by Max Brantley
One of my community photographers sent photos today of demolition work beginning at 7th and Cross Streets, where the old Howard cleaners building is being torn down.
My watchdog said concerns are that another parking lot is in the making and that calls have begun to city officials.
City Hall confirms the demolition permit has been issued. And that the cleared lot might serve as a parking lot temporarily. But I was told Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services, the ambulance service, has longer range plans for the property. Its headquarters is immediately to the south of the property being cleared. I'm awaiting a callback from MEMS on specifics. No application for use of the property has been filed. It falls under the UU zoning category applicable to most downtown Little Rock property, which means just about anything goes.
UPDATE: Still no callback from MEMS, but I did hear from Vanessa Norton McKuin, executive director of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.
Thanks for your blog post on the former laundry building at 7th and Cross. I am sick about this distinctive building being demolished.
Just so you know, the Massery Laundry is/was a contributing structure to the West 7th Street Historic District. Here is the description of the district.
Because of its contributing status, rehabilitation of the building could have qualified the owner for Federal and/or State Historic Tax Credits. The Pulaski County Brownfields Program could also have likely been tapped to help with the remediation of the remnants from the building’s days as a cleaners (just like they are doing on the west side of the 500 block of Main Street). This intact historic block could have been a great redevelopment and revitalization project. There are alternatives to demolishing historic buildings and it sure seems to me that our capital would benefit from creative redevelopment instead of making more parking lots downtown.
UPDATE II: Greg Thompson, operations director for MEMS, said the agency bought the property out of a bankruptcy and had investigated whether the building could be salvaged as part of a long-time plan to create additional facilities for the MEMS headquarters, which has outgrown space built in the 1980s. But he said occupancy of the building would require signifcant expenditure to remove structure and soil contaminated by cleaning fluids over the years. It wasn't financially possible, he said. As it stands, MEMS, which is self-sustaining from ambulance revenues, hasn't yet arrived at a financial plan for its expansion. An architect is working on the plan. A portion of the parcel that wasn't occupied by the building can be used for construction, he said.