Conceptual plans for a "radical" $64.5 million upgrade of the Robinson Center — one that would include an expanded lobby, stage, loading dock, acoustical improvements and new dressing rooms — were presented this morning to the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission, which hopes to raise the money needed for the work for a summer 2014 construction start date.
SCM Architects principal Mike Steelman the plans, which also include a ballroom, upgraded meeting spaces and "a modern office complex," according to press release from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Gretchen Hall, LRCVB director, said the highway department's Broadway Bridge project accelerated plans for the convention center; work on the two projects will coincide, rather than create a super nightmare of construction downtown. The Robinson Center upgrades should take two years.
Hall said the LRCVB is looking at all forms of financing, including private and using hamburger tax revenues to fund a bond issue once its current bonds on the convention center's expansion beneath the Peabody Hotel are paid off in 2014. She said the project's next phase will be to distribute a request for proposals from architectural and construction firms. The cost estimate of $64,572,934 does not include architectural or bond counsel fees. It's too soon to say an increase in the existing two-center tax will be necessary. No money was provided for the facility in the recent city sales tax increase.
Hall said the exterior of the 1939 building is sound, but many upgrades need to be made on the inside, which still includes some of the mechanics of the original building. The building is not well equipped to handle the needs of the handicapped, she noted.
The plan calls for lowering the floor of the music hall and reducing seating by about 300, to 2,300. But seats will be closer to the stage, including a true mezzanine and balcony that will bring people closer to the action. A major improvement will allow street level loading and unloading for road shows and off Broadway, to reduce traffic problems. Lifts will take equipment up to the stage, which will have more backstage room including stage-level dressing rooms.
A "concept team" was appointed by the board in October last year. Besides SCM Architects, it includes WD&D Architects; Shuler Shook Theatre Planners; Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants; TME Inc. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers; ECI Inc. Structural Engineers; McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. Civil Engineers; East Harding Construction; HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group. Representatives from the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions and the Doubletree Hotel also participated in the planning.