Metropolis - "Railyard Park Signifies a Small-Town Renaissance"

June 01, 2021
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Addie Broyles of Metrop­o­lis Mag­a­zine cat­a­logs the recent com­ple­tion of the Rai­l­yard Park in Rogers, Arkansas.

Par­tial­ly fund­ed by the Wal­ton Fam­i­ly Foundation’s Design Excel­lence Pro­gram, Ross Bar­ney Archi­tects’ five-acre project is part of a sur­pris­ing pub­lic space boom in the region.

A cou­ple of sum­mers ago, three mem­bers of the Chica­go-based firm Ross Bar­ney Archi­tects, includ­ing founder Car­ol Ross Bar­ney, set up some chairs, a tent, and a table at the Rogers, Arkansas, farm­ers mar­ket. Tasked with design­ing a new down­town park along an old stretch of rail­road, they were there to under­stand what peo­ple loved about their city and how they’d like to see it evolve.

We didn’t show them any designs,’ says Ross Bar­ney, who has been using this face-to-face style of stake­hold­er engage­ment since over­see­ing the new design of the Okla­homa City Fed­er­al Build­ing, which opened in 2005. We’d read about the site and knew that, like a lot of down­towns, it was bypassed, kind of a no-man’s‑land.’

Every few hours that sum­mer, a freight train would rat­tle by what was then Frisco Park, but that wasn’t a sur­prise to most shop­pers. The rail line, after all, had been there longer than any of them. The Ross Bar­ney team met long­time locals, retirees, and trans­plants from across the coun­try, some of whom moved to the area to work at the near­by Wal­mart headquarters.

The pop­u­la­tion of Rogers, which was found­ed as a water stop along the Arkansas & Mis­souri Rail­road in the late 1800s, has grown to approx­i­mate­ly 68,000 in the past decade as a bed­room com­mu­ni­ty for Wal­mart employ­ees. With a third of the pop­u­la­tion now iden­ti­fy­ing as His­pan­ic, the design team also put out fliers in Span­ish ask­ing for input. Over and over, we heard that peo­ple want­ed a town cen­ter, some­where to lis­ten to live music or bring their kids,’ Ross Bar­ney says…

Rogers exists because of the rail­road, (John) McCur­dy (City of Rogers Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ty Devel­op­ment) con­tin­ues, and each ele­ment of Railyard’s design harks back to some­thing his­tor­i­cal and sig­nif­i­cant about the region. The water stops that used to fill the tanks of the steam trains have been reimag­ined as a water fea­ture for kids and a place to show­case new per­ma­nent art­works by three inter­na­tion­al artists. And Ross Bar­ney includ­ed a bright­ly paint­ed yel­low Mi-Jack crane, a rel­ic from the days when the plaza was a depot.

The design team also trans­formed an old store into a 1,000-person music venue. The But­ter­field Stage, named after the stage­coach line that went through town before Rogers was Rogers,’ says McCur­dy, will host a sum­mer con­cert series.”

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Pic­nic tables have been placed on rails so peo­ple can push them togeth­er to make larg­er tables, an expres­sion of com­mu­ni­ty com­ing togeth­er in a rit­u­al that peo­ple do every day,” (Karen) Minkel (Pro­gram Direc­tor at the Wal­ton Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion) says…

The city’s beloved car show and its long­time cel­e­bra­tion Frisco Fes­ti­val will return to Rai­l­yard this sum­mer, and San­ta will arrive on the train this win­ter, as he has since the ear­ly days of Rogers. Ross Bar­ney says that these annu­al events, plus the new ones that Rai­l­yard will inspire, are an exam­ple of how a col­lab­o­ra­tion can hon­or a city’s her­itage and char­ac­ter while giv­ing it space to expand and evolve.

Ross Bar­ney notes the irony of the Wal­ton Fam­i­ly Foundation’s invest­ment in these kinds of projects. Wal­mart was an ele­ment of why how we live in cities has changed,’ she says. The exo­dus from hard­line stores was aid­ed by big box­es.’ Now, Ross Bar­ney says, the com­pa­ny is invest­ing in revi­tal­iza­tion projects that cat­alyze eco­nom­ic growth in these down­towns.

As con­struc­tion wraps on Rai­l­yard, McCur­dy says real estate along the main street through down­town has grown to about 70 per­cent occu­pan­cy, with more busi­ness­es com­ing in every month. Onyx Cof­fee Lab is already pulling espres­sos in a his­toric build­ing on the north edge of Rai­l­yard, and ham sup­pli­er Smith­field just opened an office across from the park.”

Read the full arti­cle at metrop​o​lis​mag​.com.
Learn more about the Rai­l­yard Park.

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