Stakes are High in $68M Renovation of Robinson Center

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 12:00 am  

The complexity of renovating Little Rock’s 75-year-old Robinson Center scores 9 on a scale of 10, said David Porter, project manager for the renovation design team.

And, he adds, “The stakes are high.”

The stakes are high because Robinson stands as one of two anchors of the River Market District, serving as sentinel on the district’s west end a little more than a mile from the district’s eastern terminus, the Clinton Presidential Center.

The idea is that as a sentinel goes, so goes the district. The Clinton Center has propelled more than 15 years of development not just of what became the River Market District, but of much of downtown Little Rock. The renewed Robinson Center, at 426 W. Markham St., is seen as having similar impact.

Robinson, however, presents a problem the Clinton Center didn’t. Almost everyone who has ever attended a concert, play or graduation ceremony there — a sizable portion of Arkansas — has a cherished memory of the Art Deco landmark. Porter and his team face the challenge of bringing new life to Robinson while preserving what people loved about it.

“The stakes are high because of the importance of this project to everyone,” Porter said. “It’s a little different than doing a corporate office for a corporation.”

The public, in effect, is the client, and the designers face the challenge of restoring “a building that has been an icon of Little Rock for 75 years,” he said. “This project intends to take it another 75 years.”

Porter is a principal of the architecture firm heavily involved with both downtown Little Rock anchors, Polk Stanley Wilcox. Polk Stanley partnered with Polshek Partnership on the Clinton Center and is now working with Ennead Architects of New York, the successor firm to Polshek, on the $68 million Robinson renovation.

“We always knew that the Clinton Center would be a game-changer for Little Rock,” Porter said. “We think Robinson represents the same kind of game-changer in terms of what it’s going to stimulate on this end of the street.”

Reese Rowland, another Polk Stanley principal, went so far as to say the renovation would result in a venue that will “change the face of performance in Little Rock.”

Porter wasn’t quite ready to make that claim but he did say his fellow architects were committed to providing “the people of Little Rock and Arkansas with a performance experience equal to anywhere they could go in the country.”

Many Purposes, Problems



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