THE SUN’LL COME OUT . . . “TOMORROW” . . . | A Damsel in Distress

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Posted By on Thu, Feb 19, 2009 at 6:47 AM


Methinks Little Rock suffers delusions of grandeur. First, our coming “world-class” zoo. (Again.) Now our “revitalized” Main Street. (Again.)


Norma is all about getting down and keeping it real. From Chenal.


The River Market concept was perfect.




But it only works because it was built along the river, connected the already-existing corridor from Robinson Auditorium, the DoubleTree, the Old State House, the Convention Center, the Peabody, the Capital Hotel, to the Clinton Library property . . . built the Riverwalk for kids and adults to play and picnic and exercise in, the Amphitheater for concerts, upscale hotels, residential condos with views . . .  


River Market’s a draw, in other words. But then, the street was already a draw, with its existing surroundings and the coming Clinton Library. The River Market was and is about as close as urban renewal comes to a “sure bet.”


So what, exactly, is the “dream” for Main Street? Beyond preserving old Potemkin facades? (I adore Potemkin facades myself, having glamorously maintained this one for more years than you’d guess, Miley Ray.)


What will go on behind those fond old Main Street facades? Blocks of completely redesigned interiors, remodeled, restored, re-wired, re-plumbed spaces for office, residential and retail?


You’ve got to get out of the house more, Razors.


It’s far cheaper to tear down and rebuild.




Retail spaces at sidewalk level up and down Main Street? Are you kidding? Where are the shoppers?


Uh, the shoppers are miles west -- spending their discretionary income in bigger, cleaner, newer shopping developments with free parking and brand-name stores, restaurants and movie theaters.


Main Street will NEVER compete, retail-wise. You think Belks or Fresh Market or the Nieman’s that’s been teased for years is gonna show up on Main? When the money’s ten miles west and further?


THOSE shoppers aren’t going to pay to drive into town to drop more green to navigate a cold concrete parking structure and schlep up and down Main on foot when they can conveniently park for free in front their “out west” shopping destination for a nicely-landscaped door-to-door splurging experience.


TRUST Norma. It’s all about the splurging.


Main Street worked back in the day, when it was the ONLY true shopping destination in the entire state and hummed with excitement and vitality.




Those days, R.I.P., have been gone for four or more decades.


Another alternative? Tear down the Main Street corridor’s old buildings and replace them with new office buildings. Are you kidding?


Little Rock already has plenty of beautiful “new” office buildings built out west with “Spaces for Lease” signs in front of them. You know. West. Where the money is.


Maybe if Main Street were demolished then lined with contemporary or retro-contemporary state-of-the-art architectural wonders! But who’s going to pay to build them and fill them with people who’ll lease them?


Plus what would become of the wig shops and surplus stores? Where would they go?




So what’s the Main Street “vision” in face of the inevitable? A block-by-block, store-by-store, year-by-year tear-down and rebuild approach?


Or completely remodel the interiors to bring them up to code and contemporary office demands – whilst preserving and maintaining the old facades?


All to be structurally earthquake-proofed, since we keep hearing the New Madrid Fault is getting angrier about the gays and lesbians?


To what purpose, these “visions?” What population is going to work in and fill those glorious new office buildings? Who is going to shop those no-name sidewalk-level storefronts and keep them profitable?


Little Rock’s not New York or Los Angeles. We have plenty of space and not enough people.


Wish we did. Los Angeles developers demolished the old 20th-Century-Fox studio’s backlot and built the enormously successful “Century City”: a gargantuan development of retail shopping centers, wondrous office buildings, hotels, theatres, restaurants and high-rise condominiums that instantly became one of the most desirable addresses in the city.




A city within the city. (An Arkansas contractor, no names, was hired a few years ago to update the Century City shopping center. So we’ve got the talent and expertise.)


So what’s going to happen to sad old Main Street? Probably nothing. The buildings will continue to deteriorate until they’re condemned, merchants will continue to leave, bloggers will continue to bemoan its incremental death, the City Board and politicians will continue dangling imaginary carrots on sticks to justify their jobs and feed our pretensions . . . until . . .


. . . well, New York carved Central Park in its midst and THAT’S worked out pretty well. Any property overlooking Central Park goes for top dollar. Including residential, hotel, retail and office space. It’s huge. It’s the center of New York. And it works.




We’ve got the financiers and contractors and engineers (and all their employees) to pull it off. Plus P. Allen Smith and a gaggle of gardeners and landscape architects to design and maintain it. (No, I don’t know P. Allen, but I expect kickbacks from him and everybody else just mentioned.)


Then we can bill ourselves – rightfully – as, “LITTLE ROCK – AMERICA’S GREENEST CITY!”


And then I woke up.





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