Little Rock Considers $64.5 Million Robinson Center Renovation

The Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau wants to renovate Robinson Center Music Hall with a tentative completion date of fall 2016 and a preliminary estimate of $64.5 million to do so.

The bureau met Tuesday and announced plans to explore potential financing options that would include private funding and develop a request for quotation to select a design team and general contractor. Renovation likely will be affected by planned work on the Broadway Bridge, but officials expect to begin by the summer of 2014. 

LRCVB president Gretchen Hall told that the city has missed out on shows, most notably Broadway shows, because of the center's limited loading and staging capacity.

Hall said the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra has struggled with acoustics in the facility, and that the center's meeting spaces are not fully handicap-accessible.

The schedule for completion could change based on when financing is secured, she said, but Hall was confident the 2016 finish date would be met.

The facility was built in 1939 at a cost of $850,000. Renovation will entail "major interior architectural changes including radical upgrades and amenities," according to an LRCVB news release, including more lobby space, improvements to the stage and acoustics, loading dock expansion and new dressing rooms.

Plans call for renovation of the center's meeting and banquet space as well, including improvements to the ballroom, the addition of new technology, mechanical systems and outdoor plaza spaces and a "modern office complex."

Mike Steelman of SCM Architects of Little Rock presented potential renovation designs at a LRCVB meeting on Tuesday. Joining him were representatives of WD&D Architects, Shuler Shook Theatre Planners, Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants, TME Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, ECI Structural Engineers, McClelland Consulting Engineers, East Harding Construction, HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group. Also represented were the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions (based in Tulsa) and the DoubleTree Hotel, which adjoins the center.

The city of Little Rock owns the facility, which includes a 2,609-seat proscenium theater with one balcony and a 15,000-SF exhibition hall. Robinson was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, and has hosted notable perormers such as Mickey Rooney, Bill Cosby, Liza Minnelli, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Itzhak Perlman and Jerry Seinfeld.

In 1956, the first recorded performance of "Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley took place at Robinson.

"Robinson has served us well," Hall said. "But we definitely anticipate an increase in utilization with this renovation. We'll be getting a much better facility."