A Grand Opening For Little Rock's Creative Corridor

Sep 14, 2015

A sign introducing the new features of Little Rock's Creative Corridor.
Credit David Monteith / KUAR

Revitalizing the downtown Main Street area by making it a hub for arts organizations is a project first conceived by Mayor Mark Stodola in 2007. Eight years in the making, he looks forward to announcing the completion of the first phase.

"For those people who grew up in Little Rock and know that Main Street basically was dead from about 1985 until 2015 I think they're going to see a tremendous rebirth," said Stodola.

Beautifying the streetscape, adding new apartments, and attracting businesses were all part of the original vision.

Caran Curry, the Grants Manager for Little Rock, said the efforts began to take shape "when we were able to get a technical assistance grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to bring together a lot of Little Rock's stakeholders in the Main Street area and sort of do an envisioning process. It was called the Greening of America's Capitals."

In addition to a more attractive streetscape, several organizations and businesses have moved or are planning to move into the area. Recently The Rep opened a new educational annex and blackbox theater. Mayor Stodola acknowledges that not everything has gone according to plan though.

"The developers and the contractors on some of the locations have gotten into a disagreement about money and that's going to be in arbitration from what I understand. But in the meantime we're working with the symphony and we're working with the ballet to get them into their physical quarters," Stodola said.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Arkansas anticipated being able to move into their new offices almost a year ago. They are not the only ones impacted by problems with developer Scott Reed. According to Senior Editor of Arkansas Business George Waldon one developer with a neighboring property halted work on what was discussed as an upscale hotel because of concern over Reed's lack of progress.

Waldon said, "If that building's gonna be in a state of disarray how can we open up a really classy nice hotel next door to it."

Not all of the deviations from the original have been negative though. In the summer of 2014 the board of the Little Rock Tech Park voted to locate its new facility in the Creative Corridor.

"The big open-ended question in a good way is what's going to go on with some of those potential developments when they have the startups down there and the Tech Park and what all that could mean," said Waldon.

Those details and more will be shared at the Grand Opening which begins with a presentation from the project's lead designer, architect and urban planner Steve Luoni of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center. The plan reflects not just beautification but also consideration for the environment using what are known as Low Impact Development Principles. The city's Coordinator of the Creative Corridor, Marsha Guffey, said those will be most evident to those walking along the 500 block of Main Street.

"With Low Impact Development you manage the rainwater as close to its original source as possible and you do more environmentally friendly features to help filter the water so you'll see less pipes and concrete and you'll see a lot more green things like raingardens and bioswales," explained Guffey.

New trees and bioswales border the walkway of the 500 block of Main Street.
Credit David Monteith / KUAR

The presentation begins at 3 p.m. Monday in The Rep's main theater building and will be followed by an open house walking tour from 4-5. Both events are open to the public.