the city’s bike and walking path network.

In addition to connecting the existing walking path through downtown, it also suggests connecting downtown to City Lake to the north and the new kayak park on the Illinois River to the south with bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

“With our campus being only a mile away from downtown, to have easy transportation from [bike paths] is really helpful,” said Beers. “To connect those to other parts of our area is going to be really important.”

The main result of the Master Plan right now is that Main Street Siloam is looking for a firm to help them conduct public feedback sessions, economic analysis and to create renderings of the resulting suggestions for the city government.

The renderings are expected to be released in the spring.