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BLOCK STREET&BUILDING

The Best of New Urbanism in Arkansas

REVITALIZATION HOW ARKANSAS IS PUSHING FORWARD

> ART INSTITUTIONS FUEL ECONOMY > BUILDING BETTER NEIGHBORHOODS > HISTORIC TAX CREDIT CONTRIBUTIONS

Volume 7 | 2021


6th AVE DISTRICT | PINE BLUFF, AR

2 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021


A R C H I T E C T S in collaboration with:

The SIXTH AVENUE DISTRICT is an upcoming public-private project to bring placemaking and startup business space to Pine Bluff. The District is anchored by the Pine Bluff Library and extends two blocks across Main Street. Between Main and State streets will be a public plaza with interactive fountains, market stalls, a retail incubator, and a food hall with a rooftop bar. The Georgia Street block will contain a new 500 person outdoor event space, park space, and a public parking lot.

for more information go to:

goforwardpinebluff.org www.taggarch.com


BLOCK STREET&BUILDING The Best of New Urbanism in Arkansas

Introduction

6 Letter from the Arkansas Municipal League 8 Letter from the Editor Features

10 What’s Old is New Again

How historic tax credits contribute to revitalization and growth.

12 Revitalization

How to build better neighborhoods.

15 Urbanism:

Lessons from the past.

16 State of the Art

30 Variety is the Spice of Life

And the stuff of healthy, enduring neighborhoods.

32 New Kid on the Block

Conway Block Plant charts a new course.

34 Weekend Warriors The power of tactical urbanism.

38 Helping Communities Thrive

Innovative partnerships at work in Helena-West Helena.

Art institutions fuel the creative economy and advance equity.

42 How Entertainment Districts

19 Lonoke Leads the Charge

Springdale offers a case study.

Sustainable transportation comes to downtown.

20 The Power of Paint

An interview with Claire Kolberg, director of The Unexpected.

Drive Development

46 Lights, Camera, Action!

Growing the film and music industry in Arkansas.

48 Mena: Heart of the Ouachitas

23 Dreaming of a Better Downtown

Natural beauty is a boon for business.

24 Food for Thought

Faded company town finds new life.

26 The Haywood

Jonesboro project gives homeless veterans a fresh start.

Pine Bluff: revitalization eyes next bold step.

How restaurants have changed their business models. Delayed by the coronavirus, it’s finally time for a stay at the new El Dorado hotel.

50 Delta Dawning

54 Heroes Live Here 58 Walk this Way

On parking and perception.

28 The Evolving Office

Workplace considerations post-pandemic. ON THE COVER: Conway Block Plant plans to renovate an abandoned building into dynamic office spaces to add to the vibrancy and walkability of downtown Conway. Rendering by AMR Architects. See page 32. 4 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021


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BLOCK STREET&BUILDING A Special Publication of Arkansas Times Produced in partnership with the Arkansas Municipal League

At Entergy Arkansas, we know our customers depend on us to keep the

At Entergy Arkansas, we know our customers depend on us to keep the lights on and their lives meet Arkansas’ growing needs for years to come. moving. So we’re investing in the power grid to knowThat customers depend on our usreliability to keep means upgrading equipment to increase and the implementing At Entergy Arkansas, we know ou Atour Entergy Arkansas, know meet Arkansas’ growingwe needs for yearscustomers to come. depend on lights on and their lives moving. So we’re investing in the power grid to

ALAN LEVERITT Publisher alan@arktimes.com

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JONATHAN OPITZ Editor

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A message from Entergy Arkansas, LLC ©2020 Entergy Services, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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Learn more at entergyarkansas.com/brightfuture. Learn more at entergyarkansas.com/brightfuture. CHAROLETTE KEY Billing/Collections

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A message from Entergy Arkansas, LLC ©2020 Entergy Services, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

A message from Entergy Arkansas, LLC A message from Entergy Arkansas, LLC ©2020 Entergy Services, LLC. All Rights Reserved. ARKANSAS TIMES LIMITED PARTNERSHIP A message A message from A message Entergy from A message from Entergy Arkansas, A©2020 Entergy message from Arkansas, LLC Entergy Arkansas, from ©2020 LLC Arkansas, Entergy Entergy ©2020 LLC ©2020 Arkansas, Entergy LLC Services, ©2020 Entergy Services, LLC LLC. Entergy Services, ©2020 AllLLC. Rights Services, Entergy All LLC. Reserved. Rights All Services, LLC. Rights Reserved. All Rights Reserved. LLC. All Reserved. Rights Res Entergy Services, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 201 E. MARKHAM ST., SUITE 150 LITTLE ROCK, AR 72201 501-375-2985 All Contents © 2021 Arkansas Times VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 5


From the Executive Director of the Arkansas Municipal League

A

GREAT CHALLENGES, GREATER CITIES!

s we slowly return to our pre-pandemic norms, I’m reminded that in many places the 17-year cicada cycle is happening. Why am I reminded? Because we are all emerging from our own cocoons after a year of working at home, not going to movies and not seeing people smile due to everpresent masks. One tidbit of trivia regarding cicadas. All that buzzing and clicking? It’s a mating call. When collectively gathered near the top of a tree, they reach nearly 100 decibels when they let loose. That’s loud! This whole process of getting together and making a lot of noise is known as “chorusing.” Having been through what is likely the most challenging year we’ll know in our lifetime and now that we’re emerging from our own proverbial shells, we need to recognize some folks that never left the workplace despite the daily dangers they faced. I speak, of course, of municipal officials and personnel — they never quit. They rolled up their sleeves, educated themselves and created solutions to the many problems they faced so that each of us could continue to rely on municipal services. City halls across the state never closed. Instead, they created drive-thru payment windows, upped their online presence, installed plexiglass and disinfecting stations, and a whole host of other measures to be sure taxpayers received full municipal services. Even council meetings were held in parking lots so that city business could move forward. If you needed a cop, you got a cop. If you needed garbage picked up, garbage got picked up. If you had a health emergency, ambulances and EMTs were there to help. If an emergency caused a need for the fire department to assist, the fire department answered the call. Municipalities of all sizes stepped up their game to meet our needs during the most bizarre and terrifying year I’ve ever known. The challenges were great. The municipal response? Greater. Hence, “Great Challenges, Greater Cities” has been the prevailing theme over the last 15 months. Within weeks of Governor Hutchinson’s emergency declaration on March 11, 2020, subsequent executive orders and directives from the Arkansas Department of Health were issued in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Public gatherings were limited to 10 people, bars and restaurants were instructed to close dining rooms and transition to curbside and delivery, indoor entertainment venues were shuttered and commercial lodging was limited to folks like health care professionals, essential workers, first responders, active military and law enforcement. In short, The Natural State completely shut down as a tourism destination, and the economic impact was felt almost immediately. Here’s a snapshot of what just a handful of cities and towns around the state faced as the coronavirus descended upon Arkansas: • Eureka Springs welcomes more than 1 million annual visitors and depends on tourism for 95 percent of its budget. To combat this revenue loss, the city not only reduced salaries, but it also faced layoffs in law enforcement and emergency services, two areas that were already short-staffed.

6 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

• Former resort-retirement community Fairfield Bay also relies on tourism for revenue. With the cancellation of events due to COVID-19, the city-owned-and-operated conference center was closed and all but a couple of employees were laid off. • Welcoming more than 2 million annual visitors who enjoy its lakes, parks, historic bathhouses and horseracing and gaming, Hot Springs is one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations. It is also home to Arkansas’s largest and busiest convention center, and COVID-related closures had the city facing a revenue shortfall of more than $5 million. • Magnolia not only felt the economic impact of canceling its biggest festival — the Magnolia Blossom Festival and Steak Cook-Off, which brings an additional 10,000 people and $100,000 to the city — it was also left with the unique challenge that came with the closure of Southern Arkansas University: the loss of census dollars. When COVID-19 sent students home for the remainder of the spring semester, Magnolia lost an additional 5,000 residents who would have been counted in the 2020 census. • Although Batesville managed to avoid layoffs and furloughs, the closure of the 125,000-square-foot Batesville Community Center and its suspension of more than 8,000 monthly memberships left the city with no incoming revenue. Also a college town, Batesville struggled to get all of its residents counted in the census. Just nine months before the coronavirus pandemic began, Act 822 of the 92nd Legislative Session, which required the collection of sales and use taxes on online purchases, was enacted. I can’t call this anything other than perfect timing, because as so many local retailers had to close their doors and Arkansans increased their online buying, the sales tax collected from those purchases most certainly helped keep so many cities and towns afloat. The League championed such legislation since 2017, and I’m beyond grateful that our municipalities have been infused with these monies. Thanks to access to vaccines and hard work at every level to control this virus, we’re slowly coming back to life — life like we last knew in early 2020. Of course, we must do so with caution to protect against the variants and the virus, but as we move into summer I — like you I’m sure — am looking forward to seeing friends and family at restaurants, parties, movie theaters, ballgames ... everywhere! As we begin to get out more, please take a moment to recognize the incredible work done by municipal officials and personnel, day in and day out. In many instances the services we rely on daily are taken care of 24/7, 365 days a year. Those services didn’t stop because COVID-19 spread like wildfire. The municipal chorus was ever present, and we are all the better because of them. Say thanks if you get the chance.

Mark R. Hayes Executive Director Arkansas Municipal League


GREAT CHALLENGES. The cities and towns of Arkansas have weathered a year unlike any other. As COVID-19 spread and touched every aspect of our lives, municipal officials and personnel never stopped. Through severe weather disasters, economic uncertainty and civil unrest, cities and towns overcame these challenges and adapted to ensure the everyday needs of their residents were met. The League is honored to serve these everyday heroes, and to them we say: THANK YOU.

GREATER CITIES. arml.org

#GreatCitiesGreatState #BeLocalBeHeard

@armunileague


LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

WE ARE ALL BETTER TOGETHER

A

fter the experience of the past 15 months, people have likely developed a better appreciation of the quality of spaces they inhabit and the experiences they want to prioritize. No longer taken for granted, experiences and opportunities mean more to them now than they probably ever did before. It is with that attitude of gratitude that I happily accepted the chance to serve as guest editor for this issue. I have long admired and appreciated the Arkansas Times for recognizing that urbanism in Arkansas needs its own publication to be celebrated. When considering topics for this issue, I did not want to be limited by the constraints of this past year. Instead, I wanted to focus on successes, changes and positive momentum. If there is any positive outcome from such a large-scale event, it would be that it allows us to gauge everything from a different perspective in a way that might not otherwise be possible. We were all pushed out of our comfort zones and given time to reflect, adjust and readdress our priorities and beliefs. This push was often forced by acts of loss or longing. Most of us experienced a sense of loss this past year, in one way or another, including the ability to move through the world the way we did before. The acts of missing, longing or pining for regular experiences reshaped us to appreciate these special moments and places from which we had been removed. The features in this issue focus on various types of downtown and urban development/redevelopment projects that stemmed from different catalysts. We intentionally found stories across Arkansas that show how urbanism and redevelopment come in various shapes and sizes. The spaces that we design are for people to engage and interact, so they are shells of themselves when people do not occupy them, devoid of the life that makes all of these spaces near and dear to us. Our disconnection over the last 15 months confirms that we are all better together, and these projects serve as inspiration for others to be the change that we want to see in our cities. I hope that we, as a state, seize this opportunity for change and start making spaces that are equitable and accessible to all. We must develop communities that welcome everyone, and we have to do this by eliminating barriers. Let’s all remember how connected we really are though shared spaces in the communities and environments we create together. We are all better together as long as we take care of each other.

Jonathan Opitz, AIA, LEED AP BD+C Partner, AMR Architects 8 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021


WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN

How historic tax credits contribute to revitalization and growth. BY RACHEL PATTON

BRIAN CHILSON

The Waters Hotel, Hot Springs

H

istoric tax credits are an important tool for the revitalization of downtowns and neighborhoods throughout Arkansas. Since 1976 the Federal Historic Tax Credit program provided a 20% federal tax credit to people who undertake the substantial rehabilitation of a certified historic building for income-producing use. The federal historic tax credit was nearly eliminated during tax reform in 2017. But thanks to coordinated advocacy efforts the tax credit is still in place, with a provision that the 20% credit be taken over a five-year period. Arkansas is one of 39 states with a state historic tax credit program that can be used in conjunction with the Federal Historic Tax Credit. The Arkansas Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit is a 25% credit on the costs of rehabilitating a certified historic building within designated per-project caps — a maximum of $400,000 in credits for an income-producing property and a maximum of $25,000 in credits on an owner-occupied building. On April 22, Governor 10 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

Hutchinson signed Act 840 into law. This legislation improved the state historic tax credit by increasing the annual statewide cap from $4 million to $8 million per fiscal year, extending the program sunset to 2037 and supporting the personnel who administer the program. The expansion of the annual cap represents years of advocacy efforts and the first increase since the state historic tax credit program was created in 2009. Historic tax credits are often a critical piece of project financing, making the availability of more credits per year essential to keep projects moving. One or two successful historic rehabilitation projects can spur the revitalization of an entire downtown or neighborhood. Located at 340 Central Ave. in downtown Hot Springs, the 1913 Thompson Building was designed by architect George R. Mann to house a pharmacy and physicians’ offices. As the years went by, the first floor stayed in use as retail while the upper floors sat vacant and deteriorated. The building was included on Preserve Arkansas’s Most Endangered Places list in 2014, along with all of downtown


NOVO STUDIO

Hot Springs, following the tragic Majestic Hotel fire. Later that year, TKZ LLC bought and rehabilitated the building with the help of federal and state historic tax credits. It is now The Waters Hotel, a 62-room boutique hotel with restaurant, lounge and sundry shop. The project was completed in February 2017 at a total cost of $6.9 million. Federal and state historic tax credits provided $1.8 million and $109,000 in equity, respectively (this was before the per-project cap for income-producing properties was increased to $400,000 in credits). The project created 50 jobs, and The Waters Hotel now has an average annual payroll of $1.2 million. Rehabilitated buildings also boost property values, which benefits the community at large. In the case of The Waters Hotel, which was reassessed soon after the project’s completion, the annual property tax bill went from $4,100 to $57,000. Downtown Hot Springs has prospered in the last five years, with additional historic tax credit projects completed on Bathhouse Row — both the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and the Hotel Hale — as well as numerous projects in the Ouachita Avenue Historic District. Downtown Batesville is also experiencing a renaissance thanks to its Main Street program and a few key rehabilitation projects. Opened in 1940, the Melba Theater at 115 W. Main St. was one of Arkansas’s first Cinemascope theaters. By 2015, the Melba had deteriorated and suffered extensive water damage. It was on the verge of closing for good when it was purchased by two local couples, Joe and Janelle Shell and Adam and Mandi Curtwright. They restored the theater with the help of federal and state historic tax credits. The Melba Theater has enjoyed tremendous success since reopening in August 2016 and has acted as a catalyst for the revitalization of Batesville’s Commercial Historic District. With a total project cost of $650,000, the Melba Theater had nearly $500,000 in qualified rehabilitation expenses (expenses that qualify for historic tax credit purposes). This earned the project almost $100,000 in federal historic tax credits and $125,000 in state historic tax credits (before the per-project cap increase for income-producing projects). The project created 16 permanent jobs and brought new life to downtown through special movie promotions and events. Since the Melba was renovated, The Royal on Main, a boutique hotel, and Stella’s Brick Oven Pizzeria and Bistro have each opened in historic buildings rehabilitated with the help of historic tax credits. These historic tax credit projects spurred additional public and private investment, including the Independence County Library’s outstanding renovation of the historic Barnett Building on Main Street as its new home and the construction of Maxfield Park on a vacant lot between Main Street and Poke Bayou with the help of a generous bequest from Anne Strahl and private donations. All of these improvements support existing businesses and attract new ones to the downtown area. Historic tax credits are also a valuable tool for neighborhood revitalization. The historic tax credit encourages owners to maintain their historic properties and retain the characterdefining features that create rich streetscapes. Rehabilitating existing buildings means no new streets or other infrastructure are required. Often, original building materials can be reused, cutting down on waste. Those refurbished urban residential neighborhoods are often within walking distance to commercial districts, providing a steady stream of foot traffic for businesses. Take Fort Smith’s oldest neighborhood as an example. Over the past five years, Justin Skinner and his company, Historical Holdings, redeveloped five vacant properties in Fort Smith’s Belle Grove Historic District. As a resident of the district, Skinner has an obvious passion for restoring Belle Grove and transforming decrepit properties into comfortable homes. Together, these five projects have created 11 new dwelling units and were awarded $460,000 in state historic tax credits and more than $360,000 in

The Samter-McGinty House, Fort Smith

ON APRIL 22, GOVERNOR HUTCHINSON SIGNED ACT 840 INTO LAW. THIS LEGISLATION IMPROVED THE STATE HISTORIC TAX CREDIT BY INCREASING THE ANNUAL STATEWIDE CAP FROM $4 MILLION TO $8 MILLION PER FISCAL YEAR, EXTENDING THE PROGRAM SUNSET TO 2037 AND SUPPORTING THE PERSONNEL WHO ADMINISTER THE PROGRAM. THE EXPANSION OF THE ANNUAL CAP REPRESENTS YEARS OF ADVOCACY EFFORTS AND THE FIRST INCREASE SINCE THE STATE HISTORIC TAX CREDIT PROGRAM WAS CREATED IN 2009. federal historic tax credits. The Samter-McGinty House at 410 N. Seventh St. is the company’s most recent project. The house was built in 1897 for Louis and Sara Samter, parents of noted author Thyra Samter Winslow. After it sat vacant for more than 10 years, Historical Holdings bought and rehabilitated it to serve as two market-rate housing units. The project created 10 to 13 full-time jobs for 12 months. Plus, the occupants of these new housing units are within walking distance to restaurants, bars and shops on Garrison Avenue. Rachel Patton is the executive director of Preserve Arkansas, the statewide nonprofit advocate for historic preservation. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 11


REVITALIZATION How to build better neighborhoods.

TIM HURSLEY

BY JONATHAN OPITZ

1424 South Main, Little Rock

T

he difference between revitalization and gentrification is not always apparent or easy to discern; most people use the words interchangeably. Revitalization should be a wonderful and glorious process by which an area of the city witnesses actions imbibing and imbedding new life and vitality. Gentrification should be a scary, disgusting and dishonest practice where the poor are displaced and disenfranchised by the wealthy as they take over a neighborhood and remake it in their own image and impose their tastes, beliefs and values. The journey of most city neighborhoods is a meandering and winding path that is marked by mountains and valleys of prosperity and decline accompanied and beset by gerrymandering boundaries, overlays, zones and manmade impositions of dividing lines. It is in these moments and actions of division that the true intent is captured, how our highways, streets, train tracks and fences have been used with great power to dictate and decide which neighborhoods thrive and which languish. It’s time that we learn from these past mistakes and remove barriers and strive to make neighborhoods and communities that are inclusive and inviting for all. But how? A valuable step in the process to establishing the difference between revitalization and gentrification is determining the type 12 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

of power making the decisions. The type of power we should be striving for is the “Power With” or shared power. It’s in this environment of collaboration and inclusion that we can create vibrant neighborhoods that have affordable, low-income and rentcontrolled housing mixed with modest middle-class single-family or multigenerational homes, duplexes, triplexes and apartment buildings and a smattering of more affluent homes. It is in this melting pot that we can attract all sizes and scales of businesses to allow for bustling main streets in our urban areas. The power that we need to steer away from is the “Power Over,” the one that has been controlling the decisions of the downtowns of our state for a long time with domination and coercion. It all goes back to the old saying, “If you are not at the table, you are probably on the menu.” We need to empower our neighborhoods to be diverse, because it is in this diversity we can all grow, learn and flourish. Another force that we must contend with in our struggles for revitalization is movement. Transportation has been an important factor in how our cities have developed and how they will be redeveloped. For far too long our streets have been widened to help cars go faster or to provide more room for parking, all at the cost of the pedestrian experience. If we want revitalization, we


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AMR ARCHITECTS RENDERING

Parking Deck 101 Study, Little Rock

have to consciously treat vehicles differently. We cannot bisect neighborhoods or eradicate business districts with highways. Instead of thinking how we can get a car through our city as quickly as possible, we need to focus on how to restitch our urban fabric to allow pedestrians to walk safely between services, amenities and attractions. In most mid-size to large cities, the goal should be to not need a car to take advantage of and engage our neighborhoods. If our public multimodal transportations and sidewalks were so great that owning a car was actually viewed as a nuisance, it would help us get a better grip on what our density and diversity could and should really be. If we cared half as much about affordable housing as we do parking lots, the problem could be solved quicker, but that will require us to walk more than two blocks from where we park our cars. Probably the biggest issue we face in the battle between revitalization and gentrification is our current housing shortage. In December 2020, it was estimated nationally that we only have a 1.9-month supply of homes, the lowest on record. Of course, like most things in this world, if there is a limited supply of something, it only causes the prices to rise. This of course further complicates the issue of affordable housing when combined with our gluttonous behavior toward housing size. From 1950 to 2015 we saw the average single-family house continuously grow from 950 square feet to 2,467 square feet on average, up almost 260%. Over that same time the average family size has actually decreased from 3.54 people to 3.15 people per family, 11% smaller. The average home value in 1950 was $7,400 compared to $295,300 in June of 2020. The only way we can combat these massive external forces and get the most out of our existing infrastructure is with density. To achieve this level of density it will require an adjustment in our standard housing product types and lot sizes. To not gentrify neighborhoods we’re going to need smaller housing products that better distribute land costs, generate more tax revenue and locate people closer together. This will mean bringing back 14 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

housing types that have not as frequently been built, and in some cases zoning has made them difficult, if not impossible, to build. Housing types like mixed-use buildings with both short and longterm rentals and commercial, brownstones, live-works, duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes, apartment buildings, tiny home developments, detached secondary structures on single-family lots, and low-income housing developments all working in unison to create cost-effective options within walking distance of schools, churches, restaurants and other amenities and all with drastically reduced footprints and square footages. Before you decide if a new urban project is revitalization or gentrification I hope you’ll use these following questions as a litmus test. Is the building located on the sidewalk without a sea of parking in front of the building? Does the sidewalk have benches, planters and outdoor seating for public use? Does the project have more trees than the minimum the city requires? Does the building have smaller residential and commercial spaces in an attempt to keep the cost of spaces lower and more affordable? Does the building offer services, amenities or business that everyone in the neighborhood can afford to use? Does the building fit the context of the neighborhood, is it similar in height, have similar materials, have a similar vibe to the counterpart buildings? Did the project have community meetings, go in front of neighborhood committees and commissions, or get community and neighbor buy-in and support? Was everyone in the neighborhood given the ability to make their voice heard about the project? Did this project renovate an existing building or add more density to a site that was vacant or in disrepair? Does this project add to the walkability and pedestrian experience of the neighborhood? If the answer is “yes” to most of these questions you’re looking at a revitalization project. If most of the answers were “no,” you’re probably looking at a project that was created with “Power Over” and it will not be the catalyst for growth and change that we need to see.


URBANISM: LESSONS FROM THE PAST BY KWENDECHE

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rowing up in Little Rock, especially during my early teen years, I was quite conscious of the overall makeup of our close-knit neighborhood. It encompassed approximately six city blocks centered around Stephens Elementary School, what we called the “West End.” I knew most of my neighbors — their full names, where they worked, their daily routines. I knew the best sources for inspiration, encouragement and sugary treats. Mrs. Collier had the largest bowl of candy imaginable, always available when she was on her front porch but only if we greeted her in a proper manner. We all knew the “vegetable man” who marketed fresh vegetables from the back of his pickup truck. Mr. and Mrs. Pitts across from my house never patronized him as they had their own world-class organic vegetable garden in their spacious backyard. From his porch, Mr. Pitts regaled us with endless stories about his time working on the railroad. Even more enthralling were the Calderlike sculptures he sometimes created using kitchen forks stuck onto a wooden branch. There was also the rag man selling and buying used cloth for household use. He came around on a weekly basis, slowly circling the neighborhood in a stretched sedan, his heavy raspy voice calling out “rags ... rags.” We rarely witnessed much drama: no major fires, no gunfire (not even on New Year’s Eve), nor any significant disruptions of our almost daily explorations throughout the hilly surroundings. The tragic disintegration of an Air Force jet passing over our neighborhood in 1960 was the biggest, most-talked-about event for many months. Less dramatic but equally significant was the day we got polio vaccines (soaked onto a sugar cube) at Stephens Elementary School one Sunday afternoon. I recall as well the one and only snowball fight with our white neighbors on the south side of 20th Street (now Charles Bussey Ave.), a spontaneous, joyful reaction to one of the heaviest snowfalls in Little Rock history. No one won the fight. Someone did, however, call the police, perhaps because it was too unusual or unacceptable for black and white kids to have such fun chucking hardened snowballs across the well-established boundary between our segregated neighborhoods. I have good memories of my childhood, including the news channel helicopter crash, the war games in the alley using wooden chair legs as machine guns, our sandlot football games, the Halloween pranks, riding our new bicycles on a snowy Christmas day, Saturday morning trips to See’s Variety Store on 13th Street, dodgeball, Momma’s tuna fish sandwiches with Guy’s Potato Chips, two-for-a-penny ginger cookies from Mr. Heard’s Grocery Store washed down with red Kool-Aid or Barq’s Root Beer and the successful completion of my first design/build project — a tree house in our backyard, a comforting, concealed retreat to contemplate my next adventure. As I look back and reflect on that neighborhood as it stands today, I’m saddened by how it has changed. Vacant lots and boarded-up houses line the once vibrant streets. Today, the nearest food market to my old neighborhood is in Hillcrest. See’s Variety Store is a vacant lot. Aday’s Drug Store is a police station parking

lot. What happened? It appears to me that America retreated after the civil rights movement. The opposition to change brought about a new multilaned highway (I-630, the Wilbur D. Mills Expressway) that created a significant barrier. Its route conveniently bypassed McArthur Park but completely devastated the West Ninth Street Black business district. Today’s I-630 continues to be a barrier for change, given its expansion and those dreadful looking highway noise barriers. To an out-of-town visitor traveling by car south on Mississippi Street, the massive backside of the barrier is uninviting and totally out of scale with the neighborhood the barriers are purported to help. And the graffiti artists have already shared their creations on them. Such a waste of public funds for a wall that might only slightly decrease the decibel levels for residents closest to it versus contributing to a future revitalization project in a much-needed neighborhood to the south.

“AMERICA RETREATED AFTER THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. THE OPPOSITION TO CHANGE BROUGHT ABOUT A NEW MULTILANED-HIGHWAY (I-630, THE WILBUR D. MILLS EXPRESSWAY) THAT CREATED A SIGNIFICANT BARRIER. ITS ROUTE CONVENIENTLY BYPASSED MCARTHUR PARK BUT COMPLETELY DEVASTATED THE WEST NINTH STREET BLACK BUSINESS DISTRICT.” Speaking of funding, the other highway expansion project on the east side is under construction after much debate. It will more than likely result in a concrete pad like the one in Katy, Texas, and will suck up funding that should have been redirected for revitalization efforts throughout the city. Gentrification in Brooklyn, New York, or Oakland, California, versus Little Rock looks dramatically different. We don’t have the population density, mass transit systems and distinct cultures/ ethnicities that likely fuel segregation and animosity among people who are in closer physical proximity. New residents migrating to more established areas need to accept and respect the long-held values maintained by the overall neighborhood. Yes, change is welcome, but it must be mutual and encompass all who might be impacted. An effective and rewarding revitalization of this entire city must involve a complete makeover of our neighborhoods, including new and restored housing units; bike-friendly/walkable and ADAaccessible modes of pedestrian circulation; a de-emphasis on carbon-heavy modes of transportation; enhanced public safety, including police who live in our communities; and the elimination of food deserts, including the introduction of a structured agrarian society where our fresh fruits and vegetables are produced on our land rather than shipped in from California, Texas, Florida and Mexico (except for the avocados). Kwendeche is an architect and artist in Little Rock. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 15


ART INSTITUTIONS FUEL THE CREATIVE ECONOMY AND ADVANCE EQUITY

TIM HURSLEY

BY LENORE SHOULTS

The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, Pine Bluff

16 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

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rkansas’s art renaissance is unfolding across the state with some entities sprouting from new terrain and some refashioned from urban fabric. The building itself, the art within and the interaction between the institution and the community contribute to, and sometimes define, quality of place. The days of elitism are gone, with today’s art institutions functioning as catalysts across cultural, economic and social-equity sectors. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Momentary in Bentonville, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock and the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff exemplify the redevelopment potential that comes with an art institution in the neighborhood. Northwest Arkansas has seen the financial and quality-of-life impact that landed it as No. 7 on Money’s Best Places to Live 2019. Little Rock citizens voted overwhelmingly to support the expansion of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, and donors have exceeded the initial fundraising goals, all resounding indicators of devotion to this venerable art institution. Pine Bluff’s Arts & Science Center continues its small but mighty tradition with the renovation and transformation of two historic


buildings adjacent to the museum into The ARTSpace on Main and ART WORKS, thereby completing the model block on Main Street in Pine Bluff. The creative economy, measured through national arts and cultural production data, accounts for about $2.9 billion annually in Arkansas. Additionally, construction and renovation projects pump millions of dollars through local and state economies. Ongoing operations are largely funded by tax revenue and the generosity of individual and foundation donors. But, according to data from the American Alliance of Museums, tax revenues generated by museums and nonprofits are five times greater than all levels of government funding. Art institutions provide an anchor, with money flowing into restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, music venues, festivals, galleries and boutiques. Economics and quality of life entwine in vibrant communities. According to Kalene Griffith of Visit Bentonville, the arts, cycling and culinary scenes drive tourism and enhance daily life for residents. The free cultural access, healthy environment and family friendliness resonate with visitors who consistently ask about relocating to the area. As an example of growth connected to investments in the arts, Griffith points out that before Crystal Bridges opened, there were two restaurants on the Bentonville square. There are now 16 in downtown, plus food trucks. The Momentary in Bentonville further enhances regional quality of place with its inviting space for contemporary art. The repurposed former cheese factory is located on a site associated with the history of indigenous peoples. Osage Nation artist Addie Roanhorse was commissioned to create its first artwork. Pivoting from ancient references to technology, Visit Bentonville’s Digital Public Art Map showcases more than 130 public art pieces, including murals, sculptures and neon. Griffith

is a fan of public art as a driver of the experiences that people are seeking, whether on foot, cycling or driving. And there’s plenty of data to suggest that art is an economic driver, as well. In a 2018 University of Arkansas master’s thesis, “The Effects of Crystal Bridges in Downtown Revitalization of Bentonville, Arkansas, in The Last Decade,” Korab Vranovci writes, “The process of revitalization not only brought substantial economic opportunities to the city, but it shaped the city’s culture and its identity.” Even after taking into account Walmart’s headquarters in the city, “… we can conclude that Crystal Bridges is the most influential factor in the revitalization process of Bentonville.” In Little Rock, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will open in 2022. The building design is welcoming and transparent. The renovation features state-of-the-art exhibition and programming space that will allow the museum to reclaim its spot as a leading regional cultural institution while serving as a cultural living room for its neighbors. Executive director Victoria Ramirez has spoken about the dynamic nature of 21st century museums as community gathering places for inspiration, learning and celebration. This is echoed by tourism industry professionals who recently had a sneak peek at the space and are excited because, according to Gina Gemberling of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, the arts are a big part of tourism. Here in Arkansas, both visitors and residents benefit because art is free, accessible and relevant. Scott Whitely Carter, public affairs and creative economy adviser for Little Rock, emphasizes the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts’ triple impact of economics, equity and culture. The construction project kept people employed during the pandemic recession and, when open in 2022, will lead to job growth in tourism, the arts and associated businesses. According to Carter, equity is a top priority

Van Tilbury, LEED AP President & CEO

501.661.1646 vtilbury@eastharding.com

President, Board of Trustees Member, Building Committee

Historic Renovation Experts Committed to the arts in Arkansas www.eastharding.com VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 17


TIM HURSLEY

for the museum and for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. A former auto parts store adjacent to The ARTSpace on The smallest of the ventures mentioned here is mighty in terms Main will soon open as the ART WORKS. This space features a of social equity impact and, in full disclosure, is dear to this author’s black box theater and studio apartments for artist residencies. heart, as I worked there for almost a decade. Leaders at the Arts The theater, named for late beloved theater advocate Adam B. & Science Center in Pine Bluff transformed an adjacent historic Robinson Jr., accommodates 65 people. Apartments include living building purchased in 1999 to house costumes and scenery into accommodations and studio space for artists to advance their own today’s ARTSpace on Main. This adaptive reuse created 11,000 work while also working with local schools and the community. square feet of flexible space serving the community with art To become forces of revitalization, art institutions first need classes, an art gallery and funding. Miller credits the a sales venue for regional Windgate Foundation, artists, as well as a pottery the Kline Family studio, dance/yoga Foundation, the Adam B. studio and outside ART Robinson Jr. Endowment Yard. Additional creative and Mid-American Arts endeavors are supported Alliance for contributions in the culinary arts area, to the renovation. She tinkering makerspace, also credits the foresight and wood, scenery and of those who came before. costume shops. Over the years, HVAC, Arts & Science Center new roofing and other programming has long maintenance kept the focused on the intersection buildings that would of art and technology become Pine Bluff’s arts through exhibitions, classes, spaces from collapse, workshops, summer camps demolition or fire — the and after-school programs. fate of so many other The new ARTSpace inbuildings that were once cludes a computer lab for part of the city’s stunning learning coding, animation inventory of historic game development, and buildings. AutoCAD classes for The adaptive reuse students. Executive Director of The ARTSpace on Rachel Miller described Main represents the the overarching theme of expanded role of today’s ARTS x 3 as an investment accredited museums in the community through to include not only art relevant programming, collections and relevant workshops and exhibitions. programming, but also to The ARTSpace on support the social fiber of Main is also home to the a community. Critically Pine Bluff Advertising & important to ARTSpace Promotion Commission’s ARTSpace on Main and ART WORKS on Main, Pine Bluff and ART WORKS is the visitors center. Executive idea that this reimagining Director Sheri Storie indicated that the visitors center is perfectly is, “Not just on Main Street but it is a building interacting with Main situated for walk-in traffic, hosting bus tours and sharing regional Street,” Miller said. It was also a top priority to save the historic history due to the new library across the street, and the University building. AMR Architects was selected for its vision for reuse and of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Economic Research and Development adaptation. Jonathan Opitz, one of the project’s architects, said it Center next door. was vital to “breathe life into existing buildings [that make up] the Further exemplifying art institutions as catalysts for economic urban fabric.” and social change, local heritage tourism was originally sparked When the American Alliance of Museums made its rein the main museum as part of the Cultural Crossroads series. accreditation site visit to the Arts & Science Center in 2016, they Miller brought together scholars of regional cultures and Jimmy asked, “What would happen if this museum ceased to exist?” Cunningham, executive director of the Delta Rhythm & Bayous The positive community outcry led to an accreditation letter Alliance, to participate each year. The Runaway Blues is an exhibition proclaiming the Arts & Science Center to be “… an example of a currently in the visitors center that draws on Cunningham’s small and mighty museum serving its community with profound encyclopedic knowledge of local blues and African American history. impact.” From the dollars that pass through a community to the The exhibition interprets the forceful action runaways undertook aesthetics of new or renovated buildings, these art institutions to gain liberty. Exploding stereotypes of the enslaved as passive serve heart and soul while advancing the quality of life from the recipients of emancipation, the exhibit features artists’ depictions Ozarks to the Delta. of freedom seekers from Jefferson County and the Delta Lowlands. Lenore Shoults, Ph.D., is a creative economy advocate and National tourism trends prove that travelers are seeking the truth adviser for Arkansas for the Arts. even if painful, rather than glossing over the facts. 18 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021


BRIAN CHILSON

LONOKE LEADS THE CHARGE

EnelX Juicebox chargers at Flagpole Plaza in Lonoke take a break from charging electric vehicles.

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hanks to efforts spearheaded by a local volunteer, Lonoke is now the first community in the state to offer electric vehicle chargers with a grant from the nonprofit Adopt-A-Charger and Entergy. The six EnelX Juicebox chargers were installed in downtown Lonoke to much fanfare in April 2021. “I’m so excited to have the chargers up and running,” said Chris Flores, chair of the volunteer Lonoke Sustainability Action Team, which led the grassroots drive for the chargers. “I think this was a big step in making Lonoke a more connected community by allowing people to pull off the interstate to visit downtown and enjoy what our town has to offer,” Flores said. Enticing visitors and locals alike to mill around within the city center as they wait for their cars to charge is an important secondary benefit to the new chargers. Unlike with an interstate filling station or rest stop, motorists find themselves downtown, immersed in the atmosphere and flavor of the community. Flores said the chargers are already helping motorists connect with Lonoke in new ways. “I see cars plugged up to the chargers all the time,” Flores said. “In fact, the other day, I stopped and talked to a couple traveling from Arizona to Maine that stopped in Lonoke to charge. They loved

Lonoke and said they’d definitely stop by again on their way back.” Lonoke architect Ryan Biles said such encounters are spurring other planning and amenities within the community now that the chargers are bringing travelers into the city center. He noted a bicycle and pedestrian master plan is currently in the works, with technical assistance from Leesa Freasier of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ State Physical Activity & Nutrition program and planners at Crafton Tull. “This is a big story for us,” Biles said. “This collective effort represents a true step forward for building a visible, attractive and connected downtown Lonoke [while] supporting safe, sustainable transportation options across a spectrum of modes and technologies. As we have been saying, ‘Lonoke is leading the charge.’ ” Dedication ceremonies for the new chargers kicked off with an electric vehicle parade from Little Rock to Lonoke, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new stations at Flagpole Plaza. Some 90 people attended and around 25 electric vehicles rolled in the parade to Lonoke. Looking on, Biles said the new chargers are also a testament to the positive change that can be made when communities dare to think creatively. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 19


THE POWER OF PAINT

An interview with Claire Kolberg, director of The Unexpected.

COURTESY OF THE UNEXPECTED. ALL ARTWORK COPYRIGHTED BY THE ARTIST.

BY JONATHAN OPITZ

Can you describe what The Unexpected does and how you and Steve Clark were able to get things started? In 2015, Steve Clark founded a nonprofit, 64.6 Downtown, to act as a catalyst for economic development in downtown Fort Smith by inspiring and engaging the community and strategic partners through art, arts education and place-making, as well as the promotion of attractive amenities to accelerate the development of diverse commerce. Named for the number of square miles of the city at the time of its founding, 64.6 Downtown acts as a change agent within the community, working with the city, individuals and businesses to move downtown Fort Smith into an economically viable and artistically diverse community. Initiatives include Garrison Commons Park, transforming a burned-out lot into a public gathering space; Gateway Park, turning an abandoned building and underused greenspace into a welcoming plaza and park; Propelling Downtown Forward Master Plan, recipient of the 2017 Arkansas Chapter of the American Planning Association: Achievement in Comprehensive Plan Development Award; and The Unexpected, bringing urban and contemporary art, speakers and art education to Arkansas. The first Unexpected was held in 2015 and it was born out of a desire to bring what was happening 20 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

Camille Walala, Walala Pump N Go, (2019), Fort Smith


in major metropolitan areas across the globe to Fort Smith. We were fortunate enough to have developed relationships with artists who worked in this scene and learn from them what it meant from the artist’s perspective to bring art of this scale to communities, and then became interested in how the model could be applied to Fort Smith and how that might affect the community — to see unexpected art in an unexpected place. The first year we had seven artists and a student-led mural team from University of Arkansas Fort Smith, resulting in 11 artworks. At what moment in the process did you realize that you had more than just a good idea, and that it was really starting to gain traction? The first year we knew we had a good idea, but we had to convince the community. Through focused engagement with key stakeholders, we were able to sway them to support the project financially and through the use of their buildings. We were fortunate as they trusted us to complete the project with a level of quality and excellence brought by the best artists in the genre, booked through our curatorial partner Justkids. This community buy-in propelled the project’s success and enabled us to return year after year, allowing us to grow our footprint. From the iconic grain silos painted in 2016 by Guido Van Helten to our most recent partnership in fall 2020 with Bentonville’s OZ Art, bringing 13 murals to nine cities across the state, our expansion globally through our social media following further proves success. Our intention, always, was to bring the outside in, to a place the world might never look otherwise. Now we have a platform for Arkansas as an artistic and artist-friendly state where artists want to paint

accomplish this; I think it’s beneficial to the artists, too, that they have the creative freedom to conceive something original and exciting. So, while yes, what the outcome looks to be is sexy, exciting and astonishing, there are months and months of planning that go into just one of the multiple artworks we execute in The Unexpected week. Based on the initial event that took place in 2015, did you recognize the power paint has to transform how residents and visitors feel about large blank elevations? Did you know then the powerful impact the murals and installations would have on downtown development? We were very aware that we would have supporters and critics of the project. The nature of the project was to provoke — to challenge the perceptions that Fort Smith had of itself and outsiders had of Arkansas. There was another layer of challenging Fort Smith to take another look at itself, to grasp that just because things have always been the way they are doesn’t mean they need to stay that way, and further, to understand that there can be multiple uses for spaces — that the only solution isn’t to tear down and build new. Do you have a quantifiable way to measure the true impact The Unexpected has had in the revitalization efforts in downtown Fort Smith? The Unexpected is free and unticketed, so counting participants is not possible. We measure success via our social media reach and being picked up by major art magazines and blogs like Juxtapoz, designboom, My Modern Met, Widewalls and Colossal, to name a few. It’s important to us that Arkansas and Fort Smith are viewed

“OVER THE PAST DECADE, TACTICAL URBANISM HAS GROWN INTO AN INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENT INSPIRING PROJECTS ALL OVER THE GLOBE, INCLUDING SEVERAL ACROSS THE STATE OF ARKANSAS.” and create. And this is a benefit to the economy because we know the arts have major economic impact. I’m proud, too, of the local artists and artisans who provided their craft and expertise for our projects, who now have a national and international platform of their own as a result of developing relationships with visiting artists and making connections through our programs. How much of the success of The Unexpected events do you think relied on the public being astonished and amazed at what had taken place in the context, either the surprise of the location — like an alley or a feed mill — or the scale because some pieces are over 80 feet tall? With a name like The Unexpected, it’s an opportunity, but also a challenge, to bring a fresh approach to a tiring “mural festival” scene. We want our programs to inspire and catalyze not just for the sake of throwing up murals. Our footprint is intentional, bringing awareness to spaces that are underused or forgotten, considering the elements of the overall downtown master plan to enhance accessible and safe pedestrian activity, as well as the encouragement of infill of empty spaces. Each year we review our current footprint against available canvases and meet with our curator to review both established and up-and-coming artists who are innovating in the contemporary art world. We work with the team to see how we can produce something new and unique to the program. By offering a diverse lineup of canvases, we can

as art- and artist-friendly communities, and it’s a great compliment that the world has taken notice. What do you think the biggest surprise has been as you’ve continued to see the mural and installation portfolio grow in Fort Smith? Has there been an experience that has happened that would have been hard to imagine taking place in downtown Fort Smith before 2015? It’s been exciting to see the local art and culture scene grow since 2015 and to see how our program has evolved in response to that. Artists have emerged, events have formed and we are humbled to be a part of this movement in Fort Smith. In 2019, we brought French artist Alexandre Bavard and his interpretive dance performance, “Bulky.” We partnered with Western Arkansas Ballet. Bavard taught the dancers the choreography in four days, and we premiered the performance — along with site-responsive sculptures created on-site, lighting designed by Bavard and music composed by Bavard the last Saturday of The Unexpected 2019 — to a full house. It was the first time the dance premiered in the United States. It was a proud moment to bring artwork that merged genres into a complete immersive experience that felt thrilling and distinctly unique. Along with the installations and murals, The Unexpected has also hosted performances, panels, speakers and bands all over VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 21


COURTESY OF THE UNEXPECTED. ALL ARTWORK COPYRIGHTED BY THE ARTIST.

Guido Van Helten, American Heroes (2016), Fort Smith

town in various venues. Was it always your mission to show guests the potential of spaces? Did the organization always see the art and events as ways to spotlight and feature what is possible with the existing building stock in downtown Fort Smith? A great example of showing people the potential of spaces and inspiring possibility is our 10,000-square-foot takeover of the New Theatre in 2017 with legendary artist and original B-Boy Doze Green. Built in 1911, the theater played host to live talent including Shirly Temple and Will Rogers. In the 1930s, it was transformed into a single-screen movie theater. Unfortunately, the theater closed and was essentially abandoned in the 1980s when malls and multiscreen movieplexes came into fashion. We had an opportunity to reintroduce this forgotten space to the community in a way that was accessible and aspirational. Doze Green completed his 360-degree takeover with a variety of mediums, including mural, neon, graffiti and animation, along with his curated selection of music played by the Fort Smith Symphony on opening night. Here, we were able to appeal to a multigenerational audience, some who had lived in Fort Smith their entire lives and never knew the space existed, as well as individuals who remembered the last movie they saw in the theater before it closed. It was special to know we’d deepened the community’s connection to its past while advancing its future. How do you see The Unexpected evolving in the future? What, if any, opportunities have come out of the pandemic? Outdoor art that isn’t inside galleries was still very accessible and beneficial to the public; did this change the momentum or direction of The Unexpected? 22 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

In 2019, we decided to revisit what our programs would look like and planned (and later postponed due to COVID-19) a series of pop-up events for 2020 focused more intimately on social issues affecting the Fort Smith community; for example, mental health. In fall 2020 we were thrilled to partner with OZ Art out of Bentonville to bring a socially distanced program called ARkanvas (ARkanvas.com). The event focused on bringing quality artworks across the state while maintaining CDC distancing guidelines. It provided a shared experience through art while affording a sense of unity during a difficult time of socially distancing and sheltering in place. We plan to continue our social initiatives in 2021 and will continue to assess how we can make the greatest impact for arts and economic development. What advice would you have for anyone reading this that is looking for a way to generate momentum, excitement and redevelopment in their city or town? Art in public spaces has a lot of momentum in our region. My caution to anyone looking to bring large-scale artworks to their community is to understand that you get what you pay for. The art we bring is an investment, and we fund the project appropriately to ensure we bring the quality artists and artworks that The Unexpected is known for. I would rather have fewer but better quality artworks than a saturation of mediocre pieces that won’t stand the test of time. Not every artist is a muralist, so take into consideration the artist’s portfolio and previous experience. Finally, do an internal needs assessment. What do you hope to achieve with the event? What kind of canvases and spaces do you have in your city? And what existing organizations and events can maximize momentum?


PINE BLUFF REVITALIZATION EYES NEXT BOLD STEP

TAGGART ARCHITECTS

BY DWAIN HEBDA

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A rendering from Taggart Architects of the central mercantile which will support the surrounding small RETAIL incubator businesses in Pine Bluff.

ommunity officials are touting a bold new vision for a section of Pine Bluff’s downtown, a design that would radically change the way the neighborhood looks, feels and functions. The Sixth Avenue District recommendations, a collaborative vision of Go Forward Pine Bluff and Taggart Architects, is the latest step in the city’s sweeping revitalization effort. “Our original plan has 26 initiatives and, to date, we’ve completed 88% of those initiatives in the first four years,” said Ryan Watley, executive director of Go Forward Pine Bluff. “A lot of hard work has been done among our partners to get here. We are making a difference in our community and we have some exciting new things to come.” “When we first started talking with Go Forward Pine Bluff, we saw a lot of epicenters of activity were already in place throughout the downtown neighborhood,” said James Meyer, Taggart designer and project architect. “There’s the Art and Science Center, there’s the new Main Library branch. And there’s other kinds of generators; there’s City Hall, there’s the convention center. But there’s not a lot of places in between. What we talked about is working along Sixth Avenue to create a place for the people who live there to spend time.” The design calls for a variety of amenities, created for maximum function in a surprisingly small footprint of just the northern halves of two city blocks. Within this space are proposed an amphitheater, interactive fountains and a plaza, utilizing repurposed materials such as salvaged brick and granite wherever possible, and tied together with landscaping that provides green spaces and shade for events and activities. A unique feature is the food hall building with rooftop bar that doubles as a resource for budding restauranteurs. “We are taking a warehouse building and advocating creating a food incubator,” Meyer said. “Everyone says that a food truck is

a great place to start in the food service business, but it’s a really expensive first start. We wanted to take this building and make it somewhere someone can come try their new restaurant idea before they sink $20,000-$30,000 into setting up a food truck. So, we did it with a food hall vibe where you can rent a small tent, basically, and try out your concept.” The market is a similar resource. The plan proposes creating stalls from shipping containers around a central mercantile that can support small, independent businesses. “As we’re building places for people, they should be things that support companies and services that are growing, that are new, that are entrepreneurial in nature,” Meyer said. “In this way, we take the general Pine Bluffian and give them an opportunity to build something new.” Watley said having such amenities for startups is in keeping with spaces that not only play well, but work well, too. “I like how the design provides an opportunity for budding entrepreneurs to get a start through the retail market or the food hall,” he said of the plan. “Both of them can serve as incubators, and it will serve a significant need to give people access to public spaces whereby we turn side hustles into actual businesses.” The public-private project now moves to the funding phase, where Watley said the goal is to raise $6 million to $8 million to bring the plan to fruition. He said other community revival projects completed in downtown Pine Bluff in the past four years, including new streetscapes, blight remediation and building renovations, are the group’s calling card to prospective investors that Go Forward Pine Bluff means business. “You can actually feel the change in Pine Bluff. You can see it, but it’s more important that you can feel it,” Watley said. “That speaks to the progress being made through a multitude of partners. We’re just the fuel behind the steam engine. It’s very important that we work together to continue to make significant progress.” VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 23


FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How restaurants have changed their business models.

BRIAN CHILSON

BY JACK SUNDELL

The Root, Little Rock

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he coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, and a lot of things won’t change back. Faced with existential crisis, people have been forced to ask themselves what really matters: connecting (or reconnecting) with family and close friends; taking charge, often for the first time, of our physical and emotional well-being; and devoting time to latent interests like baking, chess or a musical instrument we’ve always been drawn to. Without discounting the devastation the pandemic has brought to so many, I often find myself talking about the pandemic’s silver linings: those quality-of-life improvements that we hope to maintain in the Aftertimes. My wife and I own and operate two restaurants in the SoMa neighborhood of downtown Little Rock — The Root Cafe and Mockingbird Bar & Tacos — and without a doubt this has been the most difficult period we’ve faced in the restaurant industry. Challenges like seating capacity restrictions, belligerent antimaskers and the high cost of to-go containers have become almost afterthoughts, accompanied by bigger-picture issues like the moral quandary of balancing our businesses’ financial well-being with the health and safety of our staff, as well as the simple fact that people can’t eat in a restaurant without taking their masks off. But just as in my personal life, I see silver linings for the restaurant industry — ways the pandemic has changed the business of food 24 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

service that will allow us to better serve our customers, employees and the community at large. A prime example of this is the number of restaurants now offering groceries alongside their prepared foods. Restaurants have access to a supply chain of gourmet and specialty products that are often very different from what grocery stores offer. With more people cooking at home during the pandemic, groceries simultaneously offer a new revenue stream for restaurants and a source for unique ingredients for home chefs. Both of our restaurants focus on farm-to-table sourcing; instead of placing one or two large orders with food distributors each week, we order from 25-30 local farms and producers to procure the majority of our inventory. (In full transparency, we also place small orders with distributors for items that aren’t available locally, but about 77% of our inventory is locally sourced, which ranks us in the top half of 1% for farm-to-table restaurants nationwide.) When the pandemic first hit we knew that our farmers would take weeks or months to slow down their production — you can’t tell a chicken to stop laying eggs — yet we wouldn’t need nearly as much as we normally did, due to an immediate and precipitous drop in sales. We quickly pivoted to offer farm-to-table groceries as a way to help our suppliers sell the products they had grown or produced especially for our restaurants, things like fresh strawberries, farm


“I SEE SILVER LININGS FOR THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY — WAYS THE PANDEMIC HAS CHANGED THE BUSINESS OF FOOD SERVICE THAT WILL ALLOW US TO BETTER SERVE OUR CUSTOMERS, EMPLOYEES AND THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE.”

­— JACK SUNDELL

fresh eggs, pasture-raised meats, organically grown spring mix and kale and gourmet mushrooms. To me this is a win-win-win situation: Our customers get access to high-quality local food that’s normally only available in Little Rock at a weekend farmers market; our restaurant makes an additional sale and spends more money with a local grower; and the farmer receives extra revenue to put back into their small, diversified farm. Farm-to-table groceries have become such an important part of what we do that we’ve started plans to build a 500-square-foot micro-grocery store on the concrete pad at the corner of 15th and Main, which will allow us to continue offering this service once we go back to full dine-in service at the restaurant. It may have taken a pandemic for us to start, but farm-to-table groceries are a perfect way for us to expand on our mission of building community through local food. A second area where the restaurant industry has shifted is the expansion of delivery and takeout options. Chief among these in my opinion is the rise of third-party delivery platforms like Door Dash and Bite Squad, through which customers place an order with a restaurant, pay for the order and have it delivered directly to their doorstep. The National Restaurant Association estimates that in the second half of 2020, 41% of all American adults, including almost two-thirds of Gen Z adults and millennials, ordered delivery through a third-party platform. For a business owner, this is a level of consumer demand that is impossible to ignore. Pre-pandemic, we had always avoided using third-party platforms for various reasons — clunky integration with most point-of-sale systems, exorbitant fees and lack of control over the customer experience once the food leaves the restaurant. Now, however, rather than a passing fad, third-party delivery seems to be offering a service that customers want and are willing to pay for, and because it’s too economically inefficient for most small restaurants to handle delivery in-house, third-party delivery is likely here to stay. Another takeout/delivery change specific to Arkansas is the recent signing into law of Act 703, which will allow restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails to-go. At the beginning of the pandemic, Governor Hutchinson signed an executive order that let restaurants sell beer and wine in sealed containers (cans and bottles of beer, bottles of wine), which helped a lot of food and beverage establishments support the beverage side of their business. As is often the case, the cultural devolution trumpeted by evangelical fearmongers failed to materialize, and businesses and customers are both better off for the change. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board says it will take 60-90 days, perhaps longer, to put the new law into effect, but it will be another permanent change going forward. A third major and lasting development in restaurants will be a continued shift toward more outdoor dining. For one, there are a lot of people who may never feel comfortable dining inside a packed restaurant again, especially if they have unvaccinated kids or a chronic health condition, and the industry is already adapting

to accommodate this demographic. But more than that, people have discovered a sense of joy in sharing outdoor areas with their community, and this is a change we should all embrace. Being outside, whether it’s in our front yard at home, waiting for ice cream in front of Loblolly Creamery, or shopping at the Bernice Garden Farmers Market, connects us with our neighbors, keeps us caught up on current events, and leads to important conversations about community improvement and revitalization. In June of 2020, together with the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, I helped develop and launch the SoMa Outdoor Dining Room, a setup of tents, tables and chairs that serves as an outdoor eating space for patrons getting takeout from any of the neighborhood’s restaurants. As people eased back into socializing, seeing folks they hadn’t seen since the pandemic started, I kept hearing the same refrain: Little Rock needs to have outdoor spaces like this outside of the pandemic — places where you can drink a beer or margarita outside, where you can listen to a band or play trivia with friends, where kids can run around a little bit without their parents feeling bad about it. While the SoMa Outdoor Dining Room will likely be gone after the pandemic, we’re making plans at Mockingbird to add a front patio on the Main Street sidewalk, and other restaurants in SoMa have similar aspirations. Indeed, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 signed by President Biden in March, aims to help restaurants bounce back from the devastating losses of the pandemic and specifically names “Construction of Outdoor Seating” under the program’s allowable use of funds. There are always subtle changes happening in the restaurant industry, as in almost any business sector, but the pandemic has been a time of more seismic, foundational change. The past year has forced businesses everywhere to adapt and get creative in order to survive. We’ve all heard that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and there’s no inspiration to change like the threat of extinction. In addition, besides just the need to change, the pandemic has furnished an ideal opportunity for businesses that wanted to change something to try new things without the fear of publicly falling on their face, and this has led to a willingness to think (and act) outside the box in a way that many businesses are normally reluctant to do. Going into the summer, there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic that the pandemic is winding down, which makes it time to start thinking about the new normal. Changes we made out of necessity that no longer make sense will fall by the wayside faster than you can say “fully vaccinated.” However, a lot of changes are here to stay — things we never knew we were missing, or a right decision that it took a global pandemic to give us the courage to make. I, for one, am hoping that the silver linings of COVID-19’s very dark cloud will soon become the clear blue skies of a better and brighter future for all of us. Jack Sundell is a restaurateur in Little Rock. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 25


THE HAYWOOD

Delayed by the coronavirus, it’s finally time for a stay at the new El Dorado hotel.

TIM HURSLEY

BY RAY NOLAN

The Haywood Hotel, Murphy Arts District, El Dorado

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n January 2019, a press release announcing the groundbreaking of The Haywood hotel in El Dorado said it would open in April 2020. Our development team had every reason to believe the opening would be on time or close to it. From bad weather to material shortages, the reality of our industry is that projects inevitably get delayed. The Haywood opened six months later than scheduled, in October 2020. The coronavirus pandemic had shut things down. Manufacturers had been furloughed, and shipping came in stops and starts. Our architects and general contractor, the subcontractors, the vendors, an obsessive interiors duo charged with the arduous task of making The Haywood, in words taken from its official brand book, “a modern take on southern life … sleek, vibrant … an unparalleled alternative to the conventional hotel stay …”— all these people, despite never slowing down, couldn’t stop things from slowing down. The Haywood is four stories and 70 rooms, a rectangular, metal-clad building with a wraparound, ceiling-fanned front patio, landscaped courtyard and pool, and The Well — a fullservice bar of inlaid marble tile, stained wood, sink-down couches and side tables to put your drink on. Or drinks. It’s located a block off El Dorado’s historic downtown


square, in the heart of the multimillion-dollar Murphy Arts District (MAD). Phase 1 of MAD, completed in 2017, includes an 8,000-seat outdoor amphitheater, farmers market and 2-acre “destination playscape” for kids. The opening of a cool hotel — distinct, different — in El Dorado was a story MAD hoped to tell in 2020. Then COVID-19 hit, then the delay. The tireless efforts of the crew working on the hotel continued. But lockdowns meant more frequent call-ins for anyone who didn’t have to be on-site. Instead of walking corridors and guest rooms in hard hats, we relied more and more often on emailed jpegs — of those corridors and guest rooms, of the coffered lobby ceiling, of the moody fireplace den and the first-floor wood-paneled exterior — to visually track our progress. It was OK, but nothing like being there. Looking back, this was equally due to location and surroundings as to the building itself. The vacant downtown parking lot on which The Haywood was built had been pursued intentionally by the hotel’s owners — if not that site, then another nearby. The hotel had to be downtown or nowhere, connected to El Dorado’s award-winning Main Street community — to its boutiques and delis, its corner jewelry store, its corner bar and corner coffee shop — the city had made a priority to beautify and preserve. To any eye, downtown is El Dorado’s centerpiece. So there it was, the centerpiece, as The Haywood opened quietly, without ceremony or fanfare. Well over a year before, in their presentation to The Haywood ownership, our architects described their approach to the hotel’s design: Think forward while nodding to the past — and to the present. There were slides of old tin barns alongside sharp-cornered buildings with glass storefronts, a mixing pot of gumbo layering all the character and traits that make El Dorado unique. It was possible that everything could happen together, that downtowns, at their best, are urban hubs, almost state fair-like with energy — tight quarters, shared interests and the slight but real anticipation that something unexpected, or at least a little different, might happen. Now, looking back, that presentation yielded something remarkably true to form. And the delay caused by the pandemic gave everyone who watched The Haywood being built a chance to see more of it, or at least visualize more of it from their quarantine bunkers — a fresh addition to downtown El Dorado’s skyline, to the old, repurposed beautiful brick buildings, circa 1930s and 1940s, that surrounded it. This juxtaposition worked the way it was supposed to. I made a point of staying at The Haywood the second night it opened. I had drinks at The Well. I watched people enter, order their own drinks and become patrons. I recognized someone who worked for MAD, a local, and we spoke for a while. “It’s a great place. I hope it fills up once this craziness goes away.” Those who helped with The Haywood, those who pushed for it to happen and helped it come out of the ground, are surely biased. But this person was right. The Haywood is a great place, connected to the community and its people. If you haven’t been there, go. And if you have, it’s time for another stay. Ray Nolan is senior vice president of development at Newmark Moses Tucker. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 27


THE EVOLVING OFFICE Workplace considerations post-pandemic.

KAREN E. SEGRAVE | KES PHOTO

BY ZAC CERRATO

Rock Dental Offices, Little Rock

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he COVID-19 pandemic will serve as a capstone to more than two decades of cultural change in the workplace. As we emerge to find a new normal, companies that identify and leverage the positive aspects of these changes will have massive competitive advantages. Companies that don’t will fall behind. Let’s take a look at the history of office spaces and the efforts to change them over the decades, and then forecast what is on the horizon. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, white-collar workspaces existed inside the four walls of a company’s building, and the design thinking that organized the space within was fundamentally about status and the maximization of real estate. Moving forward, different philosophies now drive workspace design. Employers are more likely to seek out buildings that maximize natural elements that bring people joy, with plants, natural sunlight and views of the moving, robust cities in which we live. Likewise, interiors feature local art and décor that celebrate the communities in which businesses exist. Going even further, companies will begin to recognize that giving their staff access to outdoor workspaces and the panoply of rich work settings in urban landscapes increases both their well-being and their productivity. One of the first efforts to change the status quo was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Co. headquarters. It was designed with a 76-foottall light court to provide natural sunlight to all of the floors. 28 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

Unfortunately, the Larkin Co. still organized its staff into tightly packed rows of desks to maintain a culture of “supervision and surveillance” over work that employees described as “numbing.” Another pioneering figure was Herman Miller designer Robert Probst, who invented Action Office in 1964. The kit of modular furnishings included features such as tackboards for individualization, and for each employee one sitting and one standing desk. It also included a variety of collaboration stations, meeting tables and private phone booths. The forward-thinking design was “about movement” and not “keeping people in place.” It was another Herman Miller designer, George Nelson, who anticipated that planners would use the system not for freedom, but to “cram in a maximum number of bodies.” By the end of the 20th century, the brilliant system designed to liberate workers would be bastardized to create those work milieus lampooned in movies like “Office Space” or cartoons like “Dilbert.” The millennial generation began to enter the workforce in the 21st century. They brought revolutionary values that championed time and experiences above money and status. In 2020, Generation Z represented one quarter of the entire global workforce. The penultimate culture changers, Gen Z takes the values and the technological skills that millennials championed to a new level. The technologies that both generations were brought up with are strong egalitarian forces generally, so the specific expectations


these generations have brought to the workplace clash with the status-based model prevalent for so long. Frank Gehry’s MPK20 Facebook headquarters was a noble attempt to adapt workspaces to these 21st century changes. It featured rooftop gardens and urban art and sat Mark Zuckerberg alongside the other 2,800 engineers in one massive warehouse room. In general, the open office concept earnestly aimed to fix much of what was wrong with office design. It can deliver more natural light to more people and can foster collaboration, trust and egalitarianism. But, too zealous to reduce the private offices and high-walled cubicles (symbols of so much that was wrong before), open office concepts still relegated employees to a specific work setting inside the four walls of the company’s building — or in the case of Facebook, inside the company’s campus. Missing from the open office concept was the freedom to move and find private spaces for quiet focus; or even spaces in the outdoors or the culturally rich and creatively engaging spaces of an urban landscape. In many ways, the pandemic has served as a turning point for organizations. As we return to our office spaces, we have an opportunity for change. Here are some of the most critical things organizations are considering as they move forward in a postpandemic world. Embracing the virtual-communication tools honed by the tech industry and already used by Gen Z outside of work will have an enormous impact. Gone are the days when companies relegated high-tech communication equipment to one large, fancy conference room for executives. The best companies are prioritizing getting high-quality communication tech into the hands of all staff. In the years just preceding the pandemic, workplace designers had already begun espousing the benefits of unassigned, “free address” office design. Smart companies will break free from each employee having only a single assigned space that they are confined to. Instead, they will provide a variety of work settings, including leaving the office altogether, as options throughout the day and work week. The smartest companies will also develop ways to capitalize on natural light, outdoor views and workspaces in an urban environment that invigorates the individual much like its known to invigorate communities, maximizing exposure to arts, restaurants, shops and parks. While many have seen the benefit of remote work, we have also experienced its limits. Zoom fatigue, anyone? In-person interaction is the most effective way to form work relationships and develop a strong company culture. The best companies will also be intentional about designating group meeting spaces outside of individual work stations. These community areas won’t shy away from infusing human personality and the use of art and culture that connects employees to their local community. Companies cannot go back to pre-21st-century design driven by status or maximizing physical real estate. They must even avoid designs like the open-office concept that still dictates the kind of workspace that all employees will have. They should embrace designs that maximize space and optional settings. They should connect employees with nature and their local culture. They should empower employees with the tools and technology they need to get the job done. This all leads to happy employees and healthy work culture, but it is also practical and profitable. In the end, it will be these companies that outshine the rest. Sarah Hickey contributed to this article. Zac Cerrato is an owner and principal at Evo Business Environments in Little Rock. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 29


VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE

And the stuff of healthy, enduring neighborhoods. BY ADAM DAY

BRIAN CHILSON

VVVVVVVV: xxxxxxxx.

The New Gallery, Live/Work, Little Rock

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he neighborhoods of the past are often the ideals we treasure most today. These neighborhoods include narrow streets lined with sidewalks and shaded by a canopy of mature trees. Homes are built with covered front porches and any notion of the car is sequestered to the rear of the property. Residents of these neighborhoods know each other because they see each other, maybe at the corner bakery for morning coffee or out during evening strolls. The residents are proud of their neighborhoods because they feel ownership of them in their entirety, not just of the real estate within their fence lines. When we think of neighborhoods in the U.S. today, we too often narrow our thoughts to single-family residential. But that hasn’t always been the case. The older neighborhoods we like usually have commercial structures interwoven within their fabric. These structures include corner stores and churches sprinkled throughout the neighborhood and commercial strips that can be simply defined as “Main Street.” The stage of life in these neighborhoods can usually be determined by the condition of these commercial structures. If these buildings are occupied and thriving, then so, too, is the neighborhood. Vacant or degrading storefronts tell a different story. Commercial versus residential is an obvious distinction in these neighborhoods, but what often gets overlooked is the wide

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range of dwelling units that exists. Before zoning laws, you would frequently see a large single-family home on the same block as a multifamily structure. Our favorite neighborhoods tend to have the ability to accommodate everyone, no matter their stage of life. Today housing demand is outpacing supply; therefore, housing prices are going through the roof. Everyone likes their property values increasing, but no one likes displacing the current residents. As we look at ways to address affordable housing, a variety of housing types should be included in the discussion. As everyone is familiar with the detached single-family houses and the large resort-style apartments, I’d like to introduce some other housing types that could be added to your neighborhood: DUPLEXES: A detached structure that consists of two dwelling units arranged either side-by-side and or stacked. Most of us have negative connotations with duplexes. If designed well, however, duplexes double the density without modifying the massing of the neighborhood. COURTYARD BUILDING: A medium or large detached structure consisting of multiple side-by-side and/or stacked dwelling units oriented around a courtyard or series of courtyards. The courtyard can be open to the street or more private depending on the design.


BRIAN CHILSON

Abeles Apartments, Little Rock

AS AN ARCHITECT, I’D LOVE TO ARGUE THAT A GREAT NEIGHBORHOOD REQUIRES GREAT ARCHITECTURE. HOWEVER, DEEP DOWN I KNOW GREAT NEIGHBORHOODS ARE DEFINED BY THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE THERE.

Each unit is accessed from the courtyard, and shared stairs provide access to units on the upper floors. COTTAGE COURT: A group of detached structures arranged around a shared court visible from the street. Similar to the courtyard building, the shared court is an important communityenhancing element. Unit entrances should be from the public court. TOWNHOUSE: An attached multistory structure that consists of two to 16 dwelling units placed side-by-side. Units share walls. Entries are located on the narrow sides of the units facing a street or courtyard. MULTIPLEX: A detached structure that consists of five to 12 dwelling units arranged side-by-side and/or stacked, typically with a shared entry from the street. This type has the appearance of a medium to large single-family house. LIVE/WORK: A small- to medium-sized attached or detached structure consisting of one or two dwelling units above and/or behind a commercial ground floor space. The ground floor space typically has a taller ceiling height and glass frontage to market goods or services sold. The commercial space and residential unit typically have separate street entrances. As an architect, I’d love to argue that a great neighborhood requires great architecture. However, deep down I know great neighborhoods are defined by the people who live there. When neighborhoods offer a variety of housing options, people can live in them for longer. Diversity of housing allows for both the recent grad or empty nester to live on the same block as the family of six. If you are looking for ways to prevent gentrification, then look to variety because most of your life you won’t need a +2,500-squarefoot house with a yard. Adam Day AIA, LEED AP, is a partner at AMR Architects in Little Rock. In 2020, he was awarded the emerging professional award from AIA Arkansas. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 31


NEW KID ON THE BLOCK Conway Block Plant charts a new course. BY BRENT SALTER

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AMR ARCHITECTS RENDERING

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onway Block Plant is a complete renovation of a masonry manufacturing complex in downtown that will transform the abandoned property into a 30,000-square-foot startup incubator and maker space. In 1950, this plant was constructed by F&F Co. for a local concrete business in Conway. The company shut down operations in 1980. Within a month, Paul Tipton purchased the property and founded Conway Block Inc. in its place. It operated in this building until about 2005, when the new plant across town was built and the old location was abandoned. Most recently, many photographers and filmmakers have used the property as a cool place to do their work. The complex is positioned on the southern edge of downtown, bordered by an active railway and a private K-12 school. The site is within comfortable walking or biking distance from restaurants and shops, which will make this project immensely attractive to the tech start-ups created in the area. Over the past decade, Conway has become a regional technology hub for Central Arkansas, benefiting from having three colleges in town. This project is creating the rich, interactive, scalable environments that small companies often move to Little Rock to find. Conway has built a reputation as a family-friendly community with low crime and great schools and in close proximity to Little Rock. In the past, large numbers of people have commuted from Conway to Little Rock for work. This project is an attempt to attract and retain the vast amount of talent that the local universities produce by providing vivid, energetic and dynamic office environments that are centrally located. The original structure will remain in place, with many of the existing cladding and interior materials being reused and repurposed. The existing aged, corrugated, metal roof will become exterior cladding on the north and south. A new roof and insulation will be installed to meet the project’s energy needs. The center open pavilion will be enclosed as lease space and a new shared main entry and lobby will be created to tie the individual leasable areas together. Because the complex has been vacant for years, it has amassed a wonderful collection of graffiti. The developer, Salter Properties, recognizes the wonderful potential of graffiti as a viable art form and wants to incorporate its raw energy and individual expression into the character of the project. The old block kilns will be cut into smaller work areas where creative ideas can still be hatched. Skylights have been added to the kiln spaces in lieu of west-facing windows to reduce train noise. The metal tubes for firing and some of the metal material chutes, hoppers and grates are being repurposed as structure and furniture. The main truss-framed conveyor belt will become the entry portal and signage. The batch mixing tower’s main chute will be salvaged and converted into a skylight above a shared break area. The low mixing chutes are being inverted to become covered outdoor seating. The dynamic incubator layout allows for tenants to grow within the campus. Tenants can start out renting an area as small as a desk, then move to a small office, small suite, large suite, all the way up to a 7,000-square-foot individual lease space, all while sharing the same lobby, lounge, breakroom, bathrooms, showers, locker area and bike storage. The shared common spaces mixed with the onsite coffee shop and 3,000-square-feet of outdoor seating allow for a fertile, collaborative environment for tenants to freely network and cultivate their ideas. Brent Salter is vice president of Salter Properties.

Conway Block Plant, Conway


THIS PROJECT IS AN ATTEMPT TO ATTRACT AND RETAIN THE VAST AMOUNT OF TALENT THAT THE LOCAL UNIVERSITIES PRODUCE BY PROVIDING VIVID, ENERGETIC AND DYNAMIC OFFICE ENVIRONMENTS THAT ARE CENTRALLY LOCATED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL THE WONDERFUL AMENITIES THAT CONWAY HAS TO OFFER. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 33


7th Street Tattoo & Salon • Souther The Weekend Theater • The Bo Metropolitan Emergency Medical S Little Rock Vending • Chuck Hamil

WEEKEND WARRIORS

BIKE LANES

GOODWILL BOUTIQUE

CROSSWALKS BUS SHELTERS

CAREER OUTREACH

GRAPHICS / SIGNAGE

COMPLETE STREETS

GOODWILL INDUSTRIES

BUS STOP

WOMEN’S BIKE SHOP

CANVAS COMMUNITIES

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SOUTH CROSS

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BIKE INFO & DEMOS

CHILDREN’S LIBRARY FREE BOOKS!

SOUTH CROSS

he world wrestles with the challenges of a global pandemic without the opportunity to travel. Within their own cities, people have had no choice but to pay more attention to their immediate surroundings. City governments are hearing less about potholes and more about parks; less about parking lots and more about places to walk. Quality of life has been a growing issue for cities over the past decade, but the pandemic has focused attention on the issue. Increasingly, people want to live in neighborhoods that support community, safety, diversity, health and identity. These characteristics signal a return to traditional neighborhood design and an appreciation for urbanism. Cities recognize the negative impact from low-density, single-use zoning, which segregates daily life into silos of housing, employment, recreation and basic services. These development patterns foster pockets of intense growth and swathes of neglect. Successful cities embrace the power of density, mixed uses and walkability. They celebrate and amplify the unique character of the place and its people. Today, cities recognize the importance of urbanism and are struggling more than ever to find effective ways to spur development. The reality is that to be effective, big ideas often require significant changes to the status quo. Change requires an increased level of risk and investment, which is something that many state and municipal entities avoid at all costs. Sadly, the few efforts that do pass muster often become watered down and rendered ineffective by the very bureaucratic process that is trying to encourage them. In recent years, however, several grassroots movements developed their own ways to navigate this quagmire and drive progress by quickly testing proposals at full scale and in real time. Enter tactical urbanism. Tactical urbanism is not a new concept. It focuses on temporary interventions often completed over a weekend. These interventions often lead to positive and permanent change. Over the past decade, tactical urbanism has grown into an international movement inspiring projects all over the globe, including several across Arkansas. One of the state’s notable examples is the annual PopUp in the Rock program, which started in 2012. PopUp in the Rock began when Create Little Rock, the young professional wing of the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, partnered with the design advocacy and public outreach group studioMAIN. Together the organizations were the perfect team to bring tactical urbanism to Central Arkansas. Create Little Rock was able to utilize its business and chamber contacts to find participating businesses and vendors. The nonprofit studioMAIN provided architects, landscape architects and urbanists to develop a collaborative process between design professionals, the general public and city government. Their inaugural project, PopUp Main Street, settled on South Main Street in the area now commonly referred to as SoMa. At the time, it was an underutilized area with good urban bones, even if it was on the “wrong” side of the interstate and several of the storefronts were empty. The perception of the community

Pop Up in the Rock 7th St., Little Rock

COURTESY STUDIOMAIN

BY CHRIS EAST AND JAMES MEYER

GATEWAY

The power of tactical urbanism.

Hugg and Hall • Little Rock Public Works • Little Ro Downtown Little Rock Partnership • Cope Plastics • Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) Children Central High School Mural Club • Chelsye Ga Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) • Central Arkansas Roller Derby • Arrow P Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas (BACA)

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rn Reprographics ox and the Loft Services (MEMS) lton Construction

11:00 am Bicycle Repair Workshops begin (every hour until 4pm) 1:00 pm

Naylor Auto Mechanical Workshop & Demonstration

ock Chamber of Commerce Magna IV Communications n’s Library • GoodEarth arrett – Artist • Bylites First Tee of Arkansas Printing Company • Advanced Cabling

3:00 pm

Band Performance – Whale Fire

3:00 pm

Food Trucks stop serving

4:00 pm

Vendors Close

6:30 pm

Outdoor Movie Showing @ the Beer Garden

SOUTH IZARD

SOUTH RINGO

SOUTH CHESTER

WEST 6TH STREET

FIRE STATION TOURS FIRE ENGINES ON DISPLAY

TEMPORARY TATTOOS

LOCAL VENDORS

7TH STREET TATTOO SALON

FACE PAINTING

THE CLOSET FACTORY

PUTT PUTT COURSE

ART GALLERY

FOOD TRUCKS

CENTRAL FIRE STATION

ART WALL

BUS STOP

SOUTH CHESTER

KTHV

SOUTH RINGO

GRAFFITI ART

LIVE MUSIC

SOUTH IZARD

OUTDOOR MOVIE

SOUTHERN REPROGRAPHICS

BEER GARDEN

ART OUTFITTERS

MOVE PROJECTION WALL

VINO'S

MAINTENANCE DEMO

THE WEEKEND THEATER

CAR SHOW

TWISTED GIFTS

ICS

NAYLOR AUTO

THE BOX & LOFT 1023

FLORIST

BUS STOP

GATEWAY

BUS STOP

7TH STREET HANGERS CLEANERS

CHAIN LINK WALL

12:00 pm Band Performance – Mothwind

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INCREASINGLY, PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE IN NEIGHBORHOODS THAT SUPPORT COMMUNITY, SAFETY, DIVERSITY, HEALTH AND IDENTITY. THESE CHARACTERISTICS SIGNAL A RETURN TO TRADITIONAL NEIGHBORHOOD DESIGN AND AN APPRECIATION FOR URBANISM. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 35


(Clockwise from top) Design Charette at Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, Pop Up Argenta, North Little Rock, Pop Up in the Rock Southwest Little Rock

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This led to an average speed of 37 miles per hour in an area with a posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour. Moving at this speed, drivers ignored crosswalks and didn’t have enough time to notice local businesses as they sped by. This was a huge problem, and a local group had even proposed to put Main Street on a road diet, reducing the area allocated for cars and increasing areas allocated for people. City staff agreed that it was a good idea, but a road diet hadn’t been done in Little Rock before and wasn’t considered immediately feasible. A report was put together, bound and placed on a shelf at the planning department. That plan may well have collected dust and died on that shelf, until their road diet became the linchpin of PopUp Main Street. The PopUp team knew immediately that if it wanted the project to catalyze permanent change, it needed everyone to buy in: the city, the community, the chamber, existing businesses, everyone. To develop support, PopUp Main Street held bi-weekly open house project meetings. These included design charettes for city officials and downtown organizations, local businesses and neighborhood associations and the public at large. The largest of these meetings attracted over 100 participants. The needs and desires of the community quickly became clear: slow down the cars, fill up the empty storefronts and create activity along the sidewalk. The final PopUp Main Street plan included reducing the road from four lanes to two lanes, adding a planted median with trees and a dedicated bike lane in each direction. The plan also created streetside cafe seating from reclaimed parallel parking

COURTESY STUDIOMAIN

was beginning to transition from dangerous neighborhood to upand-coming hot spot. With brand-new businesses like The Root Cafe, the recently constructed Bernice Gardens and Pavilion and the soon-to-be South on Main, the only thing holding SoMa back was the road dividing it. While interviewing community members, the PopUp team heard countless near-miss tales involving pedestrians, cyclists, dog-walkers, mothers with strollers, even local bakers pushing bread carts across the road. At that time, South Main Street had two traffic lanes in each direction, with low overall traffic volume.


spots, a Goodwill store, bike parking, Etsy vendor stalls, murals by local artists, a food truck park and a dog park. This major transformation only cost a few hundred dollars using tools like duct tape, wooden pallets, hay bales and the support of a community filled with excited volunteers. The effect upon the South Main community was apparent immediately. PopUp in the Rock gave the community members an opportunity to reclaim control over the neighborhood they loved and demystified the planning process. It was safe to cross the streets. Folks who had never visited South Main came by the hundreds. Local businesses had banner days, and traffic speeds slowed by nearly 14 miles per hour. In fact, PopUp in the Rock had so much success that the city of Little Rock got a $750,000 grant to have Main Street permanently restriped from four lanes down to two with a center turn lane, and dedicated bike lanes in both directions. The PopUp Main Street event became a real-time proof of concept. It allowed both the city and the community to test new ideas without the risk of costly backtracking and fingerpointing. A temporary intervention of duct tape and hay bales led to permanent change. SoMa has continued its evolution from empty storefronts and speeding cars to a lively neighborhood with restaurants, shops, parks and public art. The PopUp in the Rock program continues to this day as an annual community revitalization effort. The program showcases the potential of cities, block by block, and demonstrates that temporary interventions can deliver permanent change. In subsequent years, PopUp in the Rock has supported multiple communities around Central Arkansas. In 2013, PopUp 7th Street infilled empty storefronts and created pedestrian infrastructure for a busy intersection shared by local eateries, the central fire station and EMS services. The following year, PopUp Park Hill tackled a town center split by a state highway with an event that had over 5,000 attendees. In 2015, PopUp focused on the historic Ninth Street neighborhood in Little Rock. The event attempted to recreate the rich fabric of the historically African American area in partnership with the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. In 2016, the PopUp event was held at the River Cities Travel Center to highlight the potential of transit-centered development. PopUp in the Rock partnered with Rock Region Metro to facilitate the three-day event, which included live music, health clinic, food trucks and small lending library for the travel center patrons. PopUp Argenta created a vibrant outdoor market and stage along North Little Rock’s Main Street in 2017. The project acted as a test vehicle for the now completed Argenta Plaza. In 2018, PopUp Stifft Station revitalized a busy intersection between two neighborhoods, with new pedestrian crossings, infilled storefront and public art. Within six months of the PopUp event, adjacent building occupancy went from 40% to completely full, with multiple new businesses. PopUp Southwest brought the program to the Geyer Springs area in 2019 and highlighted the great local minority-owned businesses. Recently, PopUp in the Rock began developing a tactical urbanism neighborhood intervention kit to provide solutions for common problems that communities can apply for through a simple city permit process. The PopUp in the Rock program has been proof positive that tactical urbanism works and that short-term action can lead to long-term change. By temporarily transforming just a few blocks into a thriving, complete locale, these events show that community-driven design can make our cities better, one weekend at a time. Chris East is a principal architect with Cromwell Architects Engineers and president of studioMAIN. James Meyer is an architect at Taggart Architects and a co-founder of studioMAIN.

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VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 37


HELPING COMMUNITIES THRIVE Innovative partnerships at work in Helena-West Helena.

THRIVE / SARAH MELBY

BY WILL STALEY

The Mississippi River bridge at Helena marks a major entrance and exit to the state.

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he longer I live in Helena-West Helena, the deeper and more meaningful my relationship to the city becomes. That’s to be expected, as with every relationship, but Helena is certainly not the same place I once knew as a naïve young professional looking for design work 12 years ago. On the surface, everything is the same, save a couple of Historic Cherry Street storefronts that were damaged during the Easter storm of 2020. Underneath the surface, however, you find a unique, colorful constellation of factors that inspires me, the Thrive team and other local placemakers to amplify the masterpiece that is Helena. Helena, as most simply call it, is known to the state as a deep Delta locale — a place on the banks of the Mississippi River where if you close your eyes, you can smell the smoked chicken necks on the corner of Sebastian and Plaza and hear both blues and country flowing from open car windows at the same time. Informed by a painful racial


history, those sounds symbolize an intersection of Black and white cultures that have changed the landscape of American music and impacted the world. Evidence of Helena’s global influence can be found each October in the King Biscuit Blues Festival, where it’s hard not to collide with tourists from Denmark, Japan or Brazil, some of whom stay and meet each other at the AirBnB my wife, Misti, operates out of our downtown home. It’s during this long weekend that our downtown infrastructure is put to the test and that Historic Cherry Street becomes the gorgeous brick backdrop for bluesy street buskers, food vendors and both local and international revelers of all ages. Its rich musical heritage is just one of Helena’s many attributes being used to influence local development. In fact, Helena was chosen in 1989 as the site for Arkansas’s Delta Cultural Center because of its rich stories — both past and present. Other than music heritage, the toolkit that Helena embraces, and will lean heavily on in the future, includes Civil War history, civil rights history, ecoadventures and historic architecture, to name a few. This excites me and others when combining these narratives with national variables, such as a growing investment in rural broadband and the remote work boom we’ve seen during the pandemic. Because of this changing economic environment, Helena, and many places like it, are positioned to play a competitive hand if they work hard to craft and share their unique story. Helena has the stories that many rural cities yearn to tell in the never-ending municipal strategy of growing a population. At Thrive, we see this demand for community storytelling content from our rural clients on a regular basis, and it’s largely due to the population loss affecting much of rural America. Our solution is to equip these rural communities with the branding, public art, outdoor recreation and youth engagement necessary to create vibrant places for current and future residents. We’re primarily a graphic design firm focused on branding projects while operating after-school creative leadership programs with and for local high school students called the Thrive Design Crew. Even when working with nonlocal city clients on their brands, we advocate for including youth in the conversation. When our clients involve youth in early planning, they encourage these future leaders to begin investing in their city and to become creative problem-solvers, or as we call them: designers. Not only does it make students feel valued to be offered a seat at the decision-making table, it also exposes them to the creative planning process and strengthens their ties to the community, resulting in an even larger set of activated partners to move that community forward. A benefit of Thrive’s business model is that it allows our small team to apply what we learn from places like Lonoke, Van Buren and Magnolia to our home base of Helena and vice versa. In each of these aforementioned places, there is a downtown historic main street or square where commerce has boomed. Today’s strategy for many of these cities is to redefine what Main Street will provide to

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Students of Thrive’s design crew clear the Harbor View Trail in the Helena River Park. 40 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

THRIVE / WILL STALEY

THRIVE / SARAH MELBY

New major investments on Cherry Street like the Delta Dirt Distillery.

the community since commerce has moved predominantly online. The push toward defining these locations as arts and entertainment districts is a recurring strategy we see and love. We’d argue that much of any downtown’s unique personality and brand resides in its historic built environment and is therefore a highly differentiating factor when it comes to using the community story for recruitment and community investment. Thankfully, places like Helena are fighting to preserve their historic downtowns because these buildings and brick streets are where people want to dine, host festivals and make memories. The potential that tourism has to bring an economic boost to Helena’s families has always been central to Thrive’s work and a major reason why we’ve invested over the past three out of 12 years in formalizing our creative placemaking operations and our youth services operations. As a graphic design firm, it makes sense that the way we can best help local economic and community development efforts is by focusing on creating the content that can be disseminated to the world through advertising and promotion dollars. Currently, the content we can best create alongside our design crew students are murals that tell the story of the community and public trails and wayfinding systems that lead people to adventure on or near the Mississippi River. Both are initiatives that we feel simultaneously enhance local livability and attract tourism. Kevin Pringle was a high school sophomore when we first met in Helena-West Helena’s Central High School. Needing to make a decision for his project focus, Kevin, a student in the EAST Classroom, finally blurted out: “I like to hunt rabbit.” After a small pause, I followed with “well … what if we made a trail?” By the end of the semester we had designed the Harbor View Trail to be set in the woodland marsh of the Helena River Park. Three years later, the trail has been cleared by Design Crew students and marked as a 1-mile loop for hiking and for kayaking and canoeing during flood season.


His simple “I’d rather be playing outside” comment led us to design the first of three trails within the Helena Adventure Trails system, a concept created as of April 2021 but made possible by a host of program partners that collided in Helena between 2019 and today. Did we ever expect Kevin’s initial project to grow to this point? No. Do we believe that things like this can happen? Yes! The first partner to approach Thrive and a group of Helena stakeholders — including longtime ecotourism advocates Phillips County Judge Clark Hall and Helena-West Helena Mayor Kevin Smith — was the team of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ State Physical Activity Network. SPAN is an initiative that helps Arkansas cities make bicycling and healthy outdoor activity a priority. With Helena sharing close proximity to the future United States Bicycling Route 80 to the North, and the Walton Family Foundation’s newly announced large investment in the Delta Heritage Trail to the southwest, Helena has a big opportunity to serve the long-distance bicyclists that will pass through town. SPAN’s effort in Helena was then complemented by Winrock International’s securing of a USDA Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge grant. Now facilitated by Winrock, this partnership will enable the design and painting of downtown bike murals, crosswalks, a bicycling rest station, signage and an informational brochure for visiting cyclists making the 37-mile journey linking the Delta Heritage Trail State Park to the Mississippi River State Park, with Helena being the midpoint. This trail, the Helena Ridge Ride, is the second of the three trails within the Helena Adventure Trail system. Last but in no way least, the Big River Loop is the trail project funded by the Arkansas Delta Regional Obesity Program — a project funded

by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and operated by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Extension office. The result of a community stakeholder collaboration, this 2-mile walking and biking loop gives our downtown population access to the healthy exercise opportunities of the Helena River Park and the new Harbor View Trail through a robust wayfinding design project. Along the route of the Big River Loop, pedestrians will be alerted of mileage, and essential tourism sites will be highlighted for those visiting off the giant river boats that dock at the boat ramp. To take credit for the sequence of events that have taken place to date would be fun but also inaccurate. However, what we can say for certain is that because a student at Central High School spoke up about what he wanted to see in his community, we now have additional action taking place on a local level. We consistently hear that “new blood” is key to moving forward and making progress. In many places, it’s the same five to 10 people carrying the heavy load of community development, and they’re tired if not completely burned out. Amplifying your masterpiece may mean seeking nontraditional routes to uncover local inspiration. It could also mean making sure the initial stakeholder workshop is representative of your actual community and not just your frequently utilized “dream team.” In Helena today, we’re hopeful and positive not simply because we’re equipped with incredible stories that are already spurring private and public investment, but because we’re sharing the load of defining our future alongside our community — a strategy certainly worthy of our time. Will Staley is the founder, executive director & creative director of Thrive.

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HOW ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICTS DRIVE DEVELOPMENT Springdale offers a case study.

MEREDITH MASHBURN

BY JILL DABBS

Magnolia Gardens Main Gazebo, Springdale

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hared outdoor public space/entertainment districts are catalysts for urban development. 2020 proved this, and the changes are here to stay. Before the pandemic, Springdale was planning, investing and building out beautiful shared outdoor spaces that intersected with the arts, cuisine and cycling. It takes years to do this and do it well. This past year advanced those efforts by an estimated three to five years. This was accomplished by removing barriers to economic development and entertainment and blurring the lines between the public realm and the private sector. Last year, many cities worked to increase access to public spaces by making them feel more comfortable, inviting and welcoming. Springdale accomplished this with a few different tactical urban strategies. One was with a grant from the Tyson Family Foundation that supported a team of local makers to build Wikiblock furniture for beautiful Walter Turnbow Park. Wikiblock is an open-source design library anyone can access to download free plans to build furniture and accessories like chess boards and library boxes for public spaces. There was not a cumbersome 42 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

Big Sexy Food, 107 E. Emma Ave., Springdale


Walter Turnbow Park at Shiloh Square, Springdale

ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICTS USED TO BE SEEN OCCASIONALLY IN METROPOLITAN AREAS. LAST YEAR WE SAW CITIES OF ALL SIZES AMEND AND PASS CITY ORDINANCES TO ALLOW BARS AND RESTAURANTS TO SERVE DRINKS THAT COULD BE CONSUMED IN A DEFINED OUTDOOR URBAN AREA. THIS WAS DONE TO HELP SUPPORT THESE SMALL BUSINESSES BUT ALSO TO CREATE SPACES PEOPLE WOULD FEEL COMFORTABLE GATHERING IN DURING A PANDEMIC.

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326 Holcomb St., Springdale. Mural by Octavio Logo.

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MEREDITH MASHBURN

134 W. Emma Ave., Springdale. Mural by Erin Ashcraft.

approval process; there was simply permission from the parks department to “Do IT!” There was also not an arduous design process. From the first conversation to completion was 45 days. This park, which sits in the middle of the Razorback Greenway, was completed in the heart of downtown Springdale in 2017. But initially the park was like a big, beautiful formal living room that most people simply passed through and admired. The park is breathtakingly beautiful, but there was no place to sit or gather with friends, have a drink or share a meal. Within 30 minutes of placing the furniture, people started to gather. Now you can find people sitting in Walter Turnbow Park right off the greenway on any given day and at all hours of the day. Wikiblock furniture is temporary in nature. There are already plans to populate this space with permanent furniture. Downtown restaurants were allowed to put up temporary awnings and turn parking spaces into parklets to expand their restaurant seating. Last year, numerous entertainment districts were created, including in Springdale where rapid local policy changes allowed to-go alcoholic beverages under the assertion of “it’s safer this way” and a desire to support local bars and restaurants. Signage, barriers, dome tents and propane heaters were also used to create safe outdoor gathering places. Entertainment districts used to be seen occasionally in metropolitan areas like Sixth Street in Austin, Logan Square in Chicago, Ybor City in Tampa and the Kansas City Power & Light District, all of which are also big tourist destinations. Last year we saw cities of all sizes amend and pass city ordinances to allow bars and restaurants to serve drinks that could be consumed in a defined outdoor urban area. This was done to help support these small businesses but also to create spaces people would feel comfortable gathering in during a pandemic. Will these spaces be taken away? In Springdale, the takeaways from the outdoor dining district were all positive: It helped the restaurants replace some lost revenue and the city didn’t see an increase in litter or alcohol-related incidents. As long as the metrics are reflective of a safe, comfortable, thriving economic environment, it will be a moot point to consider taking these amenities away from the businesses and the people of these communities. “The outdoor dining district increases our theoretic capacity exponentially,” said Jeffro Brown, owner of The Odd Soul, a pizzeria and bar in downtown Springdale. “It means that people can be our customers without being anchored to a seat. There is seating space outside, audio and visual art draws that seem all the more enticing with a carry-around drink and the simple joy of open-air consumption. It allows us to offer dinner and a show without the hassle of conceiving the show. It also means that on busy nights when we run out of seats, we can start someone a tab with an opencontainer drink and let them wander around and discover what else is on offer until we can get them a table.” Beautiful, urban downtowns small or large that are loved, well taken care of, invested in by the local government and business community, supportive of the arts, that don’t have public policy that strangles out the desire to invest, will always attract new businesses, residents, artists and community events. Springdale restaurants are expanding, and so are cultural offerings and investments in the arts. This growth has been guided with a strong downtown master plan for the past six years. The same master plan is undergoing an update and will continue to carry downtown Springdale forward.


We have known for years that art enriches downtown urban spaces. Last year, many local artists were given opportunities to support themselves through a difficult financial and social time. There was a statewide mural project funded by OZ Art ARkanvas; Springdale received one of these beautiful murals. This inspired Downtown Springdale Alliance to partner with the Walton Family Foundation, Arts Center of the Ozarks and numerous downtown property owners, including Holcomb Arts District, to support seven muralists for seven beautiful additional downtown murals. Shared public spaces are leading to greater collaboration between business owners in downtown Springdale. Similar strategies were taken in North Little Rock’s Argenta District, Little Rock’s River Market and SoMA districts, El Dorado’s Murphy Arts District and in Mountain Home, all with tremendous levels of success. These efforts create a great deal of excitement, energy and momentum. A few examples of this in Springdale are service industry businesses and corporations using downtown pavilions and parks for company meetings and relying on local coffee shops, restaurants and bars to service these events. These gatherings open doors of opportunity for audiences for art installations or performances. Last year was the start of Live at Turnbow; it continues this year on the last Thursday of every month through the fall and features a diverse lineup of local and regional bands. This event is in the heart of downtown Springdale’s Outdoor Dining District. Natural State Rock & Republic is sharing its beautiful cycling retreat with the community through backyard concerts and movie

nights that are open to the public. It’s part of an attempt to grow what pro cyclist Scotti Lechuga calls “a place where people can feel community, chase dreams with like-minded people, and step into some of the best riding the Ozark landscape has to offer.” So shared spaces can also be shared private spaces with the community. There is an incredible opportunity for urban centers to leverage this point in history to advance the mission to revitalize, connect and build community. The timeline for accomplishing downtown initiatives in 2019 vs. the time it took to accomplish those same objectives in 2020 during a pandemic were greatly shortened. These accomplishments were made possible by nimble city councils willing to work quickly to support downtown businesses by changing ordinances and regulations that were restrictive to the communities’ overall vision for the future. Many of these changes allowed the private sector to leverage public spaces through seating or changing open-container laws. In these spaces, we saw community happen as people safely and easily gathered. We live with invisible barriers of all kinds. These barriers are restrictive and usually unproductive to our overall shared goals of building prosperous, diverse, inclusive communities. 2020, we don’t miss you, but we are thankful for all that you taught us. May we never forget, and may we always strive toward the community we envision for the future. Always growing, always improving, always becoming our best selves. Jill Dabbs is the Executive Director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance.

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www.nabprob.com Greg Nabholz | CEO & Principal Broker (O) 501-505-5720 (M) 501-329-4468 greg_nabholz@nabprop.com VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 45


LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! Growing the film and music industry in Arkansas. BY GREG NABHOLZ

MATTHEW MARTIN

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he creative economy is one of Arkansas’s largest economic sectors, employing thousands of people. While The Natural State continues to produce more than its fair share of talent in the film and music industry, most of this incredible talent leaves the state to pursue careers in other places. This out-migration trend may be turning, as the impact of COVID, advances in technology, improved infrastructure and a low cost of living and doing business combine to make Arkansas more attractive. New economic development legislation passed in the last six years and the formation of statewide, industry-focused education and advocacy programs aim to retain talent. And organizations such as Arkansans for the Arts work to develop an ecosystem in which creative industries can thrive and homegrown talent can stay here at home. The Arkansas Cinema Society, for example, is a statewide nonprofit whose mission is to be an umbrella organization for all things film. It successfully pushed for enhanced film incentives during the most recent legislative session. When Act 797 becomes law in July, the existing film rebate payable through the governor’s discretionary fund will be maintained, and the act also creates a transferable tax credit of 20% to 30% of qualified purchases, with a $4 million annual fund allowance. It also adds an extra 10% rebate or credit for veteran hires and veteran-owned businesses. “It’s our hope that the new tax credit will make it possible for the state to sustainably incentivize more productions every year so that more Arkansas filmmakers can both live and work in the state that we all love,” Arkansas Cinema Society Executive 46 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

AMBER LINDLEY/PRODUCER ON THE WESTERN DISTRICT DOCUMENTARY

A scene being filmed for The Western District Documentary (2020) at Farm Studios in Northwest Arkansas.

Director Kathryn Tucker said. “Most universities and colleges in Arkansas now have budding film programs and they are growing. This bill is about creating job opportunities to keep our talent at home in Arkansas. This is not about Arkansas giving money to outside companies, it is about employing Arkansans in Arkansas with outside money.” This legislation will put Arkansas on the same path as many other states that used tax credits to build strong filmmaking ecosystems. One limitation to Act 797, however, is that the transferable tax credit annual allowance is capped at $4 million. Because film production generates new revenue, the tax credit comes out of revenue that would not have existed in the first place. Case in point: In 2005 Georgia capped their annual credit at $10 million, which was increased to $140 million in 2010. By 2012, Georgians realized they were essentially capping their own ability to create new revenue and jobs, market their state and promote tourism. So Georgia uncapped their film tax credit altogether. This resulted in $2.9 billion in direct spending in the state and an $80 billion economic impact in 2019. That’s why more and more “Made in Georgia” credits with that iconic peach are viewed by millions of people daily. New Mexico, a state with a smaller population than Arkansas, recently doubled their tax credit cap from $55 million to $110 million. Cities and regions are stepping up with their own incentives, offering things like moving allowances and bonuses, dedicated housing for artists and workers, new mixed-use film/music production studios and local sales tax rebates on film and music production.


Eureka Springs and Fayetteville are both wooing new business with economic incentives. Eureka Springs offers a 2% tax rebate on any production filmed within the city limits and shares a list of vendors who offer discounts. The City of Fayetteville made a direct contribution of $500,000 to the producers of the HBO series “True Detective Season 3,” shot in Northwest Arkansas in 2018. The Northwest Arkansas Film & Entertainment Commission, FILMNWA, was founded by the major Northwest Arkansas cities through their advertising and promotion commissions. It is a collaboration with the Arkansas Film Commission and the Arkansas Production Alliance, and their board is intentional about having representation from the academic, film, music, arts and entertainment industries. Representatives from these organizations worked with Christopher Crane, Arkansas’s film commissioner, to establish FILMNWA with the hope that it would be a model for other regions across the state. FILMNWA Board President Sandy Royce Martin and Visit Bentonville President Kalene Griffith spearheaded this regional effort as the Bentonville Film Festival was being launched. Martin explained, “We promote Northwest Arkansas as a film location and film/digital production/music hub through national publications and digital media such as MovieMaker magazine. Since we have started the commission, the region has become very production-friendly, and it has helped to build up our filming and production infrastructure. Several major studios, both video and audio, have opened and/or relocated here, more gear suppliers and our crew availability has expanded greatly.” FILMNWA board member and University of Arkansas faculty member Jacob Hertzog is working hard to develop the music

industry in the state. “We are creating a certificate program in Music Industry at the U of A that specifically addresses both wide-scale music business training for musicians and those interested in the business side of music and aims to assist in the development of our music economy. This includes courses in music business, music law, songwriting, live production and artist development. Our new student-run record label, Hill Records, is just getting off the ground. We have received submissions from artists across Arkansas and beyond, and we intend to begin releasing music later this year. The project is a hands-on music industry experience for students that includes academic classes and mentorship opportunities. Hill Records will ultimately release and promote Arkansas’s musicians in all genres while training students in an immersive music business environment.” Hertzog added, “There is extraordinary opportunity in Arkansas to leverage the potential of our higher education system to advance the creative economy.” Other initiatives that have a music component include Best Buy Teen Tech Center, a partnership between the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and Best Buy, to be housed in the Innovation Hub’s North Little Rock location. This tech center will include a podcast and music recording studio. According to Errin Stanger, director of the Innovation Hub, “This will be a place where Arkansas teens can develop critical skills through hands-on activities that explore their interests in technology, art and entrepreneurial subjects. We are ecstatic that we have the opportunity to provide tools and resources focused on music!” Greg Nabholz is CEO and principal broker of Nabholz Properties Inc, a commercial real estate and economic development consulting firm based in Conway. He is also a board member of the Arkansas Cinema Society.

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MENA: HEART OF THE OUACHITAS Natural beauty is a boon for business. BY RICK CHRISMAN AND GREG NABHOLZ Historic Mena High School, Addition and Renovation, Mena

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he Ouachita Mountains attract visitors from surrounding states and beyond. They come for the autumn colors, scenic vistas, pristine waterways, abundant wildlife, whitewater rafting and ATV trails. Mena is in the heart of the Ouachitas, and the influx of outdoor lovers is a catalyst for redevelopment planning. Each year, thousands of tourists traveling by car, RV and motorcycle arrive in Mena to take the 54-mile Talimena Scenic Drive that traverses the mountaintops between Mena and Talihina, Oklahoma. Located along this drive at the top of Rich Mountain is Wilhelmina State Park. The park is a 12-mile drive from Mena. In addition to the recently renovated lodge and restaurant, it offers RV and tent camping, a miniature railroad, hiking trails and breathtaking views. Mena is also minutes from hiking and mountain biking trails, clear rivers and lakes, crystal quartz digging and, for the more 48 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING VOLUME 7 | 2021

adventurous, 40 miles of ATV trails through the Ouachita National Forest and a zipline park that flies through 300-year-old trees. DOWNTOWN MENA ‘BASE CAMP FOR MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES’ The Talimena Scenic Drive flows into the historic arts district in downtown Mena. Mena Street, also referred to as Main Street, has a variety of restaurants, quaint shops, flea markets, museums and historic buildings that harken back to Mena’s bustling beginning as a railroad town for the Kansas City Southern railroad. The nationally recognized Mena Art Gallery has monthly exhibits. The performing arts theater, Ouachita Little Theater, gives local actors the opportunity to showcase their talent and engage the community. The oldest operating restaurant on Mena Street is the Skyline Cafe, which opened in 1919. It serves breakfast and lunch six days


AMR ARCHITECTS RENDERING

a week — with a side of history. The cafe got its name from Skyline Drive, which followed the same route as the Scenic Drive to Queen Wilhelmina Lodge. Other eating establishments along Mena Street include a lunch, coffee and ice cream shop. Another business combines a unique assortment of American handcrafted gifts with a bistro-style restaurant. Further south on Mena Street and across the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks, you will find an upscale coffee shop and microbrewery featuring fresh roasted coffee, locally brewed beer and a light food menu. During the week, the brewery hosts evening performances by local bands. Additional restaurants serve Mexican and Italian cuisine, BBQ, steaks and homemade desserts. Hikers will find trails within minutes of downtown. The Earthquake Ridge Trail is a 6-mile loop that is an easy-to-moderate hike through the Ouachita National Forest. The trail runs along a dry lake bed that once served as the water source for Mena. Locals still refer to it as Ward Lake. In 2020, the Mena Advertising & Promotion Commission identified this untapped resource’s potential for outdoor recreation and for increasing tourism. Its proximity to town offers outdoor lovers an easily accessible way to experience the beauty of the Ouachita Mountains. Drawing on the popularity of mountain biking, hiking and camping, a master trail plan was recently completed for the 160acre lake site. The plan proposes constructing 6.5 miles of multiuse trails. The system would link to existing trails and would offer progressively challenging levels of trail experiences for runners, hikers and mountain bikers. Development of an additional 8 miles of trails through 750-1,000 acres of National Forest Service property is also planned. Less than 15 minutes from downtown is the trailhead for the Wolf Pen Gap ATV system, which is made up of over 40 miles of trails winding through the Ouachita National Forest. Cabins, B&Bs, ATV rental and repair shops and other amenities are available to visitors. The influx of outdoor enthusiasts has created a demand for additional types of housing and entertainment experiences. The city’s effort to meet these demands has led to a major project that is

underway in downtown Mena. The goal of the project is to redevelop the former high school building into a multipurpose center. HISTORIC MENA HIGH SCHOOL PROJECT The historic Mena High School building is situated at the north end of Mena Street across from the Polk County Courthouse and at the foot of the climb to the top of Rich Mountain. This project is envisioned to become an anchor attraction for the downtown as well as the entire region. A few years ago, local investor Walter Deetz purchased the former school building, which had been damaged by an F3 tornado that struck the community in 2009. Deetz made repairs to the 58,000-square-foot building which sits on 7 acres. These repairs included eliminating some outbuildings, replacing the roof, removing asbestos and upgrading the elevator to working condition. In 2017, a group of local business leaders approached Deetz with the idea of renovating this historic building into a mixeduse space. Zach Mannheimer, a nationally known consultant on revitalizing buildings for creative community uses, was invited to speak to the community in an effort to promote support for the project. Following his presentation, Mannheimer and his firm, McClure Engineering, were contracted to do a redevelopment study for the property. He brought in Greg Nabholz, with Nabholz Properties in Conway, a developer and placemaking economic development consultant, to collaborate on the initial plan that was completed in 2018. This plan proposes to turn the former school building and grounds into a mixed-use facility containing apartments, an innovation center, co-working areas, a maker’s space shop and a commercial kitchen. Other potential uses of the building include an events space that can double as a black box theater and film sound stage and a component of the Polk County Library. Because this property borders a planned trail extension from Ward Lake, retail spaces, such as a restaurant/coffee shop and bike shop/ outdoor outfitter, are also envisioned. In addition, a new hotel and multipurpose pavilion are part of the preliminary schematic plan. These would be built on the acreage adjacent to the high school building. This project is currently in the next phase of development. In addition to the abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities, Mena is home to the University of Arkansas Rich Mountain, Mena Regional Health System and Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport. These entities enhance the appeal of the region and add viability to revitalizing downtown. Not only are more people visiting Mena, but many are relocating to the area. Mena is a place people want to be. We who live here know we’re truly blessed to be in such a great place and a great position for revitalizing our city. If the last year has taught us anything, it is to appreciate the outdoors more and to deeply enjoy our experiences. Rick Chrisman is treasurer of Mena Downtown Partners and on the Mena Advertising and Promotion Commission. Greg Nabholz is the CEO of Nabholz Properties. VOLUME 7 | 2021 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 49


DELTA DAWNING Faded company town finds new life. BY DWAIN HEBDA

Wilson, Arkansas, population about 1,000, sits on the broad shoulders of Mississippi County.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LAWRENCE GROUP

N

orbert Mede was born and raised on the West Coast, where he spent years in a multifaceted career of hospitality, hotel management and tourism development in the San Francisco Bay area. A year ago, he gave it all up for an opportunity to help shepherd a rebirth in Wilson, Arkansas, to be part of a comeback story as sturdy and green as the cotton and soybeans sprouting out of rich Arkansas Delta dirt. “I saw a lot of potential regionally in this area,” Mede said to explain the lure from the coast. “The steel mills, the tourism potential is tremendous. There’s a lot of unsung, unmarketed assets in this area as well up and down this U.S. Highway 61 corridor we can leverage to make this a very sought-after area to live, work and visit.” Mede is a unicorn in these parts, as far more people, talent and opportunity have exited the Delta than have arrived of late. He’s a textbook specimen of the kind of reverse exodus that small towns and rural communities pine for, but on which few have cracked the code, either for tourists or those seeking a forever home. Still, that’s exactly why Mede, vice president of operations for The Lawrence Group and a stranger in a strange land, is here — to turn Delta clay and loam into eager guests and new residents. “Something I get all the time is, ‘Why Wilson? Why is this town unique?’” Mede said. “I think there is a treasure trove of history in Wilson, the uniqueness of having an original company town and that whole concept. We definitely have that in our back pocket. We have a very interesting story.” In some ways, Wilson is exactly like a hundred other rural dots on the Arkansas map, a place where the lifeblood of the people pumps perennially through the verdant fields surrounding the roughly 900-resident hamlet. Looked at through one lens, Wilson has a lot of the same “used tos” of other places: There used to be a public school here, there used to be this small business or that one, there used to be more people. But in ways equally compelling, Wilson is very different from its peers. It was founded in 1886 as a company town, a community owned lock, stock, barrel and mule by Lee Wilson & Company as a means of attracting and retaining labor. Over time, Wilson’s

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE LAWRENCE GROUP

Life in Wilson emanates from the cool green space of the town square (below), to include the Delta School (upper right), indoor and outdoor dining and The Grange at Wilson Gardens (bottom), home of the town’s Farmers Market.

legal definition changed, the town incorporated, residents owned property and taxes helped pay for things. Still, the Wilson family remained a powerful civic and political force until the company sold to The Lawrence Group in 2010. “I’m the first mayor that’s not from the Wilson family or an employee of the family. All of them were Wilson family members until the previous mayor, and he was an employee,” said Mayor Becton Bell, a fifth-generation Mississippi County farmer who took over the town’s top spot in 2013. “People didn’t know the difference between Lee Wilson & Company and the City of Wilson. I mean, you paid your water bills at the Lee Wilson & Company office made out to the City of Wilson. There was a lot of confusion there about who was what.” Whether The Lawrence Group was primarily interested in Lee Wilson & Company for the town or the ground — thousands of acres of fertile farmland, at that — is unclear. But CEO Gaylen Lawrence Jr. soon showed a desire to restore and promote the community to the tune of millions of dollars of infrastructure, renovation of the walkable downtown (as originally built in English Tudor architecture) and establishment of the private Delta School. Great effort and expense have also gone toward developing tourism assets, both inherent — the town sits near Hampson Archeological Museum State Park housing an outstanding collection of Native American artifacts — and additive, such as the boutique Hotel Louie, coming online in 2021. Still other attractions are a combination of the old and new; the excellent Wilson Cafe was shut down when The Lawrence Group bought it and today is both a foodie destination for its upscale twists on Southern favorites and a bell cow for the town’s gastro-tourism events.

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“We are an emerging leader in culinary and wine experiences,” said Cyndi Detty, The Lawrence Group’s director of marketing. “We have an amazing cafe, and I use the word cafe, but it’s not your standard cafe. The food is extremely high end, it’s beautifully prepared. With that, we host wine tasting opportunities, we do wine dinners several times a year. We do experiences where you have the opportunity to do a chef table which is right off the kitchen.” The cafe is a clear vision statement for Wilson’s rebirth, tied as it is into various facets of the economic ecosystem. Local is king here; not just from produce and flower growers sourcing the cafe, but by the stores that line the town square and even more so by those that don’t. “One thing that you will notice when you come to visit is we do not have any type of chain business,” Detty said. “Everything is locally owned and we do that purposely. You don’t find McDonald’s here; you won’t find a Hampton Inn here.” “Our niche is people looking for an experience, something a little different than going to a larger city and having all of that. This is a place where people who come to stay at our hotel park their car on a Friday and don’t get back into it until they leave on Sunday because they’ll walk everywhere. They’ll go down to the marketplace, they’ll go into some of the stores. It’s that small-town charm that makes us so unique.” The desire to stay true to ethos often straddles the line between

traditional and modern. The antique shotgun houses renovated as Airbnbs are a good example of the blending of the times, while expanding high-speed internet speaks directly to quality of place and attracting new residents. Development and revival are seen through the same proximal lens, resulting in a highly-walkable city center that is easy to maneuver and where everything feels within arm’s reach without congestion. Norbert Mede said his laundry list of reimagined community projects, including the old high school gym as a community center and workout space and the defunct movie theater brought into state-of-the-art glory, will fill holes in that still exist in this landscape. But some lines, he said, the town shouldn’t and won’t cross. “I think what is always in the vernacular when we talk about projects is, is this truly authentic?” he said. “We don’t want to build things that aren’t necessarily appropriate. We don’t want to put a roller coaster in or an animal park or something. We want to build community first and tourism comes right after that because we need livable services as much as we need visitor services. “I’ve always been a huge proponent of small-town America and bringing that back, but economic vitality needs to be a part of that, too. Wilson fell into disrepair after its heyday, and now we have the opportunity to be a part of a true renaissance revitalization. It’s very exciting.”

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HEROES LIVE HERE

Jonesboro project gives homeless veterans a fresh start. BY DWAIN HEBDA The neighborhood concept of Veterans Village is anchored by a 1,500-squarefoot activities center surrounding by small houses and other amenities.

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COOPER MIXON ARCHITECTS

H

arold Copenhaver and Harold Perrin hold a lot in common. Besides sharing the same first name, both men have spent decades living and working in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Both have a long history of civic involvement and both ran for and were elected mayor of the Northeast Arkansas city. In fact, their respective administrations fell backto-back, Perrin from 2009 to 2020 and Copenhaver taking the reins after that. But of all the things they hold in common, arguably none is more impactful than Veterans Village, a public-private development to provide dignified housing and facilitate services for homeless veterans. “My father was an Air Force veteran of 24 years. I, myself, was born at the Air Force Academy,” Copenhaver said. “Veterans are the foundation to why we have the freedoms to do what we’re doing now.” “We’re giving back to these guys and ladies who served in any branch of the military,” Perrin said. “We owe it to them to give them a nice place to live.” The issue of homelessness in general, and of vets in particular, has become an increasingly thorny one in Jonesboro. The city, population nearly 80,000, doesn’t even have a homeless shelter. Veterans’ services took a step forward with the opening of the Beck PRIDE Center at Arkansas State University, an office that provides combat-wounded veterans with various educational programs and services. Inspired by this model, ideas for transitional housing to dovetail with Beck PRIDE’s programs began to take shape under Perrin’s administration.


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BRANDON CARTER

The developers believe it’s important for veterans to live in a community, in small houses that feel like home.

VETERANS VILLAGE IS THE FIRST OF ITS KIND IN THE STATE, WHICH HAS OTHER ARKANSAS COMMUNITIES CALLING FOR ADVICE ON HOW TO GET SOMETHING SIMILAR STARTED.

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“[Beck PRIDE’s] programs screen the veterans to find out what their needs are, whether it be medical, education, employment, etc.,” said Perrin, now an executive with First Security Bank. “One of the big shortages was transitional housing for our veterans. I started doing research and we looked around at other cities and states on how they’re handling that. “The majority of them were going into places and trying to rehab some homes and fix them up and let the veterans live there. My thought was, let’s see if there is money out there that we can build little homes because these veterans definitely have some issues and we want them to feel that it’s really a community, built like a home.” Placement of Veterans Village was key, as city leaders and veterans advocates agreed proximity to the Beck PRIDE services was a priority. City officials identified a roughly 1-acre plat of derelict structures that was in the city’s land bank that fit the bill. “Once homes get to a certain standard or individuals have let them go, the city will then purchase those areas. This site was basically old homes, previously. We tore that down and thus made it vacant property,” Copenhaver said. “We wanted to provide services between here and the university, making it more userfriendly. Obviously, this footprint fit the area perfectly.” Veterans Village comprises nine homes, completed at a cost of around $1.4 million. Seven of the units are single-bedroom, each 550 square feet, and two are two-bedroom units, each around 900 square feet. The criteria for becoming a tenant is tied to income and the person’s status as a homeless veteran. Officials expect the first tenants to move into the transitional housing development by the end of June, at which time tenants can address the next steps in their march toward independence. Achieving this outcome, Perrin said, was the rationale behind building a neighborhood-style development. “When we started a land bank here, the city can buy homes or homes could be given to them for taxes and things of that nature,


which the city could’ve fixed up for this use,” he said. “The problem with that is, they’re scattered all over that city, so [veterans] don’t have that camaraderie. “We wanted to tie it into a village concept where the sidewalks go around to all the houses, they can get to know their neighbors and they have a common theme in the fact that they’re all veterans. It’s the kind of place that you can share your feelings with folks who have been where they are and maybe have the same issues.” The neighborhood concept is anchored by a 1,500-square-foot activities center, said Regina Burkett, director of Community Development and Grants. “The activity center will have office space and common areas,” she said. “There will be services located in that center and [veterans] will also be bussed from there to other places for mental health services, to see social workers or any kind of case where assistance is needed.” “We’re going to be able to provide an avenue for people to come and directly communicate with the veterans who are here,” Copenhaver said. “Even if they are not housed here, the services are going to be open to our local veterans. Frankly, they often just don’t know where to go or they’re too embarrassed to ask. We’re building the awareness for the veterans that, hey, you do have options out there, through all of these other services.” The development is a joint venture between the city, ASU and Beck PRIDE Center. Grants, donations and public-private partnerships have raised around $2 million so far, from donors large and small. Businesses have also kicked in with various inkind donations, from furnishings to linens to laundry service. “I’ve always said public-private partnerships work,” Perrin said.

“We’ve got the public involved as well as the city and, in this case, Beck PRIDE and Arkansas State University. Every time I turned around, someone was blessing the city, saying, ‘I will do this. I will donate this.’ “That’s really the way you have to do these things; no one agency is going to be able to give you enough money to do a project. You’re going to have to use the city or the county or whoever the agency is that kicks it off, then go out and work with private industry as well as other people to get things done. This was a win-win from the very beginning; it was just how do you put it together.” Even with the community’s outpouring, rising construction and materials prices last year had the project running at a deficit by the time Copenhaver took office. A former state legislator, he reached out to the Arkansas State Attorney General’s office for help. “Having previously served in the legislature, I knew the attorney general has a slush fund available that goes back to low- to moderate-income communities,” he said. “I contacted Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and she was more than open to the project, contributing $250,000 in late January.” Both Perrin and Copenhaver noted with pride that Veterans Village is the first of its kind in the state, which has other Arkansas communities calling for advice on how to get something similar started. Copenhaver said he is happy to oblige, while at the same time saying there’s still much to learn to effectively address Jonesboro’s homeless going forward. “I think the bottom line is, we’re learning from this and what we can do here and how we can advance it throughout our community, to provide for other homeless individuals that are not veterans,” he said. “This is just one step.”

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WALK THIS WAY On parking and perception. BY KATE EAST

GRAPHIC BY AMR ARCHITECTS

W

Midtown Target vs. SoMa Main St. walk, Little Rock.

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alkability is what solidified my choice to move to Little Rock’s River Market District 11 years ago. My family walks everywhere in the neighborhood, so the perceived lack of parking doesn’t resonate with me. But in Little Rock’s SoMa and North Little Rock’s Argenta, I often become one of those people who worry about whether I can snag a spot next to the establishment I am visiting. Right now it is manageable, but as the neighborhood grows and flourishes, parking will be at more of a premium. The truth is, there are more than enough spots in these neighborhoods. The refrain we hear, “There’s nowhere to park,” really means “there is no free, close-enough parking.” The idea that we are entitled to free parking is another op-ed for another day, so let’s focus on the perception of how far we have to walk to visit these lovely neighborhoods. What can we do to start moving the needle on that perception of walking distance? One idea is to try to publicize the equivalent of distances people are willing to walk. For example, in SoMa there is always a parking spot at Walgreens. It’s free, and walking from the parking lot of Walgreens down to Community Bakery and back takes about as many steps as a shopping trip to Midtown Target. If we really reflect on the distances we have been conditioned to walk through big box stores and across vast parking lots, could we readjust how far we are willing to walk to experience a neighborhood? I have found that this mental adjustment has led me to try parking in all areas of SoMa. While walking from my new parking spots, I come across delightful finds that I never would have discovered otherwise: a pocket park for training poodles, a thrift shop at Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church, a modern home designed with a complete solar roof and a magical, lovingly tended secret garden. I would argue these sights are far more exciting than the Target parking lot and worth every step. The River Market and other lovely walkable neighborhoods like SoMa and Argenta will not thrive on the residents within walking distance alone. We need (and welcome) visitors. The need for parking will not go away, but maybe we can slowly start to alter the perception of what constitutes acceptable places to park in the neighborhoods. And perhaps we will all find some gems along the way. Kate East is an award-winning interior designer and a partner at AMR Architects.


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