Crystal Bridges celebrates 5 years

Crystal Bridges brings huge tourism to NWA

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) -- November 11 marks the fifth anniversary of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The museum, which was founded by Wal-Mart heiress, Alice Walton, has become a cultural and economic force in northwest Arkansas.  It's made Bentonville a national and an international tourist destination.

Since opening its doors in 2011, Crystal Bridges Museum welcomed 2.7 million visitors, including nearly 608,000 in 2015.  Last year, 25% of visitors were from neighboring state, but 20% were from other national and international locations.

Those visitors are helping to fuel the growth of the city of Bentonville.

In 2010, the city's population was 35,000; it now stands at 45,000, an increase of nearly 30%.

Mayor Bob McCaslin has watched the transformation.

While other factors have contributed to the city's growth, including plenty of jobs, a top school system, and a high quality of life, Crystal Bridges has lured hundreds of thousands of people to the city every year.

That's contributed to a boost in city sales receipts, which went from $8.2 million in 2011 to $11.3 million in 2015.

But Mike Harvey, CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, says Crystal Bridges has also created a new "cultural gravity in the region, which draws drawing other amenities to the area creating new business and cultural opportunities."

There's the 21-century Museum Hotel in downtown Bentonville, and Crystal Bridges' plans to transform an old Kraft cheese factory in the city into a venue for contemporary art.

There's also the Bentonville Film Festival, founded in 2015 by actor Geena Davis and Trevor Drinkwater.

And there's the millions of dollars of investment in the Bentonville Square with new restaurants and shops that are within walking distance of Crystal Bridges' walking trails.

And while the city is earning a reputation as a booming arts scene, it's also developing more family friendly amenities, including the new $21.5 million Scott Family Amazeum, a children's interactive museum just down the road from Crystal Bridges.

Alice Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, first announced plans for the museum in 2005.  Sixteen years later, she told Arkansas Business that she's surprised about its popularity.

Walton said that growing up in Bentonville, she didn't have access to art and knew she wanted to change that.


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