12th Street cor­ri­dor’s di­rec­tion dis­cussed

Res­i­dents set pri­or­i­ties in plan to con­tinue neigh­bor­hood re­vi­tal­iza­tion

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - CHELSEA BOOZER

Lit­tle Rock’s 12th Street cor­ri­dor has seen more than $43 mil­lion in im­prove­ments since a re­vi­tal­iza­tion plan was de­vel­oped seven years ago, in­clud­ing a ma­jor po­lice sub­sta­tion, em­pow­er­ment cen­ter and chil­dren’s li­brary.

Now its time to see eco­nomic growth and busi­nesses that will bet­ter serve the area and its res­i­dents, Ward 2 city Direc­tor Ken Richard­son said at a com­mu­nity meet­ing Mon­day.

Metroplan chose the area for a $200,000 Jump Start grant, which was used to de­velop a plan to show that high-den­sity, mixe­duse ar­eas with a va­ri­ety of hous­ing op­tions can be both com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able.

The plan fo­cuses on restora­tion of the Lee Theater on 13th Street, cur­rently va­cant and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. A study showed that the struc­ture could be re­stored to its for­mer use or a sim­i­lar use.

A public-pri­vate part­ner­ship is needed to give the theater a new use that will bring value back to the area, sup­port jobs and ed­u­ca­tion for res­i­dents who live there and serve as a safe place to hold events that can be a cen­ter­piece for com­mu­nity cul­ture, a sum­mary doc­u­ment dis­trib­uted Mon­day said.

The Jump Start ini­tia­tive fo­cuses on public pol­icy, public and pri­vate devel­op­ment and eco­nomics.

To re­ceive any ad­di­tional fund­ing from Metroplan for in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments, the city Board of Di­rec­tors must adopt the Jump Start plan. As part of that, the board must also adopt some zon­ing reg­u­la­tions in the plan. There’s no set date for when the mat­ter will be pre­sented to the board.

Other short-term rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude form­ing a Coali­tion for Im­ple­men­ta­tion made up of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of re­gional and state agen­cies, the cham­ber of com­merce, non­prof­its, city lead­ers, school dis­trict rep­re­sen­ta­tives and com­mu­nity lead­ers. A mer­chants’ as­so­ci­a­tion should also be cre­ated, ac­cord­ing to the plan doc­u­ment.

Long-term goals in­clude the theater restora­tion, strength­en­ing lo­cal busi­nesses, in­vest­ing in worker train­ing, pre­serv­ing the neigh­bor­hood’s char­ac­ter, ex­pand­ing bi­cy­cle and pedes­trian con­nec­tions and de­vel­op­ing an im­prove­ment dis­trict to levy fees on prop­erty own­ers for main­te­nance and land­scap­ing.

“One of the things I’m adamant about and re­ally con­cerned about is the devel­op­ment of a Whole Foods store,” Richard­son said af­ter Mon­day’s meet­ing. “This place is a food desert. It’s a place where you don’t have the op­por­tu­nity to buy af­ford­able, healthy fruits and veg­eta­bles. This is a place that has a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of con­ve­nience stores that sell junk food and has a high child­hood obe­sity rate.

“So we want to have busi­nesses that will off­set those neg­a­tives. We also want to fig­ure out a way to iden­tify res­i­dents in this area who have the ad­e­quate skill sets and train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion to em­ploy them to help build th­ese build­ings,” Richard­son added.

Re­cent im­prove­ments in the area in­clude the $12 mil­lion Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton Chil­dren’s Li­brary and Learn­ing Cen­ter, the city’s $12.5 mil­lion po­lice sub­sta­tion and Bet­ter Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment’s $6 mil­lion Em­Pow­er­ment Cen­ter. The cen­ter pro­vides drug treat­ment, pre­ven­tion and in­ter­ven­tion pro­grams as well as ca­reer and tech­nol­ogy train­ing, life skills and sup­port­ive hous­ing as­sis­tance.

Res­i­dent Odies Wil­son III, 66, has lived in the area since 1999. He said in­vestors must first see that the 12th Street area has po­ten­tial.

“You’ve got to take the tar­geted money and fo­cus it and show what the value of that is, and then you get more in­vest­ment,” he said. “You’ve also got to bring in peo­ple from the area to be in­volved so they can ben­e­fit and not be dis­placed by the pos­i­tive growth.”

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