Little Rock's Main Street Redevelopment on Fast Track

Main Street redevelopment took a big step forward Thursday with the city of Little Rock's official announcement that Little Rock lawyer Wooten Epes will lead a venture to convert the west side of the 500 block of Main to retail and condominium space.

The property entails four buildings totalling about 250,000-SF, all vacant since the 1980s. It was purchased by Epes' Main Street Lofts LLC in August for $1.5 million. Epes will receive about $1 million from the Pulaski County Brownfield program for redevelopment in addition to other historic tax credits. The west side of the block is anchored by the 12-story, 1909 Boyle Building.

Epes and his crew are eager to get started. Joe Carter of Snyder Environmental, which will handle demolition and remediation, said folks can expect to see dumpsters out front on Main soon and that about 30 percent of the work on the Arkansas Building at Sixth and Main should be done by the end of the month.

Epes envisions retail space on the ground floors and condos above, and hopes to begin leasing next year. The Main Street project is his first in Little Rock, his hometown. Epes expects to spend more than $10 million on the condos alone.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said seven Main Street buildings now are under contract for redevelopment. On Sept. 18, he said he will make an announcement regarding a National Endowment for the Arts grant to develop an arts district on Main along the four blocks north of Capitol Avenue.

Stodola said he expects the Main Street corridor soon to host the same kind of activity it did through the 1960s when it was the commercial center of the city.

Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines praised the efforts of the county, Little Rock and North Little Rock to work together to qualify for more brownfield funds than would've been available otherwise. He called the redevelopment of Main's 500 block a "really big deal" that would help revitalize Main Street in both directions.

"I've always felt from the River Market, that our next frontier was Main Street," he said.

Joe Smith, director of commerce and government affairs for North Little Rock, announced a project totalling more than $50 million is awaiting EPA approval and will include the residential development Argenta Flats.

Ashli Ahrens, a downtown Little Rock resident, activist and blogger who works for the Arkansas Department of Career Education as its public information coordinator, said she'll miss the "Bucket List" chalkboard that covered the old entrance to Baker Shoes on the ground floor of the Boyle Building at Main and Capitol. But she knows its absence means progress. (The board has been saved, she said; city officials are considering where to relocate it.)

"I've seen photos of how it used to be down here," she said. "I'm really excited for my neighborhood and to know it could be that way again."