John and Caroline Gairhan, bought their lot — also left vacant by the tornado — two years ago; Mike Orndorff was the builder for their 3,417-square-foot brick home, which features solar panels, completed in 2018. The Gairhans, who moved to Little Rock from Cabot, wanted to live “where we could walk to dinner, be closer to medical stuff,” John Gairhan, who is chief information officer for a tech startup, said. He ticked off other close-by establishments that served neighborhood needs: Edwards Food Giant, Walgreens … Loblolly Creamery. The Gairhans, who have two Springer Spaniel puppies, also like the fact that there is a veterinarian in SoMa. “It was just a ton of people moving in here, all different types of people,” Gairhan said, and the couple decided it was right for them. One of their puppies, Ruthie, is named for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, perhaps an indication of where the former Cabot residents fall on the progressive scale. –––––––––––––––––––– It was new business on Main Street that prompted Gustave Kleinschmidt to start residential construction in the neighborhood at the turn of the century. Twenty-first century development in Pettaway owes its new life to the rejuvenation of South Main, as well. Community Bakery at 12th and Main has provided the gluten for the street in more ways than one: It moved from North Little Rock to the 1400 block of Main Street in 1952 and it's been in steady operation since. (Owner Joe Fox bought the bakery in 1983). Midtown Billiards brought people to the street in the 1970s; Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing (now on Wright Avenue) opened in the late 1980s. When Anita Davis bought half the 1400 block of Main in 2006, SoMa’s revitalization took off like a rocket. She created the Bernice Garden, which features changing sculpture and hosts farmer’s and vintage goods markets. Every storefront on the street has been transformed: Regina’s Place Adult Movies, La Changes and Lenderman Paint Co. in the 1300 block of Main are gone; M2 Gallery, the Oxford American magazine, South on Main and Raduno restaurants and Sweet Home Furnishings are there now. The Carpet Giant (and its beloved giant Viking) in the 1400 block is history; Nayles Medical Clinic, the Bernice Garden, Boulevard Bread Co., Moxy Mercantile, Loblolly and The Green Corner Store line the street now. The Sweden Creme drive-in has given way to The Root Cafe at 1500 Main; next door is Davis’ iconoclastic Esse Purse Museum. Valerie Wingert opened South Main Creative at 1600 Main three years ago, and since then, she said, “I’ve met so many wonderful friends who live in the neighborhood, and they say, ‘Yes, we need you here.’ ” She and her husband, Steve Evans, are moving from midtown to a house they’re building at 1907 Cumberland St., just a few blocks away.
–––––––––––––––––––– Also new to the neighborhood: A mixeduse development under construction on the west side of the 1400 block of Main across from Loblolly Creamery and The Green Corner Store will feature apartments and retail spaces. A block north on Scott Street, the Villa Vues at SoMa, across from the 1881 Villa Marre residence, will make 35 apartments available soon. Rents at the two new residential projects will be at a level that only middle-class folk will be able to afford, which raises the spectre of gentrification, even if it’s slightly removed from the heart of Pettaway. The Main Street project has already greatly inconvenienced residents who can’t afford or don’t have the room for washers and dryers: It razed the only local laundromat. Gentrification can mean the rejuvenation of a dying neighborhood with the infusion of new capital. But it has deleterious effects: As property values increase because of new home building, rents can go up. Property owners of lesser means may be tempted to sell their lots and move elsewhere. With the exception of the Villa Vues, what’s happening in Pettaway now is infill: New construction is on vacant lots, rather than clearing away old homes purchased cheaply to make way for new, more expensive properties. But Pettaway residents and developers — including Fogleman, who in anticipation of future development has bought lots south of East 21st Street — are wary. They don’t want outside developers to swoop in and drive up the cost of living in Pettaway. They don’t want to see streets lined with cookie-cutter homes, and they don’t want longtime residents tempted to sell their lots. When a man told Orndorff he might sell his property to take advantage of the new interest in the neighborhood, Orndorff said he told him, “No, no, no, you need to stay.” Gentrification is not a word Wingert would apply to Pettaway: “That’s not what’s happening. It’s infill, families moving in and choosing to be there because they love diversity.” Valarie Abrams, who bought one of Little Rock’s first container homes, at 421 E. 21st St., and is the neighborhood association’s treasurer, thinks what’s happening in Pettaway “is all for the good.” The neighborhood association meetings “are getting bigger and bigger,” she said. The new residents are “younger and full of ideas and excited for the future and progressive.” Still, Orndorff acknowledged that though his renters (he rents houses he builds unless they sell immediately) include African-American and Hispanic families, all but one of the houses he’s sold have been to middle-class white families. In 2012, more than 45 percent of Pettaway residents were low-income; in 2010, 75 percent of the population of Pettaway was black.
–––––––––––––––––––– Fogleman, who is also a lawyer in the Pulaski County Judge’s Office, said the downtown CDC is committed to seeing Pettaway retain its economic and cultural diversity. The nonprofit’s 11-member board, which includes residents and former residents of the neighborhood, decided in a recent “introspective” meeting that it needed to address gentrification with affordable housing “to maintain economic inclusion,” Fogleman said. The nonprofit doesn’t have a pot of money from which to develop homes. In the early part of the aughts, the city provided block grants to help the CDC build and sell homes, and there was some private investment. Some properties brought in a small amount of money; others came up short. “It’s been mostly a wash,” CDC board member Joe Fox said. In 2012, using a Community Development Block Grant and National Endowment for the Humanities funds, the University of Arkansas Community Design Center designed a master plan for the neighborhood and South Main. The “Pettaway Neighborhood Revitalization: Manual for a Complete Neighborhood” suggested such things as a “pocket neighborhood” on DLRCDC-owned adjacent lots facing Rock Street between 17th and 19th streets and a “housing court” that would slow traffic on the 17th Street thoroughfare. It envisioned a “hydric greenway” in a low area between Cumberland and Rock that would channel runoff into a landscaped stream, and a “Bragg Green Street” that would turn the empty lots north of East 14th Street into an arboretum and line Bragg, where Rockefeller Elementary School is located, with trees. The CDC owns 12 undeveloped lots (some of them 25 feet wide, designed for shotgun homes). They are a mix of purchased lots and lots donated to the nonprofit by the state Land Commissioner because of property tax forfeiture. About half of the lots fall in the area proposed by the CDC for a pocket neighborhood. The CDC has obtained quiet title on the lots, but getting title insurance on donated lots takes time and Fogleman said the pocket neighborhood, in whatever form it takes, is at least three years off. CDC board member Jay Barth said the nonprofit’s role goes beyond maintaining demographic diversity. Making sure there are amenities — like a new laundromat — “that the market’s not going to take care of ” to benefit low- and moderate-income residents is important, too. Meanwhile, Fogleman is worried that outside investors could buy and build in Pettaway “instead of partnering with local builders who have their heart and soul on the ground in the neighborhood. … I don’t have a problem with builders making money, but I want them to be sympathetic to what’s there.” ARKANSASTIMES.COM
MAY 2019 33
New Look for Pettaway KOKY KEEPS SPEAKING | DRIVING THE TALIMENA BYWAY | BIG IDEAS 2019