The River Market Design Review Committee split 2-2 this morning on a height variance request by developers of the aloft hotel proposed for Clinton Avenue, meaning the committee will not recommend the variance to the city Board of Adjustment.
The Starwood group hotel, which developers say will have “sassy” appeal to the 25-39-year-old market, would be nearly 90 feet tall, including its signage. That’s nearly twice as tall about 27 feet taller than the $41 million Institute for Arkansas Studies going in next door.
Tim Heiple, an architect who with Jim Porbeck cast one of the two no votes, said he worried that the height ran contrary to the mission of the district’s design overlay to preserve a “pedestrian scale,” especially on Clinton. He asked a representative for hotel developer McKibbon if architects could set the structure farther back from the street or do a “layer cake” design. The representative, Wes Townsend, said economic reasons were driving the design.
Jimmy Moses of Moses Tucker, the real estate company representing the seller of the land (a parking lot across from the River Market), D-G publisher Walter Hussman, said the hotel was crucial to the success of investment in the district. Dan O'Byrne, the director of the Little Rock Visitor and Convention Bureau, said the hotel would mean “a better quality of life for all citizens” of Little Rock.
But Central Arkansas Library System director Bobby Roberts pointed to the Cox Center on Commerce, the curved-wall building on the eastern side of the Main Library parking lot, visible from the third floor of the River Market, where the meeting was held. “Take a good look, because you won’t see it again,” Roberts said. “The Cox is a little jewel and deserves better treatment than to be up against a 7-story building.” Roberts said the Institute of Arkansas Studies represented the public’s investment in the district, and said the hotel as designed would threaten that.
Committee members Ann Wait and Shannon Light (manager of the River Market) voted to approve the variance. One member of the committee recused because of ties to the developers. Wait, who works for Moses Tucker, did not, saying she didn’t have a “financial interest” in the real estate firm. Huh? A job isn't a financial interest?
-- By Leslie Newell Peacock
UPDATE: The matter goes to the Board of Adjustment Sept. 29. The library is sending contact info to its supporters. I presume the Downtown Partnership is doing the same. Whatever your side, the contact info is on the jump.