With a sidewalk replacement project planned on Center Street between College Avenue and the square, several downtown business owners and a City Council member are asking that an alternative concept be considered before construction begins next month.
Instead of simply removing and replacing the existing nine-foot sidewalks, the group is advocating for a new design that will provide wider sidewalk areas to allow for streetside cafes and other amenities.
Taste of Thai, Petra Cafe and Vetro 1925 are among 21 businesses represented on a petition which states, “We (Business Owners), the undersigned believe Center St. deserves more than just the ‘standard’ Fayetteville sidewalk.” The businesses, according to the petition, want a design that will “energize the downtown area with new life and vibrancy just as the city has done on Block Street.”
Jeremy Pate, the city’s development services director, said the idea was first pitched by Center Street business owners who presented drawings from Modus Studio architect Chris Baribeau which showed some different options for the upcoming sidewalk improvements.
The idea is also backed by Ward 2 Alderman and Street Committee member Matthew Petty.
“Center Street is a unique street, and it’s in the middle of a revival,” Petty wrote in a recent blog post. “It’s true that installing the standard sidewalk would be an improvement, but to really catalyze Center Street and make it more active, Fayetteville should go farther than meeting the minimum requirements.”
According to Petty, the new design includes brick liners, street trees and street lights to match other downtown areas, but also feature “bumpouts” which will increase the width of the sidewalks by up to eight feet in certain spots. The extra space would allow restaurants to add patio seating and would provide room for possible future installation of bike racks and benches.
The bumpouts, of course, won’t come without a tradeoff.
“All of theses options removed parking spaces, which was a concern of staff, due to the fact that both sides of that street are regularly full,” said Pate.
But with so much support for the idea, Pate said city planners are now working on new concept drawings to present to the Street Committee.
Early drawings, according to Petty, include the removal of seven parallel parking spaces which would reduce on-street parking from 24 to 17 spaces along Center Street.
Plus, Pate said a redesign would likely delay parts of the project. The initial timeline, he said, called for the south side of Center Street (the side where the restaurants are located) to be completed before the University of Arkansas’ fall semester begins on Aug. 20.
A redesign could also include added costs.
“Depending upon what is approved, it may have budgetary impacts that require City Council approval,” said Pate. “That part is still really up in the air, as we haven’t even started estimating any costs yet.”
Ultimately, Pate said, the intent is now to provide greater width to the sidewalk for outdoor dining opportunities, bike racks, and possible benches, while maintaining the existing driving lane width for fire safety and delivery purposes.
The Street Committee will consider the new plan during its next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, July 31 in City Hall room 326. The meetings are typically held immediately following the City Council’s agenda-setting sessions which begin at 4:30 p.m.