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The Path to a Redevelopment Vision (Lisa Ferrell Commentary)

Lisa Ferrell Commentary
3 min read


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The proposed Downtown Little Rock Master Plan has sparked intense focus on the renewal of our urban core. The plan calls for residential density coupled with public amenities and an emphasis on the Arkansas River, an underutilized asset that could be the signature amenity downtown.

A vibrant downtown benefits the whole state, attracting visitors, business and culture. Having a strong center can provide these same benefits in towns throughout Arkansas. Revitalizing downtowns in the capital city or the county seat presents incredible opportunities to restore a community despite challenges.

Revitalizing downtowns means dealing with antiquated infrastructure and buildings with limited space, often making development prohibitively costly. As developers of Rockwater Village on the North Little Rock riverfront, we are often asked by people statewide how we overcame these challenges. Rockwater sits on what was abandoned land on the Arkansas River adjacent to a once-thriving neighborhood that had fallen into disrepair. During the past 10 years, $300 million in private investment, 900 new residences and new businesses have come to the area. A neighborhood that once generated $54,000 in property tax annually will soon generate more than $1 million annually. The route to these achievements has included roadblocks, but through partnerships, diverse funding sources, focus and perseverance, a strong foundation has been laid for even more growth.

Partnerships have been the leading factor in our success. First and foremost, the partnership with the city of North Little Rock has made everything possible. Once the shared vision was created by more than 200 stakeholders, city leaders have worked with us to change zoning ordinances, find federal and state funding for public infrastructure, issue tax increment financing bonds and much more. Other critical partnerships include the chambers, downtown organizations, nonprofits, developers and neighbors on both sides of the river. These partnerships have resulted in diverse housing options for all incomes. To achieve the vision for downtown Little Rock, strong partnerships with organizations and talents on both sides of the river are a must.

Every possible funding mechanism must be explored. North Little Rock issued TIF bonds to assist with repairing and constructing public infrastructure. Realizing the benefits of an enhanced trail system, city leaders used TIF funds to close a riverfront road, create a dedicated trail and build a replacement road. This riverfront trail has attracted residents from around the state and country. TIF funds were used to replace sewer and water lines, making the development of new homes possible. Programs like New Markets Tax Credits, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and federal and state grants have all been deployed. These tools and more will need to be used and laws updated to enable Arkansas towns to redevelop as the steel industry grows in the northeast, lithium extraction begins in the south, the northwest continues growing, the Delta seeks renewal and the capital city revitalizes.

Even with these partnerships and funding options, it has taken 10 years for Rockwater to reach this stage. Implementing this visionary Downtown Plan will take years and face unforeseen headwinds. Fortunately, the work has already begun with the major renovation of both the Central Arkansas Library System’s Main Library and the Museum of Discovery.

Revitalizing downtown will not be easy, but the rewards will be great when 10 years from now the riverfront parks, restaurants and cultural centers are filled with new downtown residents alongside people from all over appreciating the beauty of our capital and our state.

Lisa Ferrell is the co-founder of Rockwater Village, a mixed-use development on the North Little Rock riverfront.
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