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Grants to Jump-Start Economic Development in Park Hill, Levy

4 min read

The city of North Little Rock is sprucing up the Park Hill and Levy business districts with federally funded Jump Start grants and playing a long game when it comes to economic development in those areas.

The Park Hill project will cost an estimated $3.45 million. The city will pay the 20 percent match from funds that have already been appropriated. The project is all about pedestrian safety and aesthetics, city officials told Arkansas Business, and will involve:

  • Widening the sidewalks that run alongside JFK Boulevard/Highway 107, from A to H streets, to 7 or 8 feet from 6 feet;
  • Adding a “green space” buffer between the sidewalks and the road;
  • Reducing the number of redundant driveways that connect to the road;
  • Beautifying the median with trees and other vegetation; and
  • Improving the intersections with colored and stamped crosswalks and countdown signals for pedestrians.

The city hopes construction will start about this time next year and be completed in late 2021.

A similar 80/20 matching grant will be used to slow drivers in Levy by narrowing Camp Robinson Road from four lanes to two lanes, adding parallel parking to both sides and beautifying the area with green spaces.

The Levy project, which city officials said is more about “revitalization,” will cost an estimated $2.38 million. It is further along in a lengthy process that involves submitting plans for approval by the state Department of Transportation and grant administrator Metroplan, the planning agency for central Arkansas.

Officials hope construction in Levy will start near the end of this year and that the project will be completed in early 2021.

“The Jump Start program is an excellent example of how economic development looks different in each neighborhood,” said Nathan Hamilton, director of communications for the city of North Little Rock. “It’s not a ‘Hey, let’s give some incentives to this company and next year we’re going to have 25 new jobs.’ It’s not that. This is very long-term economic development. This is a 20- or 30-year plan.”

In Levy, he said, officials want Camp Robinson Road to be less of a thoroughfare and more of a destination. They want the project to add aesthetics that attract developers because they encourage shopping and dining.

In the more developed Park Hill area, officials are focused on walkability as a means to the same end. They also want the increased foot traffic to benefit current businesses.

Businesses that will be affected by construction have been consulted from the beginning, according to Hamilton, and most support the project.

The project is partially responsible for the formation of the Park Hill Business & Merchant Association and has been in the works for years, although it is just now getting off the ground, he said.

The city has submitted 10% of the design plans to the Arkansas Department of Transportation for final review, said Chris Wilbourn, North Little Rock’s city/traffic engineer. “They’re not detailed yet,” he said.

Garver LLC of North Little Rock is the engineer. After those plans are approved, a public information meeting will be held.

Economic Development

Kent Walker, chairman of the Park Hill Business & Merchant Association, said he’s been waiting about five years to see this happen. His Walker Law Firm is at 3131 JFK Blvd.

“It’s better up here [in Park Hill] than it used to be, but the goal is to make a significant improvement wherein people want to be up here,” he said.

“I don’t pretend we’re going to be a Hillcrest all of a sudden, but I’d like to have some neighborhood restaurants … more options that create an atmosphere and a community that people want to live in.

“When you make an area attractive, people want to go there and they want to spend time and they want to spend money. And then that creates the economic development which you want to have in a commercial corridor,” Walker said.

He said Park Hill used to be “walkable space” before parking lots became all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s, but things are different now. People again want walkable communities with trees and landscaping, he said.

In addition, JFK Boulevard/Highway 107 does not meet current city standards because there’s no buffer between the road and the sidewalks.

The city standard for buffers is that they be at least 5 feet wide, according to Wilbourn. That width may be adjusted down to 3 or 4 feet if needed for utility maintenance or if there isn’t much right of way to build in, he said.

Even the state Transportation Department has a standard width of 3 feet, he said, but it didn’t have a standard when Park Hill’s sidewalks were built.

“What people have complained about for years, in terms of walkability, is how the sidewalks up there are pretty narrow, and they’re right behind the curb. There’s no green space. There’s no trees. There’s no buffer,” Wilbourn said. The Jump Start project aims to change that.

“Sometimes, the way I describe it is we’re trying to make that area more of a boulevard,” he said. “So it’s wider sidewalks. It’s green space. It’s buffer zones with trees, trees down the middle, vegetation. It’s improvements at the intersections, at the signal, at the walkways, for safety.

“This Jump Start program, the overall purpose is to change the long-term development outlook of the areas, to encourage economic development in these areas, kind of like ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Wilbourn said.

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