Thursday, May 04, 2006

Crystal Bridges is Committed to Downtown

There was a story in the Daily Record today about Crystal Bridges, the museum scheduled to open in Bentonville in 2009. Bob Workman, the executive director of the museum, was speaking to WM suppliers at a breakfast Wednesday morning sponsored by the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce. As most of you know, this museum is going to occupy a site NE of the Bentonville Square on part of the Walton family's property. (See a map of the location here).

Part of the issue with the design of the museum is that the only car entrance will be from NE J Street, coming from I-540. So conceivably, you could have visitors come from far and wide to Bentonville, and never see downtown Bentonville, leaving right back out the way they came. There's only going to be one entrance (for automobiles) and that entrance is nowhere near downtown.

Bob Haynes with Main Street Bentonville is fully aware of this situation and is working hard to to figure out a way to connect the museum to downtown. There will be bike, pedestrian and trail access from several points, with one coming through Compton Gardens. Thankfully, as we can see from the Daily Record story, the musuem (through Bob Workman) is also committed to making the museum part of the downtown experience:

Crystal Bridges will also serve as a gateway for downtown Bentonville, if visitors find the museum from the interstate, Workman said. "We will have the responsibility to orient them to downtown. … We are seriously interested in developing that linkage (to the town Square)," through a bike/ pedestrian trail, Workman said. Bentonville’s Square is eight blocks from the west museum entrance. (which is only a pedestrian/bike entrance)

So part of the nice thing about the design of the museum is that cars could possibly be kept out of downtown. The key, however, will be making it easier for the museum visitors to access downtown without their car, than with it. But it's quite a walk from the western access to downtown, albeit a scenic walk past an interesting mix of houses that weren't built yesterday, but maybe too long for some people not accustomed to car-less transport.

One of the ideas coming from Bob Haynes and Main Street Bentonville is to run a trolley from the western museum access down to the square, which would help because it's quite a walk from the proposed access to downtown, . Hopefully this would be part of a bigger downtown loop. A loop from the Home Office to downtown has already been suggested, and might be in the works, bringing some of the thousands of WM employees who don't want to give up their precious parking spots to enjoy downtown's peaceful green space and restaurants at lunchtime.

The city is defintely working towards this end; trying to connect to downtown. Check out a quote from Mayor Coberly in this older Daily Record story.
"We want a nice trail system and/or trolley that will link (the museum) to downtown, with perhaps some parking and signage," Coberly said. "These are all just preliminary discussions, and nothing is in stone yet. We’re really excited about it and have a lot of ideas."

There's no question that the museum will be fantastic, and will draw people to the area from far away, as well as serving as a magnet for local tourism. But it'll be a shame if the involved parties don't figure out ways to successfully market downtown Bentonville and connect it to the museum. (Part of this process will be enhancing retail opportunities on the ground floor of downtown buildings, something Wal-Mart is painfully unknowledgeable about.)

Look for the city and Main Street Bentonville to come through in the clutch.

read more: crystal bridges, downtown bentonville, main street bentonville