Agency awards LR $150,000 for project

Grant to help redevelop Main Street
A plan years in the making just found new life with the aid of a federal grant to redevelop downtown Little Rock’s Main Street.

Little Rock, the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architect received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the agency announced Tuesday.

The grant will allow a private developer, Reed Realty Advisors, to take existing buildings on Main Street, renovate them and make them available and desired by arts and cultural organizations, Mayor Mark Stodola said. The revitalization will include four buildings in the 500 to 600 block of Main Street and could possibly move into the 300 and 400 blocks, he said.

A California-based company, Tower Investments, owns the buildings, which are now vacant.

The developer matched the grant, and city staff gave $7,500 in in-kind donations for the project, Stodola said.

Nearly 450 communities applied for the inaugural Our Town grant, and only 51 received a portion of the $6.5 million funding for designing, planning and arts engagement projects. A nine-member panel of the agency reviewed all applications, and it thought it was the right grant and the right time for a revitalization project in Little Rock, said agency Director of Design Jason Schupbach.

“Little Rock has done a lot of preplanning,” he said. “And now it is the moment to invest in design.”

In 2009, the city sponsored a three-day community forum, where architects and urban planners agreed Main Street had room for new construction.

One year later, the federal Environmental Protection Agency chose Little Rock and four other state capitals to take part in its new Greening America’s Capitals project. While the cities did not receive money directly for the grant, the agency hired planners to visit and help brainstorm environment-friendly landscaping and infrastructure methods.

The city applied for the arts grant about three months ago, Stodola said. The project will begin Oct. 1 and is to end Sept. 30, 2012, he said.

The buildings’ upper floors will be used for office and residential spaces, while the lower floors will be for organizations, he said.

“We feel it will help stimulate this quarter,” he said. “The ultimate objective is to have the opportunity to develop a vibrancy on Main Street, similar to the kind of activity in the River Market area.”

This article was published on page 11 of the Thursday, July 14, 2011 edition in the Arkansas section.