Tumbledown houses and a homeless camp occupy a secluded ravine south of Markham Street, just west of the state Capitol. The area, Park and Schiller streets on the east and west and West Third and West Second streets on the north and south, is a triangle of land far below grade of Markham and dead ending at a berm running along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Drive into this forgotten area of the city — its drainage bad and street upkeep negligible — in the morning and you might see a man doing his best imitation of Alice Cooper emerge from the woods. He may be carrying a sword. It's that kind of place, where the sloping topography from the higher Capital View neighborhood bottoms out. Where attention from the city has also petered out.
But when Jason Baxter looks at this neglected little spit of land, he sees a city park, a bike path and a number of what he calls "boutique homes" in landscaping that plays up, rather than ignores, a little stream — Rose Creek — that borders the area. He'd like to develop here, but it all depends on collaboration with the Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department.
Baxter has incorporated Capitol View Holdings LLC with two silent partners for the potential development of what he may name East Capitol View. Capitol Holdings has purchased 33 parcels in the neighborhood, for a total of $185,000. Most are east of Park Street.
Baxter says he'll bring to the table the donation of 11 parcels to a nonprofit established by the parks department to create the 4- to 6-acre park.
He'll also work with the city to build stone-lined drainage infrastructure in keeping with the design of the Stifft Station-Hillcrest tunnels, "to look like they've been there for 100 years." He said the design of the neighborhood will be such that residents won't be able to tell "where the park begins and their land ends."
Baxter envisions a rustic amphitheater carved from the natural bowl on the northeast edge of the ravine, facing east. He's even spoken to a sculptor about creating a work for the new city park that would be commissioned by the residents.
"This whole area is ripe for being revitalized," Baxter said in a recent interview. To be realized, the plan needs several things to happen: Parks would have to convince the city that a partnership with Baxter would leverage the dollars the department has available to it. Ideally, there would be greater access by way of a new road that would connect to Markham at a stoplight where there is a cul-de-sac at grade now.
"Capitol View/Stifft Station would embrace a park in that part of the world," Mark Webre, deputy director of park operations, said. Park's master plan envisions a trail loop around the city that would connect with the River Trail and provide routes within the city to connect the north and south loops. The city has built a segment of the Rose Creek Trail in Capitol View, but it is only two blocks. Building the trail to pass beneath the Markham Street bridge presents several engineering difficulties, but Webre, like Baxter, is unafraid to envision a great trail system even when dollars are scarce. (One mile of trail costs "very roughly" $500,000, Webre said.)
Playing into whatever optimism exists is work by Moses Tucker real estate agents Matthew Beachboard and Eric Nelson on behalf of several owners of land north of Markham on the west side of the railroad tracks, where the Rose Creek trail would continue on its way to the River Trail. Beachboard and Nelson are working with the landowners to develop the property into residential and commercial lots, and Baxter believes development would create more incentive for the city to build a new, traffic-controlled intersection on Markham to link properties north and south.
Baxter said he first learned from Capitol View residents that the property along Rose Creek was planned for a park and trail, and he then went to city officials to confirm that. He said he wasn't sold on developing the area, however, until he met Chuck Flink of ALTA Planning in Durham, N.C., a company Baxter described as a "high-end trail builder." Baxter said Flink proved that greenbelts rejuvenate neighborhoods with the company's development of the Razorback Trail that links Fayetteville to Bella Vista as proof. (ALTA has also done a feasibility study for the Southwest Trail Corridor that would connect Pulaski County with Saline and Garland counties. The counties recently received federal dollars for an engineering study.)
Baxter does not own all the parcels that would line the city park; three family trusts and other owners hold parcels sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. Baxter is in negotiation to buy a 34th parcel, he said. The city owns one parcel, donated by former Mayor Jim Dailey.
Should the city somehow decide to fund a park along Rose Creek, Baxter would build 22 houses on the parcels he owns. They would be around 1,200 square feet and sell between $195,000 and $210,000. Baxter plans to use concrete structural panels rather than stick-built framing — "they make mold a non-issue" — and help block out sound from nearby trains. There would also be shared outdoor greenspace for gatherings, a trend in pocket neighborhood development. He estimates the project cost at between $4 million and $6 million.