Metroplan has released a new video detailing their vision for a light-rail line between West Little Rock and the airport, following the path of I-630. The video details the results of Metroplan's I-630 Fixed Guideway Alignment Study, a preliminary project to determine both a route for the trains and where to place 14 stations to best serve commuters. As planned, the cars would pass briefly underground at several spots.
Watching the video, I couldn't help but think of this entertaining musical number from The Simpsons. Let's hope the Little Rock plan is a little more solid than Springfield's. Have you driven I-630 during rush hour lately?
Last week, we told you about the theft of three bronze sculptures from the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden in Riverfront Park, with police saying they believe the thefts were the work of scrap metal thieves.
Dawn found another blow to Little Rock public art this morning, with artist Michael Warrick's "Fusion, 2009" sculpture — a large, carved ball of Indiana limestone — lying tumped over and badly damaged on the concrete. The sculpture stands just to the south of the Cox Center near the CALS Main Library, and was dedicated in memory of former CALS employee Vernon C. Johnson, Sr., who died in 2006.
This is why we can't have nice things:
The groundbreaking we mentioned earlier was held today for the Arcade building, a joint project between the Central Arkansas Library System and Moses Tucker Real Estate named in tribute to a long-ago Little Rock building.
As Rock Candy has reported in detail, the Little Rock Film Festival and Institute plans to be headquartered in the building and preside over a film series in the 325-seat theater that will be part of the project. A new restaurant and bar are also in the mix.
The blog reported recently the state Game and Fish Commission's decision to provide $411,000 to build a boat ramp on Little Rock park land on the south bank of the Arkansas River east of the Clinton Library. It would be part of the Rock City Yacht Club marina proposed by Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter.
I mentioned then that I'd written about the project last year, when the Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard were taking comments on the project. Both those agencies — and some river shippers — had objected to the original design because of concerns it might be too close to the river navigation channel.
I learned today that the Corps and Coast Guard's concerns were resolved by a redesign that moved the marina 50 feet back from the edge of rock dikes that help maintain the navigation channel. Chris Davies, regulatory manager for the corps, said the change satisfied all those who'd raised initial objections, both government agencies and private concerns. Here's the full permit, with project descriptions.
The necessary permits for construction on a navigable waterway and to comply with clean water rules (some dredging may be required) were issued July 12. In final form, the permits allow a 404-slip marina at 15 docks, with an additional 70 slips for personal watercraft, the Corps said. Burkhalter has until Dec. 31, 2015 to complete the project, but can also ask for extensions during that time. The engineering firm that did the plans referred questions to Burkhalter about a construction start date and time line. He was not available this morning.
I'd also like to ask Burkhalter how his thinking has evolved on a potential race for governor in 2014. He'd confirmed to me earlier that he was considering it. I sense from talking to others that the likelihood of this has decreased.
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department held an open-forum public meeting about a replacement span for the Broadway Bridge this evening in North Little Rock. Rather than a presentation/speaker format, the AHTD uses a more informal "meet and greet" style, with the proposed bridge designs arranged around the room on easels and AHTD engineers and administrators available to answer the questions from the public.
More details on the jump...
More real estate news from SOMA, the South Main District that's been a real bright spot on the local development scene.
Cassie Toro, who's done a recent renovation of a Quapaw Quarter home, has purchased two buildings at 1318 and 1324 South Main through her Soma Properties LLC. I have a call into her about future plans.
The building at 1318, and adjacent parking lot at the corner, once was occupied by Lendermon Paint. It's vacant currently. Next door is a two-story building that has Pleazures Martini Lounge on the ground floor and five apartments upstairs. Tony Curtis Real Estate handled the transaction. The property was owned by L.D. and Fred Lendermon of Beebe, according to county records, and sold for $375,000.
UPDATE: Toro said she had several ideas about use of the property, but they were too vague to discuss currently. "I hope to do something that will improve South Main and downtown in general," she said.
Rett Tucker of Moses Tucker Real Estate says his company's joint venture with the Doyle Rogers Company to redevelop the old Blass department store at Fourth and Main has closed on $20 million in financing with IberiaBank this morning and construction will start Aug. 15.
The Mann project — named for the building architect George Mann — is to be completed June 2013. It includes 90,000 square feet in the building at Fourth and Main and a three-story annex. Some 65,000 square feet is already pre-leased by Arkansas Child Support Enforcement. It will also have 8,000 square feet of retail space and 19 loft apartments. A 400-space parking deck is to be built on the west side of the buildings.
Other key participants: AMR Architects and Clark Contractors. Conventional loans and new market and historic tax credits are financing the work.
Ryan Lasiter of Doyle Rogers Co. fills in some of the nitty gritty:
The Broadway Bridge has been closed while police cope with unconfirmed reports about a potential bridge jumper.
Meanwhile, want to get an idea of what the future holds when the bridge is closed for two years for replacement? You could see it today. Gridlock. Parking lots along side streets and general traffic chaos. Hell on Broadway.
UPDATE: Channel 7 reports that the bridge has reopened and rescue workers reached whoever prompted the closure. He was taken from the bridge without further incident.
Today the Downtown Partnership and the City of Little Rock held a press conference to announce a new pedestrian and bike safety campaign. According to Bryan Day, assistant city manager, the campaign is three-prong. There'll be a focus on education and awareness, which the Downtown Partnership will spearhead via their newsletter and Facebook. Additionally, police plan to crack down on downtown traffic violations. Running red lights and turning right on red or left on green cause the most pedestrian and cyclist accidents. The traffic engineering department will work to identify and address the most problematic intersections, with increased signage and longer red lights. Pedestrians have already been banned from the crosswalk on Broadway at City Hall during weekday work hours.
According to a analysis published by in January 2012 by Metroplan, Pulaski County had one cyclist death and nine pedestrian deaths in 2011, including an Entergy employee who was hit by a CAT bus crossing Louisiana at Capital. The study identified a dozen intersections with the highest crash incidents. Markham and LaHarpe tops the list at nine collisions, followed by Sixth and Broadway with eight collisions.
Fred Woodward of eStem Charter Schools was there to remind everyone of the 1,500 high school students strolling around downtown, to and from school and to restaurants, often distracted by their pals and not paying attention to traffic or signals. James Jones, the regional customer service manager from Entergy, was there to remind everyone that walking to work can be lethal. Max has given y'all his thoughts on this matter in a previous post.
The take-home message from today's event: texting, GPS systems, fiddling with your iPod, fixing your hair and eating your cheeseburger are dangerous. As Sgt. Cassandra Davis put it, "It only takes a second for something bad to happen. We don't want to live the rest of our lives regretting."
Good report at our Eat Arkansas blog by Leslie Newell Peacock on some unhappy downtown restaurant people who think the Downtown Partnership's promotion of Food Truck Friday has cut into their business.
Members of the MacArthur Park Group are trying to spur interest in using MacArthur Park funds generated by the new Little Rock sales tax to create a new off-leash dog area.
According to Humane Society statistics, Little Rock is home to 50,000 dogs and only one off-leash dog park (Paws at Murray Park). But the MacArthur dog park is still in the early planning stages. According to Keith Canfield, the mayor-appointed Ward I representative on the Animal Services Advisory Board, the MacArthur Park Group is still trying to determine if there is enough interest to make a dog park top priority among MacArthur Park improvements.
There's a public organizational meeting Saturday, March 31 at 2 p.m. on the second floor of the MacArthur Park Museum to discuss the budget and overall concept and assign volunteer committees. Tentative plans include covered areas, fountains and doggie wading pools and even free wi-fi, but the amenities are subject to budget constraints. The park is slated to nestle in the angle of I-30 and I-630, along the park's western corridor.
Formed in 2006, MacArthur Park Group is a volunteer steering committee that works with the city's Parks and Recreation Department and the Downtown Partnership to raise money for MacArthur Park improvements. Three years ago, the group had a Minneapolis design firm asses MacArthur Park and draw up award-winning plans that now guide the group's projects. The dog park is among a three-part focus that also includes enhanced playgrounds and refurbishing a multi-court space used for soccer games and bike polo. Canfield said they're focusing on the dog park first because "it's relatively low cost and quick construction." The Group's goal is to begin work on the dog park sometime in 2012.
Of course it won't. A $400,000 rehab to create $18-a-square-foot medical/counseling office space across the street from a problem liquor store and long-defunct after-hours club is not a bad thing.
I suspect that Dailey and Priest are taking the long view missing in Mayor Mark Stodola and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin's pitched resistance to accommodating veterans at this convenient place. Only a prolonged city legal battle — waged on technicalities invented by the city attorney's office — seems likely to stop the project now. It is far better to embrace it than to continue to fight and decry it as the ruination of Main Street. It's not only bad for the city's lacklustre image on serving the needy. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy for Main Street if city leaders continue to broadcast how terrible its occupants are.
Mayor Stodola's current spin — that this is purely a land-use issue, not about the clientele — is only a deflection from his and Griffin's core message: Mostly decrepit Main Street is too good for the American war veterans served by this facility. The land use issue isn't complicated. Such facilities are currently allowed by right under the zoning code. They'd still be allowed — after a hearing — under the tortured ordinance Stodola has tried to draw up to continue his five-year effort to push the VA (and other welfare agencies) out of downtown. There have been multiple hearings and private meetings on this facility. The VA has answered question after question. Neighbors have repeatedly expressed concerns. Given all that has transpired and with their reputation on the line, it is hard to imagine the VA doing anything but going the extra mile in making their clinic work properly.
How about let's simplify this? Let's present a resolution of support/opposition to the City Board. Let's short-circuit the talk about land-use ordinances, building permits and the other legal artifices dreamed up as proxies for the real issue. Do City Board members and our representatives in Congress think Main Street is too good for a veterans clinic or not? Call the roll.
PS — I want to pass along a note I got from the mayor after I noted he erred during the City Board meeting in describing the distance from the city's planned location of a homeless day resource center (which he's suggested as an alternative for the vets center) and another facility for homeless families, Our House. He defends his effort and criticizes what I've written. The floor to the mayor:
It will be developed for offices — Arkansas Child Support Enforcement will be a major tenant — 20 loft-style apartments and retail and restaurants, according to the news release. The development, as the site plan below shows, includes a new parking deck.
Child Support is to take about 65,000 of the 92,000 square feet of office space. About 7,500 square feet will be available for retail and restaurants. The three-story annex will be solely devoted to apartments. Green space is planned between that building and the new parking deck to the west.
Developers note other recent activities of progress on Main, including the recently completed Arkansas Rep renovation and work to improve the old Stephens Inc., properties at Capitol and Main. The Exchange Bank Building at at Capitol and Main is being renovated for the Department of Higher Education, currently in an adjacent building. IT staff from the Department of Education currently in two buildings, will consolidate there, too.
Child Support Enforcement will move from space in the old Arkla building on East Capitol, acquired several years ago by Moses Tucker. Chris Moses said the old Arkla building was "obsolete, but functionally and economically." There are no plans to move new tenants in that space. He said Moses Tucker hopes to announce a new development there in the next six to eight months. Demolition is one possibility, I gather, though he said it was too soon to say exactly what final plan might emerge.
Child Support expects to make its move to the new space in 12 to 14 months.
The chair of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, met further today with Arkansas officials working to provide services to Central Arkansas veterans.
We assume this meeting was to generally check up on things and perhaps weigh in on the Drop-in Center relocation to a site already leased at 10th and Main in Little Rock. We also assume that he toured local veterans' facilities, including the existing Drop-In Center at 2nd and Ringo, which is so over-crowded that clients eat in three shifts and the doors to the closet-sized offices don't open entirely, because multiple desks have been crammed inside.
We assume because at the press conference at the Little Rock VA hospital following the meeting, Miller barely spoke. He complimented local VA leadership, called Central Arkansas's facilities "one of the crown jewels inside the system," and repeatedly thanked U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock, until now a key opponent of the new location, for inviting him to visit. He literally spoke for a minute (the recording is posted below).
Tim Griffin spoke extensively, but he never went beyond platitudes. He took five questions — three from the same reporter— and all the while, Miller stood at Griffin's side, wearing an unreadable expression. When Griffin finished speaking (a question on why he has publicly supported Romney pretty much shut down the conference after Griffin said he couldn't discuss politics in the government venue), Miller was surrounded by a conglomerate of suits and uniformed security, and whisked away with journalists in vain pursuit.
So really, we don't know if Miller toured the Drop-In Center (he implied that he had, but he never explicitly said this), if he has an opinion on its conditions, if he agrees with Griffin's work — including a letter to Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki — to stymie the VA relocation efforts, or even why he was present at the news conference.
What we do know is that Griffin can't tell us "everything that was in the meeting, otherwise we would have had the meeting in here," but that "we have requested some facts about the timeline of events and the VA is being very cooperative, and they want to give us those facts, so we will take a look at those, and I have offered in every way to help further the conversation from different sides, and from what I hear from the VA, they want to be forward leaning and engage in conversation with folks who oppose that particular site."
Uh, yeah, I think we already knew all that and that Griffin has experience as a reservist. Speaking of questions and answers: You'll find answers to every single one posed to the VA so far on its Facebook page. And they welcome more.
Video after the jump. Also a news release in which Griffin works in a jab at the VA for not doing an adequate job of notice on its move.
It's not official yet, but it looks like Bank of America has decided to go ahead with the home loan that will allow Valarie Abrams to move into the city's first shipping container home, bringing to a close a saga of home ownership promised (here) and withheld (here).
The bank had denied the loan for the house in the Pettaway neighborhood — which Abrams entered into a contract with the Downtown Little Rock Community Development Corp. to buy two years ago — just as the house was move-in ready, on the basis that it was too "unusual" to accurately appraise. Abrams was closely involved with the final touches on the home, including paint colors and lighting fixtures.
Abrams got the word late Friday that she was cleared to close and that the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, which worked with Abrams to get the loan, would be formally notified Tuesday. That's good news both for Abrams and the DLRCDC.
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