Two architects unveiled the city of Little Rock's master plan for a cultural corridor on Main Street today. Fayetteville's Marlon Blackwell, private architect and department head of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, and Steve Luoni, director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, presented The Creative Corridor: A Main Street Revitalization to the public for the first time today at The Rep. The city retained Blackwell and Luoni to create the plan thanks to a $150,000 Our Town Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Their vision for the 300 block to 600 block of Main Street that they call The Creative Corridor was vivid and grandiose, full of all the sorts of things New Urbanists salivate over — a pedestrian promenade, rain gardens, street furniture, LED lighting installations. If it was realized, Little Rock would be a beacon for urban design the world over (in fact, Mayor Stodola, in his introduction, said the plan was one of only two master plans to be shortlisted in an international master plan contest.) But, as the mayor acknowledged, whether it's implemented or not is largely up to private dollars.
The plan hinges on a series of arts anchors that would draw crowds to the area like The Rep already does. Luoni said his group had talked with visual arts groups, dance organizations, film schools and music organizations, mentioning only The Rep and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra by name. (Luoni said the ASO board had agreed to lease space in the MM Cohn building to use for rehearsals and administrative offices, but reached after the presentation, ASO executive director Christina Littlejohn said the executive committee of the board had merely approved to move forward with lease negotiations pending approval by the full board in January.) Asked to reveal more specific names after the presentation, Stodola said he didn't want to steal the thunder of Main Street developers.
Luoni said the plan was purposefully vague on recommendations for specific tenants and, beyond the arts, for specific sorts of tenants. The mayor noted, without mentioning the likes of Moses Tucker and Scott Reed by name, that there's currently about $60 million in construction happening on Main Street. He said all the developers had "expressed a desire to move forward" with the plan.
Specific recommendations were more towards things like "choking" the street to slow traffic and allow for more pedestrian space and creating public plazas for events. Luoni said the plan was designed to be implemented incrementally as political will and private funding allows.
The first proposed phase is to "create gateways" that set the district off from the rest of Main Street and downtown, including using architectural pavement, special landscaping and unique lighting (one idea is to collect old city street lights into a "light garden" art installation).
The second is to "develop a center" at Capitol and Main streets with a large public plaza they imagine would include an outdoor amphitheater and a giant Times Square-style LED screen along the edge of a skyscraper they think should be the same size or larger than the Stephens Building and include a roof garden. Obviously, this is the most pie-in-the-sky part of the plan.
The third phase involves "thickening the edge" of Main Street with trees, rain garens and terraces and creating a pedestrian promenade.
The fourth is to create a transit district with a trolley route (per Metroplan's scheduled trolley expansion plan) and designated bike "boulevards" on Louisiana and Scott.
Stodola said that the next step for the city is to use a grant it received from the EPA to do some "demonstration projects" of ideas outlined in the Creative Corridor plan.
"There will always be naysayers," Luoni said in closing. "Real productivity in the world happens because of illogical people."
Stodola said at the presentation that the city would have the plan available on its website. Later, city spokeswoman Meg Matthews said it would likely be available later in the week. Part of the Our Town Grant also provides for printing of the plan as a book, too.