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Of the many thousands of former University of Arkansas students, all spent time hanging out on Dickson Street, that avenue of bars and restaurants, pool halls and used book stores that leads directly to the UA campus. Many of them still feel a proprietary interest in the street. Opponents of proposed new high-rise buildings on Dickson hope they can arouse support among UA alums and turn what is now a Fayetteville debate into a statewide debate.
One tall building already has won approval from Fayetteville city government and apparently is inevitable. The Lofts at Underwood Plaza, a nine-story structure intended to combine condominiums with commercial use will be located toward the west end of Dickson, near George’s Majestic Lounge, the ageless bar beloved by generations of students (and professors, for that matter). The Underwood project was approved over the objections of some members of the city Planning Commission, including Nancy Allen and Candy Clark. Allen, whose term on the Commission ended shortly after the Underwood Lofts vote, said the building was incompatible with the character of Dickson Street and the one- and two-story buildings that line it. “I’ve always liked the diversity of Dickson — students, professors, lawyers, town characters,” Allen said. She fears that tall buildings catering to high-income residents will put an end to that diversity. “Yuppiefication,” she calls it. The neighborhoods around Dickson now provide low-income housing for students, she said, but that will be lost when upscale developments drive up property values.
Both Allen and Clark also objected that the Underwood Lofts would interfere with views of Old Main, the landmark building on the UA campus. (The Lofts will be built in a stair-step fashion so that only a comparatively small portion of the building, the part farthest removed from Dickson, will reach the full nine stories.)
People who didn’t like the Underwood proposal are even more opposed to a proposal now awaiting action by city government. This is the Divinity project, a 15-story building that would add 23 condominiums, a 137-room hotel and about 13,000 square feet of conference space along Dickson between Block and Church avenues ‑ across the street from Collier Drug, to name another old Fayetteville establishment.
When the proposal came before a subcommittee of the Planning Commission, Clark said, “This tower concerns me greatly simply because I think it’s going to be the focal point, and I don’t think it should be the focal point of Dickson Street.”
Clark told the Arkansas Times this week, “I hope alumni realize the changes facing Dickson Street. The street they might remember fondly from their college days may forever be changed if building heights are not addressed soon.”
Brandon Barber, owner of The Barber Group, the Divinity developer, has estimated that the project will generate $620,000 annually in property tax revenue for Fayetteville schools, as well as greatly increasing the amount the city collects from its hotel, motel and restaurant tax.
The subcommittee disapproved the Divinity proposal and sent it on to the full Planning Commission with that recommendation. Early this month, The Barber Group pulled the project back from Commission consideration, saying it wanted to consider changes that might lessen the opposition. The project may go before the Planning Commission at its April 24 meeting. Decisions of the Planning Commission can be overridden by the City Council.
For a couple of years, the City Council has been working on a master plan for city development. The plan calls for a height limit of six stories on buildings in areas zoned c-3, as Dickson Street is. (Allen thinks six stories is too high for Dickson.) The master-plan ordinance was scheduled to be on first reading at the Council meeting April 18. But it’s likely to be the subject of long-term discussion, Mayor Dan Coody said, and even if enacted, will come too late to affect the Underwood Lofts, already approved, and possibly too late to affect the Divinity project.
In the meantime, the high-rise proposals have generated considerable discussion by columnists and writers of letters to the editor in the Fayetteville press. One former Fayettevillian now living in Dallas — but planning to move back — wrote, “There are plenty of places around Fayetteville to put a 15-story hotel/condo complex and another 9-story condominium without destroying the integrity of the city in general and Dickson Street in particular.”
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