Plans for Downtown Little Rock Bowling Alley, Beer Hall Progress

A project to transform two adjacent buildings in downtown Little Rock into a bowling alley, bar and beer hall complex has cleared one approval hurdle and faces a couple more but is moving forward, developer Jamie Moses said last week.

And in further evidence of a project gathering steam, the McNellie’s Group, the Tulsa hospitality group behind the bowling alley-beer hall complex, has signed a lease for one of the buildings and is close to signing the lease for the other, McNellie’s chief operating officer, Jim O’Connor, told Arkansas Business.

The McNellie’s Group plans to open Fassler Hall at 307 E. Capitol Ave. in the former Paragon Printing building and the Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge at 315 E. Capitol Ave. in the former M.M. Eberts American Legion Post. Fassler Hall will be a German-style beer hall and restaurant, and the Dust Bowl will be a retro bowling alley, lounge and bar.

The buildings, across the street from the Rock Region Metro River Cities Travel Center, are in the MacArthur Park Historic District, and the Little Rock Historic District Commission late last year had expressed initial concerns about plans for developing the buildings. After changes were made to the Dust Bowl plans, the commission approved them, but had held off on approving the plans for Fassler Hall in the old Paragon building.

Moses, director of development at Moses Tucker Real Estate, which is developing the buildings, said it now has its approvals from the Historic District Commission but still has to “finalize” a couple of signage issues with the Board of Adjustment.

Moses Tucker owns the American Legion building, envisioned for the Dust Bowl location, and O’Connor said the McNellie’s Group had signed a lease with the developer. Central Arkansas Water owns the Paragon building, and O’Connor said, “We’re working on the final details on the lease” for that building. “We’re close on that one.”

“Essentially the exterior elevations of the building, Fassler, have been signed off and approved by the MacArthur Historic District,” Moses said. AMR Architects of Little Rock is the architect for the project.

Moses expects the Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge, which will have eight lanes, to open in November or December and the beer hall after the first of next year. O’Connor predicted opening sometime this winter.

The two buildings — the planned Dust Bowl Lanes and Fassler Hall — share an alleyway, which O’Connor said will connect the two establishments and serve as a beer garden.

Redevelopment of the two buildings will cost between $1 million and $1.5 million, Moses said, but work hasn’t started yet. “But I think it’s very soon.”

‘A Nice Energy’

“We identified Little Rock because, in terms of size, it felt right, kind of a mid-market city,” O’Connor said. “And we really liked the feeling of downtown Little Rock. It reminded us a lot of Tulsa, in terms of the size, being a river city, pretty centralized downtown, not too spread out.

“And we like the fact that there’s a lot of downtown housing, a surprising amount of downtown housing,” he said. “And we like that because obviously the more people living downtown, the more customers we can tap into.

“It just seemed like there was a nice energy to the city. It seemed like people were really ready to embrace downtown.”

O’Connor said Jamie Moses had reached out to the McNellie’s Group about coming to Little Rock after Moses had visited a couple of the group’s properties in Tulsa. In addition, O’Connor said, the long and successful track record of Moses Tucker in downtown development had impressed the restaurateurs.

One example of downtown residential development in the MacArthur Park District is Moses Tucker’s $6.5 million 36-unit apartment project called The Row at Legion Village, along Rock Street between East Capitol and Sixth and which is scheduled to open this summer. Another is MacArthur Commons, directly across the street on East Capitol Avenue.

The McNellie’s Group, formed in 2009 and headed by Elliot Nelson, has “eight concepts, soon to be nine,” O’Connor said, with 16 establishments: 12 in Tulsa, three in Oklahoma City and one in Norman. The Little Rock venture will be its first outside Oklahoma.

The Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge concept, with locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, is described on their websites as “a retro-inspired tribute to the classic bowling alleys of the 1970s.” Fassler Hall, also located in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, is a German-inspired beer hall serving sausages and other beer hall fare.

“I think that it’s an awakening of that area,” Moses said of the twin-themed project, calling it “a center of life and commerce besides the River Market and Main Street, kind of a bridge between the two.”

He compared it to a work of art, “a dirty canvas that is going to get dusted off and a new picture painted.”