Little Rock Marks Milestone at Robinson Center Renovation


City leaders sign the final beam to be placed at the renovated Robinson Center. 
City leaders sign the final beam to be placed at the renovated Robinson Center.  (Michael Pirnique)
Visitors peek inside the $70 million renovation of Robinson Center Music Hall in Little Rock on Wednesday.
Visitors peek inside the $70 million renovation of Robinson Center Music Hall in Little Rock on Wednesday. (Michael Pirnique)
Bill Worthen (in the white shirt), director of the Historic Arkansas Museum, talks to a construction worker about the rennovations at Robinson Center.
Bill Worthen (in the white shirt), director of the Historic Arkansas Museum, talks to a construction worker about the rennovations at Robinson Center. (Michael Pirnique)

One year in, the Robinson Center Second Act project is on schedule and on budget, with the performing arts venue set to reopen in November 2016.

During a topping-out ceremony on Wednesday, city leaders said that the gutting and demolition stage of the project is now complete.

"Those of use close to the project have a complete understanding of the actual complexity of this design and all of the challenges of protecting our historic exterior and protecting the historical significance of this project, while basically gutting the entire interior to provide a world-class performing arts center and an expanded, brand new conference center," said Gretchen Hall, president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau at a news conference on Wednesday at the Robinson Center.

The 28-month, $70 million renovation and expansion project includes a newly added ballroom platform on the north side of the building, more meeting space, a connection to the DoubleTree Hotel and complete gutting and renovation of the theater.  

So far, 130,000 man-hours have been put into the project and 10,000 tons of waste material has been recycled.

"This is a transition of a building into the 21st century that is going to live long beyond most of us," Mayor Mark Stodola said. "It is a new beginning; not only a restoration but a true transformation of a wonderful facility into one of the one of the finest performing arts buildings that will be in the United States."

One of the main focuses of the project is to improve the center's acoustics so it can accommodate the various performances that take place there. To do this, the stage will be dropped 36 feet, seats will be closer to stage level and the hall will be narrower.

Before the renovation, acoustician Mark Holden said he would rank the the sound quality around a B: "not terrible."

"We're taking those things that needed enhancements and we're enhancing them," Holden said. "In acoustics, we have influence and recommendation on almost every single thing that’s happening in the hall."

The acoustic quality of the theater contributes to the overall quality of the venue and the likelihood of musicians and other acts being interested in performing there, Holden said.

By the time that the Robinson Center renovation is complete, the DoubleTree hotel will also have undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation. That project includes a new lobby, lounge, restaurant, accommodations and 14,000 SF of meeting space. Combined with the Robinson's space, there will be 45,000 SF of contiguous conference center space, Hall said.


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