by Max Brantley
I wrote a column for our weekly deadline before the City Board met last night, but made clear that I didn't expect the city to present an obstacle to Warren Stephens' demolition of all the structures on the west side of Main between Fourth and Capitol, along with a significant chunk of the architecture on the east side of Main in the same block.
A board that has screwed up just about everything it has touched could hardly be expected to make a credible case for stopping the work in hopes a better plan would appear. Plus, an ex post facto halt to a previously issued demolition permit wasn't likely to fly.
If the state is willing to provide renters to underwrite the cost of Stephens' building a new building, he might build one. (Hey, so would I.) The safe prediction is that a year from today, parking lots will adorn Main Street where a century's worth of Little Rock retailing history once stood. I'm old enough to have bought a pair of kids' gloves at Kempner's to ward off cold on tiny fingers at a Christmas parade; to have had quite a few plates of spaghetti at the D &D Cafe; to have bought doughnuts at Woolworth's; to have wandered through the Haverty's showroom.
Times change. But think about this. Would the River Market redevelopment along Clinton Avenue have been the same -- or occurred at all -- without the reuse of the stock of older buildings that give the street its flavor?
When Main Street is razed -- and indications are that's pretty much the Stephenses' desire for most of its property along the corridor -- what's the hope that it will truly ever be a "Main" street again? Don't misunderstand. It's their property. Their call. Just regretting.
One thing though. Nobody will be able to complain they don't like to go downtown because there's no place to park.
UPDATE: My snarky comment that I, too, would be happy to build a building if the state guaranteed to occupy it drew a note from a developer with insight into state leasing procedures. Read on for the note:You and a number of others would build a building for the state if they were given a chance; however, State Building Services does not advertise when they need space. We are the only state in the country that does not solicit bids when they want to rent real estate. Texas send emails and RFP's to prospective landlords. Try to register with SBS, you can't, they tell you to send in your building and we will contact you. I go to national conventions and mention the way Arkansas solicits real estate and no one can believe it.