Stodola sees culinary school as part of Main Street revival | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Stodola sees culinary school as part of Main Street revival

Posted By on Thu, Nov 24, 2011 at 7:22 AM

ARTS DISTRICT? Mayor Mark Stodola talks of putting artists, film classes, symphony space and similar in buildings along west side of Main between 6th and Capitol.
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  • ARTS DISTRICT? Mayor Mark Stodola talks of putting artists, film classes, symphony space and similar in buildings along west side of Main between 6th and Capitol.

I've written a bit about Mayor Mark Stodola's pitch to the board of Pulaski Tech to move its booming culinary school from the Southwest Little Rock campus to a new building on Main Street. A Tech board committee is studying the idea, particularly the question of whether the $15 million the school has on hand to build a new building on the current campus would be sufficient for a multi-story building on a smaller piece of ground at Sixth and Main. Questions about student convenience also have been raised.

I sent the mayor a number of questions a few days ago. I heard back from him yesterday. I'm going to give his responses in full below, with just a bit of editing for clarity.

I began with questions about when the idea arose and wondered about lack of mention of the idea during the sales tax campaign, given that the city has promised money to buy the property necessary for the relocation. The mayor's answers talk in more detail about other ideas for downtown redevelopment, including an idea to move Pulaski Tech film classes to a building on Main considered for use by multiple arts organizations.

FROM MAYOR STODOLA

I first met with Dr. Dan Bakke and Pulaski Board Chair John Suskie on October 12th. The meeting was arranged in response to recent citizen dialogue about the best location for students attending culinary school and also working
and taking classes as well as acknowledging that school would be a catalyst for downtown and give PTC a higher profile. Meeting was to ascertain whether PTC would entertain a location downtown. Bakke gave the group 30 days to develop a plan and a presentation was arranged before the Trustees on Nov. 18th. It was never conceived of or discussed by me with anyone before the sales tax election as I had always thought their decision had already been made. No secrecy about this——the presentation was done at a public meeting with press in attendance.

ABOUT THE LOCATION AND OFFER

Location and parking offered by MetroCentre Improvement District, land available by A&P Commission in some combination with the City. Price for location is unknown at this time; ownership is in three names, 2 Kahn family names and a person named Bowman who lives out of state.

Other locations may be considered by PTC if they decide to move the school downtown; however at the moment this location was desired by the architect because it has 2 faces, one east and one north giving greater
presentation and visibility.

As for improving nearby property owners' values, I can't answer. Other projects are being undertaken or planned in addition to this concept. The primary location across from The Rep fits in very nicely with the Arts District concept planned for the buildings on the west side of Main and going north from 6th St to Capitol Ave,(known as the Arkansas building through the Boyle Bldg). The Symphony is considering office and rehearsal space in the Arkansas bldg; Ballet Arkansas would also like to locate there, several artists are in need of studio space, and PTC is believed to be considering locating their film program in one of the buildings. The NEA Our Town grant that the City was awarded is in the planning and design stages right now for this area.

WHY DOWNTOWN

There is no other part of our city where you have congregated 94 restaurants and lodging establishments. Revenue for these establishments exceeds $86 million dollars annually. There are 10 hotels properties downtown, 1780 rooms with 594 FT employees and 180 part-time employees. The school is actually called the Culinary Arts and Hospitality
Management Center. It will have a lodging room and front desk room for training which the Peabody is willing to provide if the school is downtown.

The proposal in no way diminishes the importance of PTC in SWLR. There is a 160,000 sq. ft college facility on the Pulaski/Saline county line. The culinary school will still have a presence there. This option will allow expansion of their already existing programs offered at this location.

ACCESS

Easy transit bus routes from all over the County intersect and deposit people at the River Cities Travel Center a few blocks away making access to the school very easy; ample and walkable residential options also exist and a location downtown would let students work and also take classes just a few blocks away. The Peabody, (and I'm confident others) are willing to provide internships and jobs and allow students to take off during the day for classes a few blocks away, an option which would be very difficult to arrange at the south campus. These opportunities do not exist anywhere else in the city. Finally, it should be noted that 24 out of the 26 top culinary schools in the country are located in urban settings.

I read your most recent post raising a concern about where students would take their other classes and originally thought that would be a problem also. However it doesn't appear to be as big an issue as once considered as students in the culinary school have to move to other campuses for some of their other classes already. They have 6 other campuses that offer a variety of instruction. The south campus houses their Transportation Technology Center with programs in automotive technology, collision repair, commercial driving, diesel tech, small engine repair and motorcycle/all-terrain repair as well as some other general classes of instruction.

PTC has not decided what to do at this time. I am confident their decision will be about what is best for their students and one that can be handled within their budget.

POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS

There is no deal with PTC; and support for their proposed property tax does not hinge on their decision. PTC provides a very valuable service to the workforce of central Arkansas, one that is much appreciated. The millage issue will be either countywide or 2 counties (Pulaski & Saline) which they are currently assessing.

And yes, regardless of their decision we have funding for a route to Pulaski Tech in our 2012 budget proposal.

I hope this is something you will consider supporting. If it can be brought in within their budget, it is a win- win for both the students enrolled in the school and a boost toward the revitalization of Main St. which should bring more jobs and redevelopment to the downtown core.

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