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New Energy Downtown (Lance Turner Editor’s Note)

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Last week was a shot in the arm to downtown Little Rock, thanks to two significant announcements and the start of construction on a long-awaited arts project.

First, on Tuesday, Attorney General Tim Griffin announced a $35 million plan to move his offices from the 18-story Tower Building on Center Street to the historic 12-story Boyle Building at Capitol Avenue and Main Street.

The plan, pitched as a way to save taxpayers money on rent, would have the state take ownership of the 91,000-SF property after five years of a lease agreement with the building’s new owners, Moses Tucker Partners of Little Rock. Moses Tucker aims to begin renovations to the building, which has sat vacant for 25 years, within 30 days, getting it ready for occupancy sometime next fall.

A host of city stakeholders joined Griffin on Tuesday, including the executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, Gabe Holmstrom, who sees the move as a catalyst for future investment at what he calls the “alpha intersection” of downtown.

The vacant husk of the Boyle Building has haunted Main Street for decades. But its dilapidation has been particularly painful after the Chi family’s plan in the 2010s to convert the property to an upscale hotel — and later to apartments — fell through. For local businesses and city leaders, the prospect of millions in new investments and hundreds more people coming and going again at Capitol and Main is something to look forward to.

So too is the 20th anniversary of the Clinton Presidential Center in 2024. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two decades since that cold, rainy dedication ceremony attended by celebrities and four former presidents. But next year’s milestone will also look to the future.

The Clinton Foundation announced Tuesday that it will mount an expansion of the center next year, in part to accommodate the archives and initiatives of the new Hillary Rodham Clinton Institute. In doing so, it will enlist renowned architecture firm Studio Gang, which this summer completed work on the renovation and expansion at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts — another boost to the downtown area.

It was the announcement of the Clinton Library and its School of Public Service, along with development efforts by Jimmy Moses and Rett Tucker, that turbocharged River Market and downtown development in the late ’90s and early ’00s, just as I began work at Arkansas Business Publishing Group.

Those investments continue to pay dividends and have set the stage for so many things that have happened since. That includes the growth of Little Rock’s East Village, which sits a stone’s throw from the Clinton Center and the Heifer International headquarters. And there, on Thursday morning, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra broke ground on its long-awaited, 20,000-SF Stella Boyle Smith Music Center, which will expand the ASO’s capacity for programming, rehearsals, performance, broadcasting, music instruction and more.

Call it an exciting coda for a big week in Little Rock.

Lance Turner is the editor of Arkansas Business.
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