LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Little Rock Board of Directors voted Tuesday to approve lease agreements that will allow three groups to add operations to the 12th Street Station, a spot that’s been vacant except for a police substation.

Community members said they hope a grocery store is the city’s next step.

The groups are Philander Smith College, Southern Bancorp and UAMS. Philander Smith will create a criminal justice program spot, Bancorp will add a banking operation and UAMS will open a retail food and drink distribution center.

Tuesday, the Board of Directors approved granting lease agreements and authorized a construction group to renovate the empty space at the station. Since it first opened in 2014, it’s been primarily utilized by the Little Rock Police Dept. 

“There’s just not an effort from businessmen to come in and do something in this community,” said Deborah Bell, the pastor of Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church two blocks away.

The logistical plans for the distribution center have not yet been announced, but Bell said she hopes it revitalizes the area’s business community. She said the street’s lone grocery store closed several years ago, and many people have no resources to travel for fresh food.

“This is a food desert,” Bell said. “Some people don’t have transportation to get to Kavanaugh, Markham or other places.”

Bell said she hopes the distribution center leads to a plan for a market.

“It doesn’t have to be a big supermarket, just a grocery store that has fresh food and fresh meat for people who live here,” Bell said.

Mayor Frank Scott said the project required procedural work that spanned years, but he commended the companies that will lease from the city.

“We just want to take the time to thank them for investing in the community of the 12th Street Corridor area,” Scott said. “Thank you so much.”