by Max Brantley
Oh, this is rich in irony. Mayor Mark Stodola joined forces with others to prevent a move of the VA's day-center for veterans more than four years ago that, had it happened, would have meant no headache for him today with the proposal to move to an abandoned car dealership at 10th and Main amid a row of commercial uses.
It was September 2007. The VA had applied to the Capitol Zoning District Commission to move from its current home at 2nd and Ringo, a former Associated Press office, to a building housing the Roy Rogers auto parts store at 106 Cross Street, about two blocks away and directly across the street from the Salvation Army transient shelter. Though close by, the property is under the zoning control of the Capitol Zoning District Commission, which oversees land use around the Capitol and Governor's Mansion.
According to CZDC records, a huge outcry arose against the move, particularly from neighborhood property owners. There was so much opposition, in fact, that the VA scaled down its request and resubmitted a reduced proposal to simply move some clinical services to the Roy Rogers building. It never followed through on the application and has remained at 2nd and Ringo, with some satellite space at other buildings nearby. The Zoning District staff didn't look favorably on the original application, finding it inconsistent with plans for development of the Capitol area.
Here's the kicker. Guess who opposed the VA center's attempts to expand in its existing neighborhood? Mayor Mark Stodola. And Sharon Priest, director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, another source of opposition to the VA center on Main Street. Stodola wrote one letter. Priest wrote two. Here they are.
You can perhaps see here a bit of what the VA means when it says the city has resisted past efforts to find other quarters. You should also note that part of the excuses offered by Stodola and Priest for opposition included the city's effort to address the homeless problem with a day shelter (though the VA can't commingle its money for serving non-vets, much as the city seems to hope it could). It's more than four years later. The city still has no shelter and it will be lucky to do so by the five-year anniversary. There is one in North Little Rock. There are complaints about shuttle service there, though Stodola has promised transportation will be a breeze when and if the city ever brings a decrepit rescue mission on the far fringe of the city on Confederate Boulevard up to code and makes it usable by the homeless.
The VA has reason not to accept the city's professed good intentions at face value. If the city kills the Main Street relocation, there's some history to judge what will happen next. And maybe some remorse on the mayor's part.
PS — I drove past Roy Rogers' building on the way home. A number of men were hanging outside, probably waiting to be fed at the Salvation Army across the street. That revitalized corridor Stodola promised 4.5 years ago wasn't much in evidence.