The Little Rock City Board will consider Tuesday whether to sell a historic easement back to the Junior League of Little Rock so it no longer encumbers renovation work on the historic Women’s City Club building at Fourth and Scott.
Like academic politics, low stakes sometimes make for high drama in city politics. This one pits the potent Junior League against the potent Quapaw Quarter Association and other historic preservationists. The mayor has been on the side of preservation. An outgoing city director, Stacy Hurst, was involved in the Junior League’s project to buy and preserve the building as a headquarters, event center and no, for incubation of other nonprofits.
A third-floor renovation, with some window replacement, ran afoul of a promise to maintain the historic facade when the city gave the League $20,000 for an “easement” 12 years ago. A resolution that spelled out a seeming understanding on how the work would proceed apparently didn’t resolve anything. So comes the proposal for the League to buy the easement back, plus simple interest, for a total of about $34,000.
I’ve come into possession of a memo from the Junior League president urging a show of force at Tuesday’s meeting to persuade the City Board to sell the easement back. What’s an easement for, the other side will ask, if it’s revocable 40 years before it is to expire on a change of heart? (P.S. — A betting man or woman who prefers short odds would always do well to bet on the Junior League.)
Following is the memo, which includes assurances that the League means no harm now or ever to the historic appearance of the building. It was written shortly after the City Board agenda meeting earlier this week:
Construction Update – November 25, 2014
I am calling on you all again to join me at the Little Rock City Board meeting next Tuesday, December 2 at 6:00 pm. The JLLR is on the agenda to purchase the easement back that was put in place in 2002. In exchange for $20,000 towards our capital campaign to purchase the building, we gave the City of Little Rock an historic façade easement, which is in place until 2053 unless we buy it back. Over the last 12 years, we have never encountered an issue until we began construction this summer. We have always made decisions regarding our home to keep with the historical appearance and sensitive to its original design. As we have worked towards the improvements to our building, parking lot, and renovation of our third floor according to the capital campaign plans, we have faced unexpected opposition in the process. It is in our best interest to purchase the easement back and keep our building maintenance decisions internal. We have support on the City Board, and hope that the buyback will be approved, but it will be important to show strong support from our membership at the meeting next week. I apologize for the late notice on a holiday week, but I wanted to confirm that this would be on the agenda before I rallied you to join me.
I attended the City Board of Directors meeting today and was surprised by the negative response by the City Board to the JLLR purchasing back the façade easement. The main concern voiced by the City Board is that if we buy it back, we will go back on the compromise in place and replace the windows on the 1st and 2nd floor of the building. We are NOT going to do that. The windows have been addressed and we have moved on. The JLLR Board of Directors voted to put an energy efficient film on the office and ballroom windows that do not alter the appearance. We are repairing any windows that have deteriorated, but that is the extent of work being done on those floors. The window inserts have been installed on the 3rd floor and are being finished over the next few weeks. The JLLR is committed to the compromise we have reached with the city. We are truly in the home stretch to finish the building renovations as planned to open the Nonprofit Center in the early spring.
Please join me next Tuesday, December 2, at 6 p.m. to show the Little Rock City Board of Directors and the Mayor how important this decision is to our organization. We saved our building when we purchased and renovated it in 2001-2002 and have invested over $2 million in improving our home. We will continue the same level of care and dedication to the revitalization of downtown Little Rock as we move forward with our exciting project. Thank you all for your support, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and I look forward to seeing you Tuesday night!