Clear off the shelf | Arkansas Blog

Friday, August 28, 2009

Clear off the shelf

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 5:10 PM

Sounds like another study is heading to the archives of the forgotten.

Streetscape improvements. Public-private partnerships. Free space for artists to live and work. An economic development officer. Tax Increment Finance Districts (in a city and state where they have severely limited power and steal from desperate school districts in the process). Sidewalk cafes. Leveraging. Synergy. Less surface parking (where major Main Street property owners just created acres more.) No parking on Main Street. (Remember how well that worked?)

Those are words bubbling up from the Main Street revival study project that Mayor Stodola led. It concluded today. I'll provide an additional report from Leslie Peacock, but it all sounds familiar.

Here's Leslie's report:

Polish up your resume: Mayor Stodola is going to be looking for an economic development czar.
The Mayors' Institute on City Design just finished up outlining what it thinks the city needs to do to rescue Main Street and get downtown grooving again, and that suggestion is the one thing that should actually happen.
Stodola wants a strategic plan to bring Main Street back from the dead, and he wants one that won’t gather dust on a shelf. The consultants from MICD, fine people all, came up with lots of ideas, only one new.
Bottom line: Folks need to get together, decide what they want to see and go out and find the money to do it. Pocket parks, private-public partnerships, streetscape improvements, coherence thru tree planting. Lights. Reconnect to the Arkansas River. Take advantage of the Clinton Library and the Clinton School and downtown colleges and Heifer International and the arts. Get those downtown property owners to make their buildings look good from the street. Put an art gallery or two in the empty storefronts (and charge minimal rent for the space). Create incentives to get developers to develop, business to relocate downtown. Build a connecting surface across the interstate (already proposed by George Wittenberg et al for South Main folks). Explore how hamburger tax dollars can be applied to Main (Stodola's on it). Maximize the use of parking spots (make the stripes closer together). Promote an ethic of historic preservation (too late?). Groom leadership. Appoint design professionals to city commissions that deal with planning etc.

An odd suggestion: Get rid of parking on Main and move it to “periphery” of district. And this: Grab some of that population moving to the Southeastern portion of the U.S.
That new idea? Anchor the intersection of Main and I-630 with a major cultural institution. If only! 

Last but not least: Think about a TIF.
Back to the Economic Development Director. This person would do inventory of what the Main Street and downtown has to offer, what we need, where you can live, where you can shop, how do you get from point A to point B, and then bring in the "best minds" to figure what could happen. In 25 years, downtown ought to be bustling again.
This is not to belittle the notion that Main Street could use resuscitation. The mayor is a man on a mission. It would be great. It would also require the big dogs downtown to get together and invest some money and a city planning strategy that could stop westward development. If that happens, it won't be because of this study.

-- Leslie Newell Peacock

Some of my additional thoughts: A growing city spurs development. Policies that discourage sprawl encourage core growth. Little Rock isn't growing and city policy tends to encourage sprawl. Private investment goes to cheap land with acres of parking and the city takes no steps to produce different outcomes. (See the Social Security office relocation.) If a private property owner isn't willing to risk capital on a project, maybe taxpayers shouldn't either. When a private property owner IS willing to risk capital, maybe the city should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. (See University Avenue.)

It's Friday. I'm grouchier than normal. I hope this exercise shortly takes fire and turns Main Street into the epicenter of Arkansas once more.

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