Dickson is moving on up

The popular street fills up with condos, businesses

The regular shops, bars and restaurants that line Dickson Street and the Fayetteville Square are fixtures and symbols of the town. But steel fences, construction and fresh brick are also becoming part of the landscape, along with these areas that are experiencing a face-lift that has been years in the making.

Nearly 20 years of increased growth in the area have pushed not only the university and city to expand and develop, but also entrepreneurs looking to give some of the oldest and most well-known areas in town a new look that will reflect Fayetteville’s growing economy and success.

One of the leading architectural and development groups for Dickson Street and The Square has been Alexander Merry-Ship & Alt Real Estate Group. The group helped start the Downtown-Dickson Street Enhancement Project that has tried to reinvent the worn area into something a bit more modern, a bit larger and a bit more chic.

On a street that used to house a granary, a rough depot and a bar that was straddled by a huge cowboy design is where the Three Sisters is now located, a structure that overwhelms the street with its size, its clean look and its bulk.

Richard Alexander, who works for the development group, said his company has been working on the development of the Renaissance tower at the sight of the old Mountain Inn, as well as the Underwood Plaza on Dickson Street and the One East Center that houses the old Café Santa Fe, Hoffbrau, and the McRoy and McNair store.

The company has been working on the redevelopment for the last four years and the projects in the pipes now are expected to continue through 2007, he said.

Standing around the columns of worn and tattered books, Don Chaffel speaks softly about the changes that have happened on Dickson Street. Chaffel has been at the Dickson Street Used Bookstore since 1978. He said he misses the days when the street was rough and was filled with smaller shops.

“I liked it in the old days,” Chaffel said. “There were cheap coffee shops and a couple bookstores where students could go. If you go to any college town, you’ll find a street with funky businesses and a liberal-arts friendly area,” he added.

The only reason Chaffel has been able to stay around is because he and his partner at the bookstore own the building, he said.

“It’s a night life district now where you have to have a liquor license to pay rent,” Chaffel said.

Junior Melanie King enjoys the developing nightlife on Dickson Street, she said, but does wish that it could remain old.

“[My friends and I] go to 4-14 for the $3 martinis on Tuesday. It’s nice to go down there and have a good time, but why do they have to make everything new?”

Speaking as if she were venting, Jennifer Springhetti, a junior who has lived right off Dickson for more than a year, said she thinks the new face-lift takes away from the color and artistic scene of the neighborhood.

“There’s a number of things at work here,” she said. “Development is a big one, but the smoking band and the noise ordinance are others that bring well-to-do people in and homogenize the area, and take away the cultural epicenter that was here,” Springhetti said.

The only remnants of culture are the dirty bars surrounding Dickson Street, she said. The problem is not just Dickson Street, she said, but that area is a big part of the issue. She said it’s all part of the “Wal-Mart party package,” referring to the sprucing up of Northwest Arkansas and Dickson Street.

However, Alexander said the development is just another part of the growth of the town.

“You’ve got a real broad range of property,” Alexander said. “People will continue to see reasonably-priced property and affordable housing.”

Smaller living units will probably be the trend of development in the future, he said.

Down on Dickson Street, waiting for the bus, there’s still a diverse crowd milling around. College girls on cell phones and old men walk pass each other; Common Grounds screen walls force the smell of coffee through the air, and just beside it, the stench of smoke and the noise of pool passes through the open door of Roger’s Rec.

Chaffel leans on the old books and looks out on the street. The metal skeleton and crane for a new building hover over the street like an imposing future. He stares out calmly and remarks,

“It’s hard. We just have to accept change, but when you get older you get nostalgic for what we used to call, ‘the good ole days.'”

– Arkansas Traveler, March 3, 2006

[Original piece available here.]

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