New mansion nixed
We broke this news first on the Arkansas Blog:
A tearful First Lady Janet Huckabee announced last week that she would abandon plans to build a 7,000-square-foot executive residence on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion.
The first lady recommended to the Mansion Association that it drop plans for the house and focus instead on landscaping around the Mansion. The Mansion Association, on a voice vote, decided to follow the first lady’s advice.
Her voice breaking, Huckabee said, “I would love to see it get done. But I have visited with Katrina refugees. … I don’t have the energy and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do at this time.”
An architect’s draft of the residence —which was seldom discussed in public and which was released only after a Freedom of Information request was made last December — was for a two-story Georgian home, to be located east of the existing Mansion and connected to it by a covered walkway. The association just last year finished raising $750,000 to match a challenge grant of the same amount from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, money which apparently was to have been spent to build the residence.
Huckabee said she did not know if the decision would cost the association the grant or if it could be held for the future. But, she added, “if it means losing $750,000 we need to decide that’s OK. We have a lot here to be grateful for.”
It’s been two years since the Union Rescue Mission purchased a building on Capitol Avenue for renovation as a homeless shelter, and two years since a variety of city officials and business people started pressuring the organization to look elsewhere. But draw no assumptions from Rescue Mission’s recent purchase of the Haverty’s Furniture building on South University, for $757,000. Thurman Chambers, president and CEO of the Rescue Mission, said the Haverty’s building will be home to a thrift store and donations clearinghouse, to be relocated from its current home on 12th Street.
“We’re still looking for another location” for the shelter, Chambers said. “Every place we’ve looked at, something’s wrong with it.”
Work is in progress in the space formerly occupied by the Living Room restaurant at 3610 Kavanaugh Blvd. to accommodate an upscale seafood restaurant — the brainchild of a group of restaurant developers from Dallas. It will be known as SO Restaurant and Bar.
Next door to Canon Grill in Hillcrest, a joint apparently to be known as the Local Fountain Dive was readying to open. Beer, shuffleboard and pool will be on offer, neighbors say, but so far we haven’t run down the operator.
Up the hill, there’s an unconfirmed report that a Starbucks is heading to the space once occupied by Freddie’s in the Heights shopping district.
More solid is the news that Rye Furniture in North Little Rock has sold its building and will be moving to West Little Rock next summer. A real estate group hoping to develop residential and commercial space along North Little Rock’s Main Street corridor is the buyer.
Arkansas doesn’t break into the weddings list in the Sunday New York Times often, but the state made the paper Sept. 18. The marriage: Brad Simpson, the Little Rock native who heads Leonardo DiCaprio’s film company (Simpson was an Arkansas Times cover subject several months ago), was married in Massachusetts to Jocelyn Hayes, an associate producer of Killer Films, the indie where Simpson once worked. The article noted that former Gov. and Sen. David Pryor received special permission to perform the ceremony. Simpson’s mother, Peggy, had administered the Governor’s Mansion during the Pryor years.
The earth moved
Dirt is finally being turned at Strode Property’s planned Midtown shopping center across from Park Plaza, almost a year after the original construction start date.
“He didn’t want to start until he had everything in place,” developer Ron Tabor, the local contact for the project, said. No new announcements yet on the national retailers the Dallas-based developer promised the project would draw (Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn are the most-rumored suspects), but Tabor said he thinks that’s not far away.
Houses that formerly occupied the several block area of the development, just northeast of the intersection of Markham and University, were demolished last year, and the site became a dumping ground. Strode’s now putting a fence up around the site that should end the dumping, Tabor said, and the new timeline has construction wrapped up by late spring or early summer.
Bob Scoggin, 50, the Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist whose job it was to review the work of agencies, including DAH and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, for possible impacts on historic properties, resigned from the agency on Monday. Multiple sources say Scoggin, whom they describe as an "exemplary" employee who the week before had completed an archeological project on DAH property, was told he would be fired if he did not resign.
Jones was "Minority Outreach Coordinator" for Hutchinson's 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The governor first named him as policy director before placing him over the labor department instead in Jan. 2015, soon after taking office.
A former inmate who claims she was sexually assaulted over 70 times by former McPherson Womens' Unit chaplain Kenneth Dewitt has filed a federal lawsuit against Dewitt, several staff members at the prison, and officials with the Arkansas Department of Corrections, including former director Ray Hobbs.
Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.
Old habits die hard. We may have a new Republican majority in the legislature, but like the old Democratic majority, it still doesn't hurt to have a lawmaker spouse to land a part-time job during the legislative session.
When we first asked Gov. Mike Beebe about the "circuit breaker" idea out of Arizona (automatically opting out of Medicaid expansion if the feds reduce the matching rates in the future), he said it was fine but noted that states can already opt out at any time, an assurance he got in writing from the feds.
An interesting controversy is brewing in Conway Public Schools, periodically a scene of discord as more liberal constituents object to the heavy dose of religion that powerful local churches have tried to inject into the schools, particularly in sex education short on science and long on abstinence.