LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Downtown Little Rock could be considered the heart of Arkansas; the center of a capital city and the very core of an urban environment.
But in recent months, it can be described in one word – empty.
“We are still feeling the aftereffects of the pandemic here in downtown Little Rock,” Gabe Holmstrom, Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, explained.
Dark storefronts, “for lease” signs and empty spaces seem to be found on most streets nowadays. It’s been a quiet recovery after three years of illness, leaving silence downtown and wounds still healing.
According to their website, in just downtown, Moses Tucker Partners currently has 34 commercial property listings. A competitor has 12, and a third 15, all opportunities waiting for the green light, but with few takers.
According to the city, downtown job growth saw a 3.8% dip between 2010 and 2018, and then, a global pandemic. It’s left the feeling of a city holding its breath those who live here can’t help but notice.
Enter the Downtown Little Rock Master Plan: a booster shot for a metropolis running on empty. This nine-month, $745,000 project funded through American Rescue Act Funds is working toward a coherent vision of what downtown could be, with help from those who actually live there.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever had a plan for what we can be downtown specifically,” Everett Gooch, a downtown resident who attended the Master Plan’s launch event, said.
“I’d like to see some more development on a lot of the vacant ground floor stuff filled up, better connectivity between the Museum and the River Market,” David Sargent, another neighbor, added. “I feel like this is a big step Little Rock is taking to move in the right direction.”
Through surveys and public meetings, neighbors and the city can plan together to help turn on the light in a dark downtown.
Although, there’s already a spark of hope: 103 West Capitol Avenue, also known as the Boyle Building. 12 stories, 114 years old, and abandoned for two decades… but not for long.
“We acquired both the Boyle and MM Cone last year with the thought of mixed-use development,” Chris Moses, CEO and President of Moses Tucker Partners, said. “The hole on Main Street has always been on 5th, 6th and Main….having the key intersection of Capitol and Main being dark is completely unhealthy for any downtown.”
The Boyle is the future home of the Arkansas Attorney General’s office, and proof that what was once in its death throes can still be reborn. It’s just the start of a downtown transformation that hopes to kickstart this heart Into beating vibrantly once more.
“The city you see today,” Holmstrom promised, “is going to look very different than three years from now.”