Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal
There are many reasons downtowners give for settling near the city's heart: they like the parks, they like being close to where they work, they like the nightlife. The folks we interviewed come from all walks of life, but they intersect in what they like most about downtown: the feeling of community.
Liz Sanders is the event coordinator for the Bernice Sculpture Garden at Daisy Bates and Main and her partner, Ryan Dunn, is an artist and a farmer, growing flowers and vegetables for the summer Farmer's Market held there and the Root Cafe nearby. They moved in May to an apartment in a recently renovated 1890 Victorian at 2008 Scott St., now a duplex; their landlords allow them to use all of the empty quarter-acre lot next door for their large garden. A picket fence encompasses the lots, which soar above street level, the kind of site that recalls 19th century coaches and coach steps and grand entrances. The two have lived downtown for a couple of years, first at 10th and Scott, attracted by the historic houses. Downtown, Sanders said, is a good place for people who have an "open mindset" — especially the under 30 set that she and Dunn fall into. She's lived in Hillcrest and the Heights, and prefers the "authentic city neighborhood" presence of downtown. "It doesn't feel like Little Rock," but a more bustling place, one open to diversity and new opportunities. Sanders said friends who live in other areas of the city have told her they "don't go past Community Bakery" because they feel the area is dangerous, but "that's a misrepresentation of what's actually here," she insists, a leftover from the "Bangin' in Little Rock" documentary of gangs made in 1994. Sanders and Dunn said they would have to think hard about leaving the community. Some day, of course, Dunn hopes to live in the country, where he can grow vegetables and have goats, which aren't welcome on the 20th block of Scott Street.
Sarah Catherine Phillips Gutierrez got her master's degree from the Kennedy School in Boston, and traveled to the Sudan on scholarship. Her husband Jorge was born in Colombia and studied in Chicago. So they've been around the block, as the saying goes. Now, however, their world is really just a few blocks, and that's the way they like it. Their one-bedroom condo in the Capital Commerce Building is next door to I-30, which Jorge takes to get to his job as technical director and plant manager of Poloplaz Inc. in Jacksonville. It's blocks from the Stephens Building, where Sarah Catherine runs her business, S.C. Phillips. Their baby, Marco, is close to his nanny, who lives just down the street. Before she married, Sarah Catherine — who is also a salsa teacher and who came home to work for Stephens Inc. as a security and defense researcher — lived in the Quapaw Tower, so she knew she wanted to stay downtown after she and Jorge married. (Yes, they met at her salsa classes.) Now, the spacious living room is Marco's. "It's wonderful to have a small baby in a small environment," Sarah Catherine said. Parking is easy, the elevator makes getting out with Marco easy. Sarah Catherine strolls him on the Clinton Library grounds; she said she can't wait until spring to take him there to play. One day, they'll be able to walk to the Museum of Discovery and Riverfest. The couple invite friends to watch fireworks from their rooftop garden. Yes, they have to give friends who live out west directions to the condo when they invite them down, but one of her best friends lives on Louisiana. Yes, sometimes grocery shopping is a pain. But, she added, she can pick up milk and eggs across the street at Stratton's Market at Dugan's Pub, just across the street. All they need in the world is there.
Shelby Brewer, a media and communications manager for the Arkansas Arts Council, is "living the life I aways dreamed of. I always wanted to live in a high-rise." For the Fort Smith native, that's the 11th floor in the Quapaw Tower, where her one-bedroom apartment faces west "so I get to see the sun set every night." She feels a sense of community downtown and says it's "where all the action is," with music, art receptions and other activities, and the convenience of not having to get stuck in traffic on the way to work — she works in the Tower Building three minutes from her apartment — counts for a lot. "I love the energy downtown. ... I love being able to wake up on a Saturday morning and go to the Farmers Market and walk and look at the sculpture [in Riverfront park]." In summer, she walks to the Argenta neighborhood in downtown North Little Rock and hikes over the bridges that have given Little Rock new character. She also likes the atmosphere at Quapaw Tower, which feels safe and is "just a great place for somebody my age [in her 30s] to live." Brewer is also a photographer, and finds plenty of "beautiful architecture" downtown to shoot, but the view she most loves is the one from her balcony. "Last night I watched the sleet and the rain," she said. "I love my balcony."
Eric Buchanan, 58, lives at 2022 S. Gaines St., the street he was raised on. In fact, six houses in the block are occupied by members of his family, including his mother, Willie Mae Milton, who feeds everybody on Sunday. You might have seen the house on the CBS evening news back in the day; it was on one of Bill Clinton's running routes. A personal injury lawyer who graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., Buchanan returned to Little Rock in the early 1990s. He chose to move in to the Craftsman house on Gaines because "it was comfortable. It was old. It was my style." It beats the houses his friends in Chenal own, he says; theirs are of poor construction by comparison. He believes the home was built by a jeweler in Hot Springs; it has a marble fireplace. The neighborhood "has seen its low points and its high points. Now there's a renaissance, a rejuvenation." For example: "This prostitute used to hang out" down the street, he said. "Now it's a day spa or something." (He was referring to the building at 14th and Main, which owner Cassie Toro is remodeling and is occupied by a fitness studio.) The house is also a quick commute to his "office": Community Bakery. "I haven't paid Joe Fox rent in 14 years," he laughed. And he's among family. "We see each other almost too much," he said.
The day in 2011 when Delita and Cedric Martin moved into their house at 1907 S. Gaines, a piece of molding fell from the wall. Her husband had a look of horror on his face. "We can put it back," she assured him. So while her husband would "just as soon find something new and shiny" to live in, printmaker Delita Martin loves her 1920 Victorian. She loves it not just because of its high-ceilinged rooms, which she is renovating one at a time, or the fact that there's a two-story building out back that she can use as her printmaking studio, but because it's in a neighborhood full of friends who like to use her porch for socializing. "When someone hears a bottle open, the neighbors start coming to the porch." They lived in the house a year before they began to remodel, making sure they knew what they wanted. Now, the living room is a deep crimson with fine wood moldings and hung with artwork of her own as well as others. A former teacher at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Martin now devotes her time to her woodcuts and her 9-year-old, who attends eStem downtown. Before moving downtown, the Martins lived in the Heights for a year, but then moved to an apartment at Spring and 17th Streets. Like many, they were warned of crime, "but we didn't find that to be true." Living in the Heights was "nice," Martin said, but the family found downtown more neighborly — and they liked getting more house for the money. Another plus: Son Caleb's best friend lives across the street, and Martin feels they're safe playing outside.
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