Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal
Investors hope the Donaghey Building at Seventh and Main will soon house more than just a handful of businesses.
Though progress has been slower than hoped, plans proceed to convert upper floors of the historic building into condos. Stephanie Smith of Smith Investments acquired the building earlier this year from a Hot Springs company and is in the process of ripping out nearly three quarters of the structure’s interior to turn the now vacant 5th through14th floors into 80 condo units that will cost from $150,000 to $200,000.
Smith said her new management com-pany wants to return much of the building to its original condition and, provided all goes smoothly, should complete the project in less than 3 years with pre-selling beginning as early as next summer. The construction process, she added, has been daunting, but has uncovered some architectural gems that date back to the building’s debut in 1926. Many of these features were altered or covered up — a mistake that Smith says will require some innovative restoration to correct.
“We’re looking for a picture of what the catwalk used to look like,” said Smith, referring to what has, until now, been covered by air conditioning units and dropped ceilings. “There is also some granite or marble on the walls that has been covered up that is absolutely beautiful. … It’s amazing what all has been done to it.”
And by “amazing,” she doesn‘t mean wonderful. Smith plans on restoring decorative features, such as the ornate crown molding along the tops of the walls and the building’s colorful stained glass, all in hopes of returning the Donaghey Building to its original glory.
“There are beautiful old mahogany doors that have been painted over and covered up … even the old mail slots on every floor — they’re still operational,” she said.
A condo conversion isn’t Smith’s only aim. She hopes to bring several more businesses into the first four floors. The building already houses 23 businesses, including a gym, jewelry store, restaurants, and Toys for Tots, operating this holiday season out of the 7th and 8th floors. But the commercial space is only about 25 percent occupied.
“We’ve still got a ways to go … and we‘re definitely looking for new businesses to add,” she said. “But, we’re also trying to make the space affordable for everyone … we’re surrounded by DHS [Department of Human Services], and we want to make sure that we’re as affordable as we can be.”
Smith and her crew were delayed for months in getting new construction underway. Financing of the construction is on hold, awaiting a city decision on the proposed sale of the Metrocentre Improvement District parking deck across Seventh Street to Smith for $2 million.
The parking deck was crucial to Smith to provide guaranteed, handy parking for new tenants. But resistance to the plan arose in the summer, when City Attorney Tom Carpenter said that the city had some $500,000 invested in the deck and the sale agreement provided no payment to the city, only to the improvement district. After several months of intense lobbying, the city Board of Directors was prepared to approve a sale, with some conditions on construction timelines.
The conditions created problems for Smith, but Sharon Priest, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, which manages the parking deck for the Metrocentre Improvement District, worked out a solution. Priest, who had lobbied aggressively for the sale of the deck, agreed to lease 180 spots in the deck to Smith, sufficient to satisfy Smith’s lender that parking was covered. Priest has said the redevelopment was important to the goal of increasing the population of residents downtown.
Smith, too, hopes her project will serve as an anchor for the southern end of the Main Street commercial strip.
“We want people who work downtown to also be able to live downtown, affordably and comfortably,” said Smith. “We’re really trying to do something here to make the community better … while trying our best and being overly fair. … I think that they city will see that.”