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Downtown Turnaround (Hunter Field Editor’s Note)

Hunter Field Editor's Note
2 min read

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I ventured out on President Clinton Avenue one night after work last week and felt an odd mix of hope and despair.

The despair came from the surprising number of empty bars and restaurants that before the pandemic would’ve been brimming with people on a Thursday night.

The hope came from the meeting I’d just left of business and civic leaders gathered to discuss the materializing plans to revitalize downtown Little Rock.

Those plans are vast, chronicled in a 134-page draft report that our Mark Friedman summarized well on the cover of last week’s issue of Arkansas Business.

The report is enough to get lost in, but I picked out a few key recommendations.

First — and a gripe I hear a lot from people visiting Little Rock — why isn’t the Arkansas Riverfront incorporated better? Most of downtown is built with its back to this incredible natural resource that other cities would kill for. The city needs to make the river an integral part of the downtown fabric.

Second, we have to find a better use for much of downtown Little Rock beyond parking lots. The report estimated that there are more than 46,000 parking spaces downtown, more than one space for every resident and worker combined. (I still hear complaints about a lack of parking from locals. It’s getting more difficult to hide my rolling eyes.)

Lastly and probably most importantly, the city needs to more than double the number of residents living downtown. This is key because new businesses and developments follow the residential roofs.

Want to finally have a grocery store in the heart of downtown? Attract more people to live nearby.

These are things that won’t happen overnight.

My fear is that this report will meet the same fate that has befallen so many government-commissioned reports in the past. That after the new has worn off, after new politicians have been elected, after new obstacles have sprung up, all 134 pages will start collecting dust in a closet at City Hall.

So I was encouraged to hear that collection of civic and business leaders who volunteered their time on a recent Thursday afternoon commit to not letting that happen.

The first step, most of the people gathered at the Little Rock Regional Chamber agreed, is to start to implement pieces of the report as soon as practical once adopted by the Little Rock Board of Directors. Let the people see some progress, even if it is some of the report’s low-hanging fruit. Start to build some excitement that these plans truly can have an impact.

If my recent stroll is any indication, the future of downtown business depends on it.


Email Hunter Field, editor of Arkansas Business, at hfield@abpg.com
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