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In November 2015, the architecture and design collective StudioMain unveiled a catalog of ideas for transforming a once-vibrant stretch of downtown, the heart of which is skyscraper-lined Capitol Avenue. They called it the Financial Quarter for the financial institutions that have long defined the area, and defined the boundary of the 30-block area as the Arkansas River on the north, Sixth Street on the south, Broadway Avenue on the west and Main Street on the east. Now, with a boutique hotel coming to the Hall-Davidson buildings on Capitol Avenue and plans to begin erecting signage and other branding to define the area, the Financial Quarter may soon become a district people recognize.
In the past few decades, there has been little to draw people to the area. The lobbies of bank buildings have become "mausoleums," as developer and realtor Rett Tucker aptly described them at a Financial Quarter meeting. Not even the tenants of the towers get down to the street. Glen Woodruff, vice president and director of business development at Wittenberg Deloney & Davidson Architects and a member of StudioMain, has been the chief instigator behind the rebranding of the area. WD&D is located in the Region's Center at 400 W. Capitol Ave.
"We've watched the street die in the sense that there's no activity. We can be guilty of this," Woodruff said. "We drive up in the parking deck and come into our tower, and we might go downstairs for lunch or we might not. Then we'll get back in our cars in the parking deck and drive home and literally never step on the street in downtown Little Rock. And we're not alone in that."
StudioMain envisions the transformation happening in three phases: Phase one calls for events, "street furniture" and pop-up kiosks designed for retail. Phase two suggests redesigning the seven plazas on Capitol Avenue between Broadway and Main to create shopping or retail areas and repurposing underused bank lobbies. Phase three calls for transforming surface parking (which accounts for 40 to 60 percent of all property in the quarter) into mixed-use development, giving Capitol Avenue and Center Street distinctive street designs and, perhaps, adding residential options in high rises.
Woodruff said StudioMain's offering is less prescriptive than inspirational. "The idea is to help people think creatively about design in their lives and especially their day-to-day routines, and think about how design can impact their lives for the positive."
Last year, the Downtown Little Rock Partnership formally established the Financial Quarter committee, chaired by John Martin of Moses Tucker Real Estate and Maggie Hogan of Flake and Kelley Commercial. Martin said funds, provided by stakeholders, would pay for branding efforts, which should roll out later this year.
The biggest impediment going forward? "Money," Woodruff said. But aside from that, he said the group needed to formalize its relationship with city leaders, who've embraced the ideas thus far. Woodruff expects to see some special events around holidays hosted in the quarter this year.
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