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A week ago Wednesday, the owners of properties on Capitol Avenue and Center Street announced three new businesses that would open in what is being called, by the Downtown Little Rock Partnership at least, "Center City." In an apparent coincidence, a collaboration of architects, developers and downtown boosters met the following day to discuss a design plan for what they are calling the "Financial Quarter," a rebranding effort to bring more daytime street traffic to Capitol's bank-tower row and neighborhood north. Then the Arkansas Times learned of plans for new restaurants (as yet unidentified) that would turn the 200 block of Capitol into "restaurant row."
Thank the new life on Main — the "Creative Corridor" — for the tide of interest flowing west from Capitol and Main, what another moniker-maker, Buckley O'Mell of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, called "the intersection of Commerce and Entertainment."
What's in a name? The tags Center City, Creative Corridor (a.k.a. the Technology Corridor, thanks to the Little Rock Technology Park's plans for Main) and Financial Quarter may or may not stick, but the fact is that new businesses in the city's original commercial heart are once again happy to say they're Downtown.
A new hotel, new restaurants, new ad agencies, video production studios, new apartments, a new gym, a new gallery, expansions of existing businesses. State agencies. The loyal Arkansas Repertory Theatre. Renovated architectural classics. The promise of a technology park. A fierce devotion south of Interstate 630, in SoMa. The last time the Times looked at how Main Street was changing was 2013. It's a good time to look again, from north to south on Main, with a jog down Capitol.
109 and Co., bar (formerly Maduro Cigar Bar), 109 Main St., opened December 2014.
New home of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, 300 Main (the 1900 Fulk Building, formerly home to Bennett's Military Supplies). Doug Meyer of Terraforma Inc., owner of the building, said renovation of the 21,000-square-foot historic property at Third and Main should be complete by July of this year; CJRW, now located at 303 W. Capitol Ave., will occupy all three floors.
Jones Video, 301 Main. The lot was formerly occupied by Mr. Cool's; Terraforma is building a four-story building on this lot. Jones Video, a subsidiary of CJRW, will occupy the ground floor; upper floors will be offices.
Mann Lofts, Bruno's Little Italy, 310 Main. The lofts, 19 apartments on the second floor, and Bruno's, on the ground floor, opened in 2013.
KLofts, 315 Main St. Josh Blevins of Reed Realty developers said the 32-apartment development is awaiting delivery of appliances and leasing should start by March, with occupancy later this year. This project has been in the works since 2011. Grain of salt accompanies this information.
Possible future Little Rock Technology Park property (now an empty lot), 319 Main. Park director Brent Birch says negotiations with the owner, the Little Rock Teacher Retirement System, on a purchase should begin in February.
Samantha's Tap Room and Wood Grill, 322 Main St. On the ground floor of the Mann on Main office building (formerly the seven-story Blass Department Store, renovated, leased to state agencies and opened in 2013). Samantha's unofficially opened last Friday and officially opens Thursday, Jan. 22, co-owner Chris Tanner said last week. Hours are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Tanner said he expects to start lunch business in February, when the restaurant will open at 11 a.m. and stay open until closing at 10 p.m. The restaurant features dozens of beers and wines on tap. Tanner also owns Cheers in the Heights.
Possible future Tech Park property, 401 Main St. This is now KATV; presumably, KATV would have to have somewhere to go before the Tech Park took over this property. The board is still debating whether it would be best to restore this building, the original Worthen Bank, or tear it down and start all over. Downtown preservationists are urging a rehab to preserve its remaining original features.
Possible future Tech Park property, 405-411, 419, 421 Main St., now owned by Warren Stephens (500 Main LLC). It includes the Exchange Building, designed by architect Charles Thompson in 1920 and renovated in 2012 by Stephens. The Tech Park board is in negotiations with Stephens, which has leased the Exchange Building to the state Department of Education. The annex to the Exchange Building, which is vacant, is likely to be the first building on the block to be occupied by the Tech Park; work on RFPs on consultants and contractors for redevelopment is scheduled to start in February.
Possible future Tech Park property, 415 Main. Owned by Mays Byrd and Associates law firm.
Capitol Lofts, 215 W. Capitol Ave. The 1924 Hall Davidson building and annex are being developed by Reed Realty into 56 apartments. Construction is scheduled to begin this year. Four restaurants will occupy the ground floors, developer Josh Blevins said; he hopes those restaurants plus Southern Gourmasian and Mylo Coffee Co. down Capitol will redefine the block as "restaurant row." Confirming local rumors, one of the four restaurants is "likely to be a brewery," Blevins said.
Southern Gourmasian, 219 W. Capitol. Southern food with an Asian twist is how Justin Patterson describes his menu, which he now serves from a popular food truck. He hopes to open a bricks-and-mortar home for his gingery short ribs "within the next couple of weeks" in this space in the Sterling annex.
The Sterling building, 229 W. Capitol, now owned by Jordan Haas and partners, will be the downtown home of Mylo Coffee Co. (facing Capitol) and Crossfit Composure (entrance on Center Street). It was just a year or so ago when Stephanos Mylonas was serving his famed pour-over coffees and pastries at farmers markets. He opened Mylo on Kavanaugh Boulevard in Hillcrest less than a year ago, and is now ready to give downtown a jolt. "I always knew my second location would be downtown," Mylonas said. "I knew [the Sterling building] was the right choice when I walked into the space. ... I don't consider this a risky move at all." Adam Funmaker — that really is his last name — is opening the Crossfit gym in 3,700 square feet in the southeast corner of the first floor of the Sterling Building.
Jerky's Spicy Chicken and More, 521 Center St. John Walker Jr. plans to move his "Jamerican" restaurant from 2501 Arch St. to the Charles Thompson building, newly-christened by owners Jordan and June Haas, Jim and Christy Miners, Danny Brickey, Dan Jones and Dr. Mike and Akemi Bauer. (It was once Draughn's School of Business). Walker hopes to be open by March; he plans for the restaurant to be open Monday through Saturday.
Few, 523 Center St., which designs web and mobile applications and hosts yearly conferences for technology entrepreneurs, moved into space on the second floor of the Thompson (formerly Mathis) building above EJ's Eats last year. Now it's moving into 1,200 additional square feet in the building. Few founder and COO Arlton Lowry said the space would be used for a new business, but he clammed up when we asked for more information.
Aloft Hotel, 501 Main. The Chi Hotel Group of Little Rock purchased the historic 12-story Boyle Building from Main Street Lofts LLC (Scott Reed's group) last year and will renovate it as a 140-room hotel at a projected cost of $18 million, including the $4.5 million purchase price. The hotel — which Chi said he believes is the first new hotel on Main in 80 years — will include an upscale restaurant, meeting space and a rooftop pool. Jacob Chi, the managing partner of the Chi Group, said the hotel should be open by the first of next year.
Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, 514 Main. It's been a long time coming — two years, in fact — to transform the M.M. Cohn Co. into the symphony's performance space, but Josh Blevins of developers Reed Realty said the space should be complete in February, after special lighting and flooring have been installed.
The Rep, 518 Main, on the ground floor of the Main Street Lofts LLC, in the old Pfeifer Department Store annex. Same story as the Symphony — in the works since 2013, not yet open. Director Bob Hupp is hoping the space is ready by summer.
Ballet Arkansas, 520 Main. Same story as the Symphony and The Rep space — in the works since 2013, nearly done. The sprung floor has been installed; the marley flooring is next. A Feb. 15 move-in date is the plan.
Cranford Co., 524 Main. The Cranford Co. advertising agency — whose principals include Wayne Cranford (CJRW founder) and sons — will be located in this corner ground floor spot on Sixth and Main St., and will have a film and video studio in the basement of the building, once known as the Pfeifer Brothers Department Store (a.k.a. the Arkansas Building).
Main Street Lofts South, 108 W. Sixth St. The second and third floors of the Arkansas Building are being configured to hold 36 one-bedroom apartments; they're now under construction. A later phase of apartment construction will extend the lofts on the floors over the symphony and include 34 two- and maybe three-bedroom apartments, Reed Realty's Josh Blevins said.
McLeod Fine Art, 108 W. Sixth. On the ground floor of the Main Street Lofts (and around the corner from Cranford Co.) Matt McLeod, who is also painting a mural on the side of Bennett's new location at 608 Main St., will represent both known and emerging artists (and his own work) at his 1,000-square-foot gallery. He'll also have another 1,000 square feet of exhibit space in the hallway entrance to his gallery and the Main Street Lofts.
Bennett's Military Supplies, 608 Main. This downtown mainstay moved into the former home of Phillips Men's Store last year after the owners, Sheree and Doug Meyer, decided to lease their Third and Main Street storefront to Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods. Thanks to Matt McLeod, the exterior north wall of Bennett's will be painted as a koi pond.
Urban Garden Montessori, 610 Main. This primary school opened in fall 2014 in the old S.H. Kress and Co. building; founders hope to take advantage of the "Creative Corridor" offerings of music, dance and theater. The dulcet tones you hear coming from the school? Each kid has been given a violin and is getting lessons as part of the curriculum.