Lot-rent plans revive debate
Dickson Street issue: Local vs. chain
FAYETTEVILLE — From Dead Swanky to a house of prayer.
That’s the metamorphosis the Rev. Lowell Grisham would like to see for a lot that St. Paul’s Episcopal Church owns at the gateway to the Dickson Street entertainment district.
But that’s not in the plan, at least for now. The church needs to make money by leasing a 2,112-square-foot building on that lot at the southwest corner of Dickson Street and College Avenue in Fayetteville.
What does go into that building has reignited a conversation about local versus chain businesses in the gentrifying entertainment district.
For many years, the building housed a diner called Jerry’s Restaurant. Most recently, it was home to Dead Swanky, a hair salon that leased the spot from 2005 until six weeks ago when the salon moved to a building on Trenton Boulevard.
Three businesses wanted to lease the former Dead Swanky spot. But all of those deals fell through, and the church has listed the property with a real estate agent to find a tenant, said Grisham, who is the rector at St. Paul’s. It’s a high-profile location. The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, campus is within walking distance. About 26,000 cars pass by on College Avenue every day,
according to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.
One of the deals that fell through was with Starbucks, which decided there wasn’t enough room for a drive-thru lane and another lane behind the building, said Grisham.
“They ran into a problem because there wasn’t enough room on the west side for two lanes,” he said. “That ended up being a deal-breaker for them.”
Misty Ozturk, the owner of Dead Swanky, said she can’t see a Starbucks on that corner.
“I told the church ‘That is not a local downtown vibe,’” said Ozturk. “We have enough Starbucks happening in this city.”
There are already three Starbucks coffee shops in Fayetteville and more than 22,000 worldwide.
Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, said he’s heard the grumbling from local business owners about a Starbucks potentially going into the former Dead Swanky spot.
“There are some people I know who were not pleased that a national chain was going to be on that corner,” said Clark. “That’s one of those deals that the market will dictate what the answer will be. That’s the changing nature of our community.”
Clark said Dickson Street has been undergoing gentrification for 25 years, since the Walton Arts Center opened at Dickson Street and West Avenue in 1992.
Grisham said he likes the idea of a local business going into the space, but the decision is up to the church’s board.
“I know we had to balance the desire for a local business with the highest and best use, being to underwrite ministry through income,” he said.
The church first heard from Starbucks last fall, said Grisham. Ozturk was notified that the church was talking to Starbucks about leasing the building, so she found a new location.
“They said ‘Starbucks is looking, and we’re going to have to greatly increase your rent,’” she remembers.
But it turned out for the best, she said. The new spot is in a quiet location with plenty of trees, and the clients like it.
Mervin Jebaraj, interim director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UA, said the gentrification of Dickson Street has been attracting chains, including Chipotle, Taco Bell and Waffle House. And lease rates tend to increase when national chains move in.
“If the idea is this is the gateway to Dickson Street, then it should be valued as much as somebody is willing to pay for it,” he said. “Some would say this is what happens when your entertainment district is popular and
successful. Your lease rates go up.”
Local businesses can still thrive in that kind of environment, but they might have to be just off Dickson Street, where the rent is cheaper, said Jebaraj.
On the other three corners of the Dickson and College intersection are a church, a bank and the Washington County Courthouse.
Grisham wouldn’t name the two local businesses that had looked at the location but backed out on leasing it.
“If I had my preference, I would like to have a house of prayer on that corner, but that would take a pretty big investment,” he said.
Grisham said that would require tearing down the existing building and constructing a new one on the site. Grisham said Starbucks apparently considered that but decided against it.
According to Washington County property records, the church bought the 0.4-acre lot and building at 241 College Ave. in 2004 for $350,000. The property appraised last year for $329,200.
Andrew Garner, Fayetteville’s planning director, said the lot is zoned “main street center” and a drive-thru coffee shop would be acceptable there as long as it had room for four cars to stack up in the drive-thru.