When Wayne Mays looks at the renewal and growth which has taken place in Siloam Springs during the past decade, he likens it to a donut.

Mays, who serves as the president and CEO for the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce, said the changes which took place in the downtown core of the town, along with the new businesses along the U.S. Highway 412 corridor, work hand in hand - like donut and a hole.

One, the renovation, cannot exist without the other, the revitalization, of the community.

"The downtown is the heart of a community," Mays said, adding that everything worked together - from the additional restaurants, retail space and lodging options.  

The changes, many of which are highlighted in Ron Drake's book, "Flip This Town: Preservation made practical on Main Street," began in the mid- to late-2000s.

"I saw a spark at that point [July 2007]," Mays said, adding that multiple business leaders - including Drake - began to pull together to improve the look and feel of downtown Siloam Springs.

"When I came here, there were a lot of rundown, old empty properties," Mays said. "Most were two stories, shuttered and in bad shape."

Mays said loyal businesses, including a local barber shop and print shop, were "hanging in" there, with dilapidated buildings surrounding them.

"It was quaint at the time," Mays said. "It felt like a nice town, with a lot of history...with some buildings vacant or deteriorated."

In those early years, Mays said he would often tour buildings with Drake, looking at current conditions and dreaming about what could happen in the spaces.

"One of Ron's strengths is vision," Mays said. "He had a vision, which encouraged [renovation of the] downtown area.

"He saw the potential in the buildings and had the skills, knowledge and vision to take risks."

Mays said one of the partnerships that helped advance the renovation and revitalization of the downtown through the Main Street Siloam Springs program, first under the direction of Shelly Simmons and now Meredith Bergstrom.

Mays said Simmons was able to secure grants and other funding sources, which helped the town begin to grow and change.

During this time period, Drake helped restore 17 historic buildings and revitalized more than 75,000 square feet of downtown space.

The work, which began in 2007, has led to Siloam Springs being named the "Top Four Best Main Streets in America" in America by Parade magazine and as the 14th "Best Small Towns in America" by Smithsonian Magazine.

Earlier this month, city officials were notified Siloam Springs received the 2015 Arkansas City of Distinction Award for tourism development presented by Arkansas Business. 

Among the buildings Drake renovated, included the former car dealership which ultimately became 28 Springs.

The restaurant, owned by Todd and Shelly Simmons, has become a regional destination and one of the key businesses in downtown Siloam Springs.

Another building now houses Siloam Flower and Gifts, owned by Melanie Pentecost.

Pentecost moved her business from the edge of the downtown district, into a business on Broadway five years ago.

"I was ready for a change," Pentecost said. "From the moment I walked in, I could see where everything fit, from the counters to the upstairs."

Pentecost liked the idea of having a space downtown, because it would allow for "walk-in" traffic.

"We've gotten a lot more than I ever dreamed," she said, adding that people often come to her store after visiting another business in the downtown area.

"[Downtown] is just alive," Pentecost said. "It just feels good."

Mays said the renovations, as well as the work conducted by Main Street Siloam Springs officials, ultimately helped the chamber draw additional businesses to the community.

"People were drawn to the community by the vital growth going on downtown," Mays said. "Now there's almost nothing on Broadway or University street that has not been rehabilitated, revitalized or torn down and rebuilt."

Additionally, numerous businesses have moved into or expanded within the Siloam Springs city limits including a newly completed $3 million medical office building, Panda Express and Rib Crib. 

This new business comes on top of a new hospital, high school, football stadium, soccer complex, library and more - all completed within the past 10 years.

"We've seen lots of results...an investment within the community and an investment in the quality of life," Mays said. "Everyone worked together, and strengthened each other. Nothing happens in a vacuum."

Looking ahead

Mays said the spark created by the renovations in downtown Siloam Springs have continued to ripple throughout the community. 

In March, city officials are asking Siloam Springs voters to renew a 10-year sales tax. Half of the tax will once again be earmarked for infrastructure improvements, the other, to fund "quality of life" programs.

Many of the quality of life improvements are included in the "Downtown & Connectivity Master Plan," developed by Main Street Siloam Springs, to drive major infrastructure and quality of life improvements over the course of the next five to seven years.

The plan was developed with the input of more than 500 community members. The city's board of directors approved it in August 2014.

Those improvements include developing a new amphitheatre near the recently constructed library, a splash pad, a veterans memorial and a new location for the city's farmers market. 

The plan also includes improvements to sidewalks within the downtown area, as well as a "street diet" plan. 

That, Mays said, would allow city officials to add additional improvements to the downtown streets, as well as help reduce the size of the streets in an effort to limit the speed of traffic through the area.

 

More about Ron Drake

Ron Drake, a consultant and former building contractor, is best known in this area for his work in helping revitalize the downtown core of Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

"My heart is in Oklahoma," Drake said. "I'm excited to see if we can create that spark in Grove."

Drake's visit to Grove is being financed through a partnership between the Grove Economic Development Authority, Grove Rotary Club, RE/MAX Grand Lake and the Grove Area Chamber of Commerce.

 

A Closer Look: Downtown Siloam Springs by the numbers

In 2014, the numbers currently available from officials with Main Street Siloam Springs, the organization tracked a total of $3.28 million in downtown reinvestment including:

$20,838.80 for facade renovations. $1.22 million in building rehabilitations.  $1.5 million in property/buildings sold. $48,881 for public improvements projects. $440,000 in new housing downtowns.  In 2014, the organization also held 84 downtown event days, which brought more than 11,725 visitors. 

Officials also estimate the farmers market saw a total commerce of $90,338.14, an increase from $23,438.29 in 2010.

Additionally, more than 3,901 volunteer hours were donated to the Main Street Siloam Springs program.

In the last five years (2010 to 2014), Main Street Siloam Springs has:

• secured $228,000 in grants for downtown improvements and historic preservation; 

• provided 300 hours of free consultation and created a downtown design and style handbook;

• $8,000 in matching facade grants provided to nine downtown businesses.

• $430,018 in federal and state rehabilitation tax credits for restoration projects.

Other changes within the past five years include:

• 30 new businesses and organizations within the downtown area.

• 91 jobs created and sustained within downtown Siloam Springs.