SPRINGDALE — The City Council on Tuesday rejected 6-2 an offer to sell land on East Emma Avenue in downtown, which the city is working to rejuvenate and make vibrant.
Omar Kasim of Kasim Ventures offered $465,000 to buy the 1.47-acres at the east end of Emma Avenue, immediately west of the Springdale Municipal Airport.
Kasim said he plans a mixed-use development with 5,000 square feet of usable space and larger commercial spaces for rent on the ground floor. He anticipates a $10 million to $15 million investment.
Kasim also agreed to donate right of way space across his property for access to the Market Center of the Ozarks, a project of the Walton Family Foundation, that will sit south of the city’s property, and for new streetscape along that part of Emma that the city will include in its next bond issue.
The city bought the 2-acre site in 2018 for $304,000.
Mayor Doug Sprouse said the city doesn’t have any plans for the land and said he can’t see the city would ever have a use for the land. He said he would rather see development on the lot benefiting residents and bring in tax dollars than for it to sit empty.
Council members had few questions and comments during the meeting but did have a discussion March 16 when the sale was introduced to members during the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
City Council member Mike Overton, who’s a real estate agent, said then the city should keep the property, with the value expected to increase.
“We’ve heard that the Market Center is going to be the best thing since sliced bread,” Overton said. “What’s our hurry to sell this land? I don’t see the incentive to sell now. Why don’t we wait and see if development takes off? We’ve got more money than ever in our General Fund. We are not pressed for money.”
Higher land prices are passed on in higher rental prices, Kasim noted. For businesses to succeed downtown, they need to be able to rent space at affordable rates, he said.
Overton and council member Kevin Flores said May 16 any property owned and sold by the city should be advertised for bids and open to all buyers.
Sprouse noted Kasim came to city officials with an offer for the assessed price. The property was appraised in March.
“It’s my duty to bring to council any full-price offers,” he said.
Kasim noted May 16, if the city opens to any buyers, the city might lose some control of what type of development goes on there.
“A holding company from Dallas, wanting to put their money into an opportunity zone, could buy the property and develop it as they see fit, or just let it sit undeveloped,” Kasim said.
Development on the property would have to fit the standards set forth by the city in the form-based code for downtown, Planning Department Director Patsy Christie said Tuesday.
Kasim bought the old Washington School building from the Springdale School District. He has opened the building for co-working office space for nonprofit agencies and other groups aiming to transition to permanent locations downtown.
He owns and opened the Con Queso restaurant west of the Razorback Greenway. He sold the city houses on Willella — including his own — for property to build a new Senior Center.
“You’ve trusted me to be part of downtown Springdale,” Kasim said. “My home and business are here. I’m interested in everything that goes on down here.”