- PARK VIEW: Little Rock Technology Park Director Brent Birch stands at the large windows fronting Main Street on the fourth floor of the Tech Park's first building.
In November 2015, the architecture and design collective StudioMain unveiled a catalog of ideas for transforming a once-vibrant stretch of downtown, the heart of which is skyscraper-lined Capitol Avenue. They called it the Financial Quarter for the financial institutions that have long defined the area, and defined the boundary of the 30-block area as the Arkansas River on the north, Sixth Street on the south, Broadway Avenue on the west and Main Street on the east. Now, with a boutique hotel coming to the Hall-Davidson buildings on Capitol Avenue and plans to begin erecting signage and other branding to define the area, the Financial Quarter may soon become a district people recognize.
In the past few decades, there has been little to draw people to the area. The lobbies of bank buildings have become "mausoleums," as developer and realtor Rett Tucker aptly described them at a Financial Quarter meeting. Not even the tenants of the towers get down to the street. Glen Woodruff, vice president and director of business development at Wittenberg Deloney & Davidson Architects and a member of StudioMain, has been the chief instigator behind the rebranding of the area. WD&D is located in the Region's Center at 400 W. Capitol Ave.
"We've watched the street die in the sense that there's no activity. We can be guilty of this," Woodruff said. "We drive up in the parking deck and come into our tower, and we might go downstairs for lunch or we might not. Then we'll get back in our cars in the parking deck and drive home and literally never step on the street in downtown Little Rock. And we're not alone in that."
StudioMain envisions the transformation happening in three phases: Phase one calls for events, "street furniture" and pop-up kiosks designed for retail. Phase two suggests redesigning the seven plazas on Capitol Avenue between Broadway and Main to create shopping or retail areas and repurposing underused bank lobbies. Phase three calls for transforming surface parking (which accounts for 40 to 60 percent of all property in the quarter) into mixed-use development, giving Capitol Avenue and Center Street distinctive street designs and, perhaps, adding residential options in high rises.
Woodruff said StudioMain's offering is less prescriptive than inspirational. "The idea is to help people think creatively about design in their lives and especially their day-to-day routines, and think about how design can impact their lives for the positive."
Last year, the Downtown Little Rock Partnership formally established the Financial Quarter committee, chaired by John Martin of Moses Tucker Real Estate and Maggie Hogan of Flake and Kelley Commercial. Martin said funds, provided by stakeholders, would pay for branding efforts, which should roll out later this year.
The biggest impediment going forward? "Money," Woodruff said. But aside from that, he said the group needed to formalize its relationship with city leaders, who've embraced the ideas thus far. Woodruff expects to see some special events around holidays hosted in the quarter this year.
- TODAY AND TOMORROW: The Hall-Davidson buildings on Capitol Avenue (left) will be redeveloped as a boutique hotel, restaurant and bar in the future (right) by Rock Capital Group.
A new real estate firm is in talks with national hotel groups to bring a boutique hotel to the Hall-Davidson buildings on Capitol Avenue. The new group, Rock Capital Real Estate, represents the merger of two small firms, Rock Capital Group, led by Dan Roda and Blake Smith, and Capital Real Estate, led by Jordan Haas and Danny Brickey.
209-215 W. Capitol Ave.
Rock Capital has the 1923 Hall-Davidson buildings under contract to purchase from Capitol Lofts LLC, led by Scott Reed, of Portland, Ore. Reed's acquisition of property along Main Street and Capitol Avenue in 2010-2013 helped spur other development, but Reed ran into financial problems, including lawsuits and liens that halted his work. The deal for the Hall-Davidson buildings should close by April or May, followed by 12 to 18 months of construction on the hotel, Roda said. It's expected to cost between $16 million and $17 million.
The property includes the 41,672-square-foot Hall Building and the adjoining 19,752-square-foot Hall Building Annex.
There will be a 6,000-square-foot restaurant attached to the hotel along with a bar and common areas, Roda said. He said he hoped it would attract a bar scene of locals like the Capital Hotel Bar has.
"We're trying to make it a hub for the 'Creative Corridor,' " one of the monikers — along with the Technology Corridor — for Main Street between Fourth and Seventh, Roda said. Smith said Rock Capital's hotel project would bring something new to downtown. "When you think about it, every hotel in downtown Little Rock is ... just a business hotel. The brands we're looking at are very creative. They accommodate business but also parties. To put it bluntly, it's going to bring in younger people. ... It's going to accommodate people who're in their 30s, who're coming in for business, and they don't want to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn or wherever and get a free biscuit or muffin. We want to make downtown more relevant for this generation."
Rock Capital also has the Gay Building at 300 Broadway Ave. under contract. It most recently was the home of Rufus Fender Mender. Roda said it was premature to reveal plans for it, but said the group expected to take advantage of the federal Property-Assessed Clean Energy Program (PACE) financing and other energy efficiency programs.
Haas owns the Sterling Building (219 W. Capitol) and Moore Building (519-523 Center St.). Rock Capital will handle the leasing and management of those properties. Michelle Posey has leased a part of the Sterling building for her photography studio, Mariposa. Haas said he has a potential client for the ground floor space on the corner of West Capitol Avenue and Center Street, but it was too early to reveal it. It's rumored a law firm is interested.