Two architects unveiled the city of Little Rock’s master plan for a cultural corridor on Main Street today. Fayetteville’s Marlon Blackwell, private architect and department head of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, and Steve Luoni, director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, presented The Creative Corridor: A Main Street Revitalization to the public for the first time today at The Rep. The city retained Blackwell and Luoni to create the plan thanks to a $150,000 Our Town Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Their vision for the 300 block to 600 block of Main Street that they call The Creative Corridor was vivid and grandiose, full of all the sorts of things New Urbanists salivate over — a pedestrian promenade, rain gardens, street furniture, LED lighting installations. If it was realized, Little Rock would be a beacon for urban design the world over (in fact, Mayor Stodola, in his introduction, said the plan was one of only two master plans to be shortlisted in an international master plan contest.) But, as the mayor acknowledged, whether it’s implemented or not is largely up to private dollars.
The plan hinges on a series of arts anchors that would draw crowds to the area like The Rep already does. Luoni said his group had talked with visual arts groups, dance organizations, film schools and music organizations, mentioning only The Rep and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra by name. (Luoni said the ASO board had agreed to lease space in the MM Cohn building to use for rehearsals and administrative offices, but reached after the presentation, ASO executive director Christina Littlejohn said the executive committee of the board had merely approved to move forward with lease negotiations pending approval by the full board in January.) Asked to reveal more specific names after the presentation, Stodola said he didn’t want to steal the thunder of Main Street developers.
Luoni said the plan was purposefully vague on recommendations for specific tenants and, beyond the arts, for specific sorts of tenants. The mayor noted, without mentioning the likes of Moses Tucker and Scott Reed by name, that there’s currently about $60 million in construction happening on Main Street. He said all the developers had “expressed a desire to move forward” with the plan.