'Improvement' district contemplates cashing in on 'Knife Edge' | Arkansas Blog

'Improvement' district contemplates cashing in on 'Knife Edge'


"Large Standing Knife Edge," when it stood at the intersection of Fifth and Main streets. - ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ARKANSAS
  • Encyclopedia of Arkansas
  • "Large Standing Knife Edge," when it stood at the intersection of Fifth and Main streets.
Members of the Metrocentre Improvement District Commission are making noises about dissolving the district — created in 1972 to build the ill-fated Metrocentre Mall and which later built the Main Street and Sixth and Scott streets parking decks — and selling its assets. 

The largest asset would be the Henry Moore sculpture "Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge." Jennifer Carman appraised the sculpture at $5 million for the commission in 2015, but advised that it didn't mean it would sell for that much. The proceeds would be divided among the improvement district members, each of whom are assessed according to the value of their property and who benefit proportionally as well, one assumes.

The district's other asset is the leasing right for the Sixth and Scott street lot. The land is owned by the city; the deck by the district. Justin T. Allen, a lawyer hired by commissioners, said the worth of the leasing rights is a "complicated question."

Allen said he did not know what might happen to the sculpture, but "anecdotally" he'd heard "there's a great deal of interest in seeing that the statue remain downtown." Yes, one would hope that Little Rock business leaders would see the value in keeping a sculpture by an artist of great renown, one that has stood in downtown for 38 years, rather than trying to make a buck off of it.

The 11-foot-5-inch sculpture was erected in 1978 at the intersection of Fifth and Main streets in the pedestrian mall; it now stands in the Union National Plaza at Fifth and Louisiana streets.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas has an excellent entry on the sculpture, which includes the following information:

In 1961, Moore made the original model of Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge by combining part of the shoulder bone of a bird with modeling clay to form the statue’s head and face. He originally called the sculpture Winged Figure, and it has been noted that the upward orientation of the piece echoes the marble Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre. Another possible inspiration is the epic poem The Rescue by Edward Sackville-West. The protagonist of this Homeric poem, which Moore illustrated in 1945, is described by Sackville-West as having “something of a mysterious timelessness, the knife edge balance between being and not being, which only the poetic imagination seems able to achieve.” ...

The Metrocentre Commission agreed to purchase the sculpture on June 13, 1978, at the recommendation of a search committee. Three members of the committee — James Dyke, Dr. Virginia Rembert, and Townsend Wolfe — traveled to England to meet with Moore. Rembert wrote that Moore was “pleased that it would be placed in the heart of Little Rock.” The $185,000 cost was paid for with funds assessed on property within the Metrocentre Improvement District. It was shipped from England to New Orleans and transported to a North Little Rock (Pulaski County) warehouse by truck. On Monday, September 25, 1978, the sculpture was placed on its circular marble base on the Metrocentre Mall. The sculpture was moved to its current location on Capitol Avenue and Louisiana Street in 1999 when the pedestrian mall area of Capitol Avenue was reopened to traffic.

The improvement district paid off the remainder of its outstanding bonded indebtedness in March, which reduced the amount of tax each member is assessed. Where once the assessment totaled some $500,000, it is now in the neighborhood of $80,000, Allen said. Should the district be dissolved, those dollars would no longer flow to the Downtown Little Rock Partnership to pay for street cleaning and plantings.

There were 232 parcels in 2012, the most recent number I could get, though Allen said it is probably similar today. At that time, the tax rate was 3.05 percent.

John Flake, a major property owner in the district, told the Times in an email that "a number of owners of property within the District have asked the commission to permanently suspend its operation since there is no longer any reason to continue collecting the tax earmarked for debt retirement. A number of District property owners reside out-of-state. Authority for the sale or disposition of assets owned by the District resides with the commissioners."

Doug Meyer, who is on the commission, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on whether he thought the district should be dissolved. He said he thought dissolution would require approval by commissioners who hold 66 percent of the property. He added that he believes the tax is now around .5 percent of the assessed value of the members' property. As property values climb — and they are climbing significantly — assessment and taxes go up as well, he noted. Meyer owns three buildings in the district.
Jimmy Moses, a former commissioner, said he believes there are still reasons to maintain an improvement district. "There aren't many [cities] that don't have some form of a business improvement district in place," Moses said.

The assessment levied in 1976 was to generate nearly $4.6 million to finance the improvements to 10 blocks on Main and Fifth streets, including the Metrocentre pedestrian mall. The bonds were refunded in 1985 to build the two parking decks, which cost $11.8 million. The bonds were refunded again in 1987 and the district sold the Main Street deck to the city.

In 2014, after property owners complained, then-LRDP Executive Director Sharon Priest withdrew her proposal to the City Board of Directors to consider a resolution approving a special operating expenses tax increase from .5 percent to 1.25 percent.

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