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'PopUp' event brings future to South Main

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pop-up main street image Little Rock

It's not a festival, Friday and Saturday's "PopUp Main Street" event, though it will be festive, with music, food and vendors of stuff. Its main purpose, though, is to test an idea: What if South Main Street was altered from a four-lane to a two-lane, divided by a landscaped median and bookended with bike lines? What if the traffic was slowed down a tad to make crossing the street safer and draw attention to the businesses lining the street? The idea: That it will help revitalize a section of Main that businesses and neighbors are trying to make vital again.

You could think of the event, on Main from Interstate 630 to 15th Street, as a life-sized mock-up — or what organizers call a "living street experiment" — happily coinciding with 2nd Friday Art Night and continuing into Saturday.

The "PopUp" — a term for a temporary and high-energy event — is a project of the design collective StudioMain and the Chamber of Commerce's Create Little Rock young professionals group. Inspired by the national Better Block initiative, the Create Little Rock group asked the architects of StudioMain to plot out, with the help of neighborhood, business and city interests, a future vision for South Main. Several architectural balloons have been floated for the revitalization of the South Main neighborhood — or SOMA. The "PopUP" will "test the principles," event organizer James Meyer said, of the Project Main Street design by Polk Stanley Wilcox architect Ed Sergeant that has gotten a good reception at City Hall. The plan calls for lane revisions from I-630 to 17th Street.

To help set the life-size scene, "PopUp" organizers are temporarily detouring 40 trees en route to a landscaping project to the three-block median. After a brief closure for set up, Main Street will reopen at noon Friday and 2nd Friday Art Night will be the PopUp kick-off, to coin a vigorous phrase, with the Cons of Formant providing music from 7-9 p.m. at the Bernice Garden at 14th and Main. There will also be food at the Oxford American at 13th and Main (a small sample of the menu at its future restaurant, South on Main, from Chef Matthew Bell; read more about Bell on page 56) and Midtown Billiards between 13th and 14th. Southern Gourmasian, Taqueria Alicia, Wishbone's, Bryant's BBQ and Catering and Philly's to Go food trucks will fill the lot opposite the OA (formerly parking for Juanita's).

Goodwill will operate a store in a vacant building on the east side of the intersection of 14th Street and Main and Etsy Little Rock will have vendors on the street. At deadline, the Dunbar Community Garden was considering joining the vendors.

StudioMain, at 1423 Main St., will be the "home base" for the event, said Meyer, who is an associate at Witsell, Evans, Rasco architectural firm. On exhibit there will be the Arkansas chapter of the American Institute of Architects' 2012 Arkansas Honors awards as well as information on the PopUp planning.

North on Main, an installation of painted doors by University of Arkansas at Little Rock art students will be placed around the vacant United Systems building across from Community Bakery. The Oxford American and UALR students were planning an exhibit at the magazine's office at press time.

Saturday's "PopUp" runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. with DJ King Julian providing music from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The Central High Jazz Band is tentatively scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

There will be canine as well as people traffic at a dog park on the grassy lot in back of the EZ Mart at 14th and Main (across Scott from the Villa Marre). The "PopUp" event runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Main will return to its regular four-lane configuration on Sunday; it will be closed at 10 a.m. for crews to restore the street.

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