Little Rock's Main Street 'Creative Corridor' Plan Wins National Award

A plan to transform four neglected blocks of Main Street in downtown Little Rock into an arts district has earned a national design award for the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and a Fayetteville firm.

The UA's Community Design Center, which includes faculty and staff members from the school, won a 2014 Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects for its work on the Creative Corridor, on which it collaborated with Marlon Blackwell Architect of Fayetteville.

The award represents one of just six such awards bestowed nationally. It marks the UA center's 11th national AIA Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design and Blackwell’s third AIA Honor Award.

The Creative Corridor plan will retrofit a four-block segment of Main Street between Third and Seventh streets by using economic development focused on cultural arts rather than a traditional retail base. Its goal is to create a mixed-use, work-live environment that is sensitive to the historical context of Main Street, according to the UA.

An increasing number of public, private and nonprofit groups have invested in Main Street, including Orbea, a Spanish bicycle manufacturer that relocated its North American headquarters to the 100 block of Main Street; the Arkansas Venture Center, scheduled to open on the same block along with the Little Rock arm of the ARK Challenge startup accelerator; and the Little Rock Technology Park Authority Board recently voted to build the park downtown along Main Street.

Plus, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Arkansas and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre plan to occupy rehearsal and creative space along Main. 

"Little Rock has taken the first steps in reclaiming its Main Street as a great public space once again by restoring non-traffic social functions to the street," said, Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center and a Distinguished Professor of architecture in the Fay Jones School. "Though downtown living everywhere has enjoyed a comeback, cities like Little Rock in particular teach us that the urban street can be an indispensible tool for creating value.

"The Creative Corridor connects the dots between arts, economy and ecology towards synthetic models of livability and placemaking that only cities can offer. We feel fortunate to have been part of a five-year-plus effort that has involved federal, state and many local participants with great leadership from the city."

Planning and design for the Creative Corridor was funded by a 2011 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency committed $1.2 million to implement the plan’s low-impact development streetscapes, according to the UA.

Construction is scheduled to begin early this year with $60 million in renovations including more than 200 residential units already underway. 

"Little Rock’s Main Street renaissance is the kind of exciting, sustainable revitalization that public-private investment can produce," Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said. "We are proud that Main Street is becoming a leading example for other communities to follow, and we will continue to encourage more sustainable development in downtown Little Rock."