Mark Carter, Arkansas Business

The City of Little Rock and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership publicly unveiled a big-picture vision for the Main Street corridor on Wednesday.

Roughly 200 filled the Cindy Murphy Auditorium at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre for the unveiling that entailed comprehensive plans for a four-block “creative corridor” focused on the arts. Plans also included residential and retail units. In all, the corridor would extend two blocks north and south of Capitol Avenue, potentially growing to include Markham and South Main streets.

City officials said the plan would be posted to the mayor’s page at Little by the end of the week. Some designs are available here.

The vision entails the relocation of cultural arts organizations such as the Little Rock Film Festival, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and others to the corridor. Nothing has been set, but DLRP director Sharon Priest said those organizations have expressed interest in being part of an integrated arts district.

Priest said that over the past year, $60 million has been invested in Main Street. The west side of the 500 block of Main is being developed into retail and loft space by a venture led by Little Rock lawyer Wooten Epes.

City officials believe the first domino has fallen in the big picture of redeveloping Main Street into a thriving arts district that would serve as home to a new resident population, retail, restaurants and nightlife.

Priest said streetscapes will be added within about 18 months with “demonstration projects” going up between Second and Third streets soon.

“We can do this,” Priest said. “I’m optimistic. Will we ever realize the full vision? Maybe not, but you have to dream and you have to go after that dream.”

The plans were drawn up by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, part of the renowned Fay Jones School of Architecture, and the nationally recognized Marlon Blackwell firm of Fayetteville.

Steve Luoni, director of the UACDC, cited studies that say 75 percent of college graduates are relocating to urban centers. He suggested Main Street revitalization is critical to the long-term future of the city.

The corridor would include an extension of the existing Central Arkansas Transit Authority streetcar line, as envisioned by Metroplan. Mayor Mark Stodola couldn’t place a timetable on when such a corridor could be completed, and stressed that it depends on private development.

Downtown residents and business leaders liked what they saw on Wednesday, including Little Rock architects Jennifer Herron and Jeff Horton of Herron Horton Architects. Herron and Horton are committed to downtown and even built their home and office near the Governor’s Mansion a few blocks off Broadway.

“For me, it’s about finally having a study like this to help provide the vision for the urban core and imagine what it could be, which starts the dialogue between us all,” Herron said. “I love the idea of the arts coming together and building upon each other’s programs, further becoming aware of what each one does.”

A $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts funded the creative corridor plans, and Priest said about $1.6 million in federal grants currently is in play around Main Street projects.

Priest said NEA officials have encouraged Little Rock to continue to apply for more grants, and she believes more private investment will flow once the initial redevelopment projects are complete.

AuthorMatthew Petty