Leveraging the River (Editorial)

A comment last week about the proposed renovation of Robinson Center Music Hall intrigued us. Reese Rowland, an architect with Polk Stanley Wilcox, one of the firms designing the project, said:

“I’ve always seen the Robinson Auditorium as an anchor to the west because of the Broadway Bridge and I-30. As beautiful as a building it is, it was built to face the city. The Robinson actually turns its back to the greatest amenity we have, the Arkansas River.”

Downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock have blossomed in recent years largely by leveraging one of central Arkansas’ greatest natural resources: the Arkansas River. The Clinton Library’s bridge-reminiscent design plays off the river; the River Market District made it a focus; the Big Dam Bridge is a celebratory span of the Arkansas; Dickey-Stephens Park frames what has become a most handsome riverfront.

Now, Little Rock has an opportunity to incorporate this natural beauty into a much-loved, also handsome, but much-outdated Robinson Center. The Little Rock Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, which manages the city-owned performance hall and conference center, proposes using a bond issue of up to $73.5 million to fund the renovation and additions. The bureau wants the Little Rock Board of Directors to schedule a special election asking voters to dedicate an existing 2 percent advertising and promotions tax to paying off the bond issue.

Gretchen Hall, bureau director, emphasized: “It’s not a new tax; it’s not an extension; it’s simply a dedication of an existing tax.”

Money remains tight in what continues to be a slow economic recovery, but the plans for Robinson presented last week, which feature a stunning glass-walled conference space overlooking the river, use the city’s great asset, the fast-flowing Arkansas, to beautiful effect. The renovation plans and the bond issue deserve serious consideration.