Work Begins on Riverfront Nature Center At River Market

by Nate Hinkel  on Wednesday, Jun. 21, 2006 10:55 am  

City Director Dean Kumpuris (left) and Witt Stephens Jr. (center) break ground on the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center in Little Rock.

Shovels plunging into the ground at the Little Rock riverfront on Wednesday signified that work on the fourth - and final - taxpayer-funded Arkansas Game & Fish Commission Nature Center's home is finally underway.

A groundbreaking ceremony took place on Wednesday at 16,000-SF of prime riverfront land sandwiched just east of the Riverfront Amphitheater and west of the Interstate 30 bridge, where the $6.5 million Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center will be finished by "late summer or early fall 2007," according to Game & Fish.

"We are looking forward to being a part of the Downtown Partnership and the River Market community," said David Goad, Game & Fish deputy director. "Also, I can't say enough about the cooperation we have had with the city of Little Rock. By their actions we are certainly a valued partner and neighbor."

Final Project From Tax

The riverfront Nature Center is the fourth and final product of the 1/8-cent Conservation Sales Tax that was approved by voters in 1996 and went into effect in 1997. The three other nature centers are located in Pine Bluff, Jonesboro and Fort Smith. The Pine Bluff and Jonesboro locations are already opened, while the Fort Smith center will have its grand opening later this summer.

The riverfront Nature Center was originally slated for the downtown North Little Rock riverfront, but conflicts with a proposed Bass Pro Shops mega-store, along with wetlands and floodplain issues, forced Game & Fish to choose between three proposed sites.

Little Rock city officials offered to prepare the current riverfront site and cover the cost, and the Game & Fish Commission was swayed to build there.

With the deal, approved in April 2005, the city agreed to take on a variety of costs of delivering a ready-to-build site, which included leveling part of a parking lot and filling part of an Arkansas River inlet.

According to the original agreement, the city will also be charged for the construction of a handicapped-accessible elevated walkway for pedestrian access from President Clinton Avenue to the nature center site and the "nonfederal, matching portion of funds needed to pay for construction of a boardwalk/fishing pier."

The city will also have to pay for employee parking, service vehicle loading and unloading access, and provide a minimum of 10 parking spaces free of charge for the commission.

Scott Carter, spokesman for the city of Little Rock, said Wednesday that the site work has been completed while the utility relocation duties have not yet gotten underway.

Arkansas' Ecology

Game & Fish officials said the riverfront Nature Center will cover the six physiographic regions of Arkansas and tell the story of conservation, hunting, fishing, habitat and stewardship across Arkansas.

The design for the building meets the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. Cromwell Architects Engineers Inc. of Little Rock is the executive architect and engineering firm for the project while the design architect is Eskew Dumez Ripple of New Orleans. Hargreaves Associates of Cambridge, Mass., is the landscape architect and the exhibits will be designed by Lyons Zaremba Inc. of Boston.

"The location on the southern bank of the Arkansas River fits like a glove and adds to the diversity of recreational and educational opportunities that citizens of central Arkansas can explore," said Neil Curry, director of the nature center.

• For a look at the rendering of the nature center, click here.


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