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Meet the neighbors downtown 

click to enlarge MARY NEAL BRIDGES:
  • MARY NEAL BRIDGES:

Mary Neal Bridges

Executive with Wholesale Beer Distributors of Arkansas

First Security Center

Though she could barely see for all the dust and plastic, the moment Mary Neal Bridges stepped off the construction elevator on the 13th floor of the then-under-construction First Security Center, she knew she had found what she wanted.

“We had to wear hard hats to come up and look at it,” she said. “I knew immediately, and I think we bought it within the week.”

When she says “it,” what she’s talking about is most anybody’s definition of a downtown dream home: two large condominiums that she and her husband, banker Todd Bridges, bought and then had melded together into (several) rooms with a view. For the past year, she and Todd have lived there with their teen-age daughter and two dogs.

The condo is good bit more pricey than where they lived before: West Little Rock’s trendy River Ridge neighborhood, near the junction of I-430 and Cantrell Road. As a lover of the hustle and bustle of other big cities, Bridges said that moving downtown was something that she has wanted to do for years. Though the place was expensive, she said she sees it as a great investment. They’re saving some too: “With the cost of the yard and the maintenance and the upkeep, in the end, it all evens out,” she said. “You still have the things that you have to do, but it’s not like you’d have in a house.”

Bridges said that other than carrying up groceries in a cart, she honestly can’t think of a down side to downtown living. As a member of a family with busy schedules, however, she does say she couldn’t live there without the services of her friendly neighborhood dog walker, who takes the Bridges’ pooches for a stroll twice a day.

“I couldn’t do it without him,” she said. “It would be very difficult, because we couldn’t get rid of our dogs.”

John “A.O.” Alfred-Ockiya

U.S. Air Force

Rock Street Lofts

An active duty airman with the Air Force, John “A.O.” Alfred-Ockiya lived in North Little Rock after he was transferred to the Little Rock Air Force Base two years ago. After a year of living on the north side, however, a friend with an itch for Little Rock loft living — and only half the money he needed — talked him into packing up and crossing the bridge. A resident of Rock Street Lofts for a little over a year now, where he and his roommate pay about a dollar per square foot for a two-bedroom, two-bath loft, Alfred-Ockiya said that his new place provides him with everything he was looking for, and all within commuting distance of the air base.

“It’s just a better location,” he said. “A better amount of people that are my age to hang out with, in a relatively centralized location.”

As a 20-something, Alfred-Ockiya said that he likes living near the nighttime entertainment offered on President Clinton Avenue. An outdoorsy type, he likes being able to take his bike out for a ride along the river. He likes that Rock Street Lofts has a rooftop patio. “You get a good view of downtown when you’re up on the rooftop,” he said. “There’s a grill up there for all the tenants, so we can barbecue whenever we want.”

Alfred-Ockiya said the only drawback is the lack of retail shops downtown. “That’s a bummer; I wish there was more convenience, more stores.”

What Alfred-Ockiya likes most is the community at Rock Street.

“I would say it’s a very friendly community downtown — a very friendly atmosphere,” he said. “People are very open-minded and friendly when it comes to just going out and hanging out.”

Erin Lorenzen

Artist

Kramer School

Forget the high-dollar views from the balconies of downtown’s new, expensive condos. Artist and designer Erin Lorenzen’s loft on the top floor of the Kramer School may be the coolest apartment in downtown. It’s got ceilings that are at least 20 feet high, a huge skylight over the central common area, and a sloped wall. It’s not something anyone would ever set out to build, but it’s an amazing space.

Lorenzen, 27, grew up in Stifft Station and Hillcrest. Except for two years she spent in Buenos Aires, she hadn’t lived outside those neighborhoods until she moved into the Kramer building a year ago. She shares the apartment with two roommates, and her works in progress — visual art pieces and clothing — cover much of the walls.

The Kramer School was redeveloped into apartments in 1997 with the aim of providing a community for local artists and their families. Artwork decorates every hallway and common space, but residents don’t have to be artists anymore. The building was developed as affordable housing, though, so new residents must meet income requirements to get in. The smallest apartments start at $490, and all utilities are included.

Lorenzen likes being near the River Market and just a block away from the Arkansas Arts Center, where she teaches a course.

“I’ve seen every show since I’ve been here,” she said.

But she misses Allsopp Park, and being able to walk home after running on the trails there. And she wishes downtown wasn’t so spread out.

“That’s one thing I miss about living in a big city — you walk downstairs, and everything’s right there.”

Dr. Walter Kimbrough,

president of Philander Smith College,

and his wife Adria Kimbrough, a lawyer

21st and Arch Streets

Dr. Walter Kimbrough is not an old-house person like a lot of people who choose to live in downtown’s historic homes.

“All the new-house amenities I’d gotten used to, we don’t have here,” said Kimbrough, who moved to Little Rock with his wife, Adria, two years ago to become president of Philander Smith College.

The Kimbroughs looked at houses in the Chenal area, but on a drive through the neighborhood around Philander Smith, they saw a for-sale sign in the yard of the historic John M. Martin House at 21st and Arch streets, built in 1903. “With the proximity to campus, it just made a lot of sense to take a look,” said Adria Kimbrough, who also works downtown. Too, she said, “We felt it was important to be part of the community that made up the college.”

The Kimbroughs said they save a lot in terms of gas money and commuting time by living downtown.

Adria said she also likes that the houses in the neighborhood are closer together than houses in West Little Rock.

“You almost have to get to know your neighbors,” she said.

They also like the proximity to the early childhood program at Rockefeller Elementary, where the Kimbroughs’ 6-month-old daughter is enrolled.

But there are down sides, they said. There aren’t many young families in the neighborhood, and they don’t have easy access to amenities that are taken for granted in other areas of town.

”It’s even hard to get a pizza delivered down here,” she said. “The big question is, ‘What side of Roosevelt are you on?’ I do understand, but we really have had no issues in terms of safety.”

Garth and Joann Martin

Retired

Rainwood Flats

When Garth and Joann Martin decided to downsize from their large house on a large lot in Leawood, they looked at moving to Hillcrest, but settled on downtown because “it’s just where we need to be with our lifestyle,” Garth said. The retired couple paid $330,000 in July 2005 for their 1,800-square-foot, two-bedroom Rainwood Flats condo at 515 E. Capitol, which has views of the River Market, the Clinton Library and Heifer International. It puts them within a couple of minutes of all the places where they volunteer and spend their leisure time, they said: The Rep, the Clinton Library, the Arts Center, Robinson Auditorium.

Though in their 70s, the Martins aren’t the oldest residents in their building, and they said they know several other retirees who live downtown. Their neighbors include a retired doctor, the head of the state Department of Higher Education, and several lawyers. One-bedroom condos in the building go for about half what the Martins paid, so “it’s very eclectic, which we like,” Joann said.

When they decided to move downtown, they caused some raised eyebrows among their friends, they said.

“So many of our friends out in way-west Little Rock can’t conceive that you can have a normal life down here like this,” she said. “But once you get inside the rooms, it’s not any different than any other house.”

But the most common question they get now is, “Where do you buy your groceries?”

“That’s the number one thing they need down here,” Garth said.

Joann admitted she doesn’t cook much, but said she can get to the Riverdale Harvest Foods in seven minutes and the East McCain Wal-Mart in nine. And she can hit Community Bakery and the River Market for basics like bread, milk and juice.

“It’s just a wonderful place to be if you let yourself get away from the idea that it’s dangerous or not conducive to home life,” she said.

Scott Sandlin

Realtor

The Cliffs

Questions about downtown living options? Scott Sandlin wouldn’t be a bad one to ask. The 30-year-old has lived in several buildings around the neighborhood during the past eight years, most recently in The Cliffs, a riverfront complex off LaHarpe Boulevard that is being converted from rental apartments to condominiums.

And he also sells real estate in the neighborhood for Moses Tucker Real Estate, including condos in The Cliffs, which have sold recently for between $135,000 and $150,000. He rented an apartment there for about 18 months before purchasing a newly refurbished condo unit in August.

In April, though, he’ll move again, this time to the more upscale Moses Tucker condo project, 300 Third, where prices start at $250,000 for an 830-square-foot one-bedroom and top out at over $725,000 for larger units.

“I just love living downtown,” he said. “I love the city feel.”

Drawbacks? There aren’t any, he said. He’s always driving the opposite direction of heavy commuter traffic, and though he said he’d love to have a grocery store and more conveniences downtown, he’s just a mile and half from the Harvest Foods and other stores in the Riverdale area.

“It’s not too big of a hassle.”

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