Chick-fil-A eyeing possible downtown Little Rock location https://t.co/u9IxqaRNNH
— FOX16 News (@FOX16News) June 5, 2021
This report from KARK on Chick-fil-A’s interest in developing the former McDonald’s at 7th and Broadway is the tip of what could be a lively debate.
The report says, for one thing, without further details, that “adjustments will be made” for traffic.
They will be needed. Broadway, already lined with fast food outlets, is a traffic hazard most hours of the day already, with left turns in and out of establishments problematic. At popular meal times, the business can be fierce. See the relocated McDonald’s and its crammed drive-through a block south at Sixth Street, on the west side of Broadway.
Can Chick-fil-A do better on Broadway than it does on West Markham Street, across from Park Plaza (where a rebuild is underway for temporary respite from the daily traffic nightmare)?
There’s another potential angle brewing.
The Chick-fil-A plan calls for taking the whole half a block bounded by Broadway, Seventh and Spring. This would include removing the old McDonald’s and commercial buildings along the south side Seventh east of the old McDonald’s all the way to the southwest corner of Spring Street and Seventh. This would mean the loss of a building (Ciao was a long-time tenant) that contributes at least a bit to what’s left of the historic fabric of downtown. It would also eliminate parking spaces and contribute to traffic concerns for the Child Development Center at Eighth and Spring operated by First United Methodist Church. A traffic engineer for Chick-fil-A has tried to allay those concerns. The engineer also included this map of some changes to address concerns on Spring Street. Here’s the full traffic study.
Given that 7th and Broadway is already zoned for a fast food place (with problem traffic, it’s worth noting), it will be hard to prevent another one. But the traffic problems on Markham, and those that already exist on Broadway, should be carefully considered. The loss of another row of older buildings is worth a mention, though it might not be a strong argument.
It is where historic preservationists and the Quapaw Quarter Association come in. Patricia Blick, director of the QQA, says:
The concerns I’ve gotten are associated with the demolition and also the impact the additional traffic will have on FUMC’s Child Development Center. As you would expect, the QQA doesn’t support the demolition of historic buildings. The property on 7th Street, while aged, has been pretty heavily compromised. At this point, the building has been changed so much and the lack of material integrity is so great, that it would probably not be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under the criterion for craftsmanship. It might be eligible under other criteria, ie, for associations with national trends, or a significant person, but since it has lost so much historic fabric, and is not recognizable as the historic structure it was, National Register listing is a challenge. And National Register listing is a necessity to pursue state and federal rehabilitation tax credits which makes development of historic buildings economically feasible. I understand that previously there was an effort to evaluate the 7th Street Corridor for a small National Register historic district, but this lacked enough property owner support to move ahead with a district. Even if a district had been established, the building we are talking about would probably not be a contributing resource in the district. National Register listing would not prevent demolition, but would validate the significance of the property and establish that it is worthy of preservation.The old McDonald’s building is not historically significant.I would suggest an additional concern with the new enterprise is how the new building will be sited on its lot. Its siting is dictated by the way they will operate, as primarily a drive-thru. Historically, we would have the buildings up to the street, not pushed back. But along this strip of Broadway, that old pattern of having the buildings up to the street was already abandoned. So, they are following the new trend of a large set back.
My feelings are personal. For one thing, better fried chicken is already available two blocks down the street at Popeye’s.
Another factor is politics. The chain stopped contributing to anti-gay organizations in 2019, after an uproar over its spending in support of bigotry. But new reporting says Dan Cathy, the owner of the chicken chain, is among the billionaires behind a dark money campaign trying to defeat the proposed federal Equality Act, to prevent discrimination against LGBT people. This is irrelevant to planning decisions. But Litte Rock has declared itself by ordinance a city that doesn’t discriminate against LGBTQ people in its own employment and won’t do business with vendors that do. (This became a big deal when San Antonio refused to rent to the chain at its airport. It ultimately decided to avoid the location. Little Rock, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get the chain open at the Little Rock airport several years ago.)
Cathy, as an individual, was exempted from the company’s pledge not to support anti-LGBTQ causes. Justin Kirkland of Esquire had this to say about that:
To say that Cathy isn’t Chick-fil-a and that Chick-fil-a isn’t Cathy is asinine, especially considering America’s recent inability to separate man from business. A man’s product is as good as the man himself.
Beyond that, I don’t have any more words for Chick-fil-a, to be honest, because as Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” I don’t go to Red Lobster looking for Italian food, and I don’t go to Chick-fil-a looking for moral high ground. I don’t care how friendly they are. I don’t care how “good” the chicken is (especially when Popeyes, Zaxby’s, and Raising Cane’s are right there). The people who own Chick-fil-a have an anti-LGBTQ agenda, and that was ingrained in the company for a good long while.
Remember when Mike Huckabee created a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day for its opposition to equal treatment of LGBT people? Remember when congressional candidate Tim Griffin had a tailgate picnic featuring Chick-fil-A goods to show he was on board with the anti-LGBT agenda? And when Republican sycophants gleefully filled social media with yuks about it? I do. And I won’t forget the nastiness, now a matter of law in multiple ways thanks to the Arkansas Republican legislature.
Here’s a Google street view photo of the old McDonald’s, with the one-story older buildings along Seventh behind it.
Here’s an aerial view of the site.
And here’s the development plan: