Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
Main Street in Argenta wasn't always a refined place of restaurants, art walks and community theater. But it has always been a place with good bones.
One of those who recognized the potential of the area before almost anyone else was Scott Miller. An engineer who now owns Baker House Bed and Breakfast at Fifth and Main with his wife, Miller said he started thinking about moving to Argenta long before it began the transformation into a gentrified urban neighborhood. Though they lived in comfortable suburbia in West Little Rock at the time, the Millers wanted a simpler life that could potentially be lived without cars.
"We consciously moved from the place you're supposed to move — the suburban area — to where we wanted to live, which is downtown, on an urban street, in a walkable environment," he said.
After purchasing a vacant lot a block and a half off Main Street, Miller took out one of the first building permits for a single family home that had been issued for the Argenta area in years, then built a combined office and loft.
"I knew it was a core area," he said. "I knew all the bus routes came within a block of where I was going to build my office. I knew you couldn't do much going through [North Little Rock] without coming within a block and half of my office." Two years after moving in, they bought Baker House to run as a B&B.
Miller said living in Argenta has more than lived up to his expectations, though the construction of the trolley line — which runs about 70 feet from his home — was a challenge. "We were shaking with the jackhammers when they were jackhammering up the road," he said. "All the pictures on the walls would re-arrange themselves."
Though progress took a breather between 2008 and 2010 during the economic downturn, things are speeding up again, Miller said. These days, Baker House runs at 60 to 70 percent booked year-round. He said they use the trolley as a selling point, giving guests free passes so they can ride to restaurants and attractions on both sides of the river. Miller said he hopes that in the next phase, the trolley line will be pushed up Main to the foot of Park Hill, near where the North Little Rock School District has plans to build a new $100 million high school with a 1,000-seat auditorium and 400-seat black box theater — development which, Miller said, "will hopefully extend development up Main Street."
Main Street Argenta, Miller said, is on track to have a different vibe than the River Market in Little Rock, with a better mix of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, arts venues and stores. "I think it's going to be more of a social, gallery/restaurant area," he said. "It won't be a Friday night thing. I think it's going to be a seven nights a week thing."
Ongoing development of Argenta, Miller said, has become the largest selling point for Baker House, and has resulted in the walkable neighborhood that he and his wife envisioned when they moved there.
"Are there problems living in a downtown area? Absolutely," he said. "But those are far outweighed by the benefits, the walkability and the access. I've lived in subdivisions. You don't get out and know your neighbors like I do."
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