Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

12th Street corridor’s direction discussed

Residents set priorities in plan to continue neighborho­od revitaliza­tion


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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