Planting For Growth

Planting For Growth

Project to revitalize Fayetteville co-op, developer says


Rickie Drain started working at the Farmers Cooperative feed mill in Fayetteville when he was 15 years old. He learned how to operate a forklift before he learned how to drive a car.

That was in 1966.

Drain recalled his manager telling him to move pallets of feed from one end of the basement to the other, just to see how many bags he ripped. Three or four got torn.

“He said, ‘Hey, you’re a forklift driver now,’” Drain says. “He was a grumpy old man, you know, but he was really good.”

Drain was at the co-op last week moving equipment before the new owner, Specialized Real Estate Group, starts to redevelop the property. The group plans to turn the buildings into restaurants, entertainment, office and retail space. About 220 apartments will be built at the 8-acre site.

The co-op plans to build from the ground up at a new place off U.S. 62 in Prairie Grove. Drain says he has a mix of emotions. The old place has a lot of history. He says he was glad to hear the group’s plans to keep the buildings intact.

Drain plans to stick around and help the guys at the new facility.

“I like to stay in shape, make some money,” he says.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to will take up the development plan for the site this month. There are four buildings attached to each other, forming one structure, and a fifth building could become commercial spaces. A boardwalk would line the buildings. Four new structures would be built for apartments to the southeast, closer to School Avenue.

Specialized Real Estate also acquired two other buildings. The old Korean Food Mart on School Avenue was part of the $4.25 million deal with the co-op, according to Washington County property records. The group bought the SalaThai Restaurant property just north of the food mart for $595,000 from the Shen family.

Both of those buildings will come down to make room for the apartments, says Sarah King, head of marketing and outreach for Specialized.

Nearby Vaughn Battery and Central Emergency Medical Service aren’t part of the site.

Specialized has partnered with Modus Studio and CEI Engineering on the project. The development team tried to keep the history of the co-op in mind when designing the site, King says. The company saw an opportunity when the land went up for sale, she says.

The buildings are heavily used, but in good shape, King says. The main structures were built in 1950, and massive pillars hold up the board-form concrete ceilings in the basement. The buildings curve because they were built along the railway that was there at the time, she says.

“The team had to look at some weirdly configured buildings, but found they were so solid that we just chose to go the adaptive reuse route,” King says. “That’s our preference anyway.”

The property happens to be near the city’s planned cultural arts corridor and the University of Arkansas’ growing arts district, adding to the potential for activity, King says.

The intersection to the northeast is one of the busiest in the city. The Frisco Trail, part of the Razorback Greenway, runs along the Tanglewood Branch stream through the property, which adds to the appeal, she says.

Specialized will ask the Planning Commission for a handful of variances to city code. Most have to do with aspects of the decades-old site not conforming to code, such as right of way and utility easements weaving throughout. Variances for the architecture are necessary to keep the buildings looking about the same, according to the request.

“They want to maximize the property, like any developer does, so they’ve run into a few things,” says Jonathan Curth, senior city planner.

The project can be built under the current zoning. As part of the city’s downtown plan in 2006, the property was rezoned to two of the city’s most generous districts in terms of allowing commercial and residential uses, Curth says.

Specialized and their partners may hold off on requesting a variance to the streamside protection ordinance. Specialized agreed to a combination of donating park land along Tanglewood Branch and paying fees, but the specifics of the plan haven’t been worked out, Curth says.

The arrangement as it stands would have the Parks Department work with the group on designs for a new public park, with Specialized taking responsibility of maintenance for 10 years, he says. The park design and stream restoration measures will go hand-in-hand.

City planners will recommend tabling the development review or separating the park and streamside piece to hash out later, Curth says.

The co-op’s plan for the new site is going through Prairie Grove’s Planning Commission, says Matthew Crabtree, co-op president. The main building will be 6,000 square feet with a hay barn. Building should begin in about a month if all goes well, he says.

The co-op couldn’t find a property with buildings suiting its needs, Crabtree says. It decided to buy 4 acres in Prairie Grove for $350,000 and get a tailor-made facility, he says.

“We need a fair amount of room to maneuver,” Crabtree says. “When this place became available, it seemed like the right fit.”

Specialized Real Estate will get the keys this week, so to speak, after the co-op finishes moving and cleaning. It’ll be a bittersweet moment, Crabtree says.

“It’s a really unique property,” he says. “It’s pretty historic, really. There’s some pretty cool history behind the place.”



Co-op Open House

The Shiloh Museum of Ozark History and Specialized Real Estate Group have partnered to host a gathering commemorating the former co-op property and its history. Former members, employees and the public are invited to share memories and view memorabilia before redevelopment begins.

• When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 7

• Where: Farmers Cooperative, southwest corner of West Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and South School Avenue in Fayetteville

— Source: Specialized Real Estate Group

Categories: In The News