Rett Tucker’s grandfather, Robert M. Williams, had a terrier named Tim who took the streetcar from the stop close to the family home at Sixteenth and Arch streets to his grandfather’s insurance business in the Donaghey Building. Jimmy Moses’ great-grandfather Herman Kahn built the Marion Hotel and his grandfather Grover Cleveland Moses started Moses Melody at Seventh and Main, which his father continued and where Jimmy Moses worked in his youth. Little Rock, Moses said, “is in my DNA.”
The two realtor-developers have been the tenders of the flame, keeping whatever small spark that remained from the vibrant downtown their forebears knew alive and fanning it to the glowing success that is the River Market district. Moses Tucker does business nowhere else but downtown; they have an interest, financially or emotionally or both, in nearly every structure that signals the River Market revitalization, from the Museum Center in 1996 to the Arkansas Capital Commerce Center in 2002 to the high-rise residences at 300 Third Street and River Market Tower in 2007 and 2009 and the Arcade set to open later this year — 12 properties altogether. They assembled the parcels for Heifer International and the Clinton Presidential Library and brought in investors like hotelier John McKibben, who’s put nearly $50 million in downtown. Public dollars contributed to Moses Tucker’s success as well, including the sales tax that helped build the River Market and renovate the old Terminal Warehouse building into the Museum Center, and the library millage that made it possible for Central Arkansas Library System director Bobby Roberts to move the Main Library to its present location at 100 Rock St.
Now Moses Tucker is working to ignite Main Street, joining up with the Doyle Rogers firm to restore the 1912 Gus Blass Building at Fourth and Main, now dubbed the Mann on Main after its architect George Mann, and turn adjoining property at 312 Main St. into the Mann Lofts. Ten of the 19 apartments in the Mann Lofts are already leased; June 1 is the scheduled completion date. They’re building a 416-space parking deck at Fourth and Louisiana streets to serve the Mann, which will house state offices, and the lofts. EStem charter schools on Third Street will also lease space in the parking deck. The dough will fly literally when Bruno’s Italian Restaurant, dormant for some years, comes back to life on the ground floor of the Mann.
The $20 million project, financed with conventional loans as well as historic and New Market tax credits, emerged from Moses Tucker’s decision some years back to redevelop property the company owns at 400 E. Capital, the old Arkla Building. “We came up with the idea of moving the tenant at Arkla,” the Office of Child Support Enforcement, to the old Blass building, Tucker said, an idea that apparently convinced owner Doyle Rogers that the time was right to restore the seven-story structure for office space.
Moses and Tucker will likely demolish the three-story 1950s Arkla building and replace it with a mid-rise mixed-use development that will include residential and retail. That means Moses Tucker will have built residence and retail space on every block of River Market Avenue (Commerce) from Clinton to Fifth, where their Rainwater Flats are located. “Over the next five years we’ll see Main Street and the River Market emerge as a single neighborhood,” Tucker said.
Moses calls the Arcade Building, in which Moses Tucker is partnering with the Central Arkansas Library System to build at the corner of Clinton and River Market, “one of the coolest” projects they’re involved in. When complete in late fall, the Arcade will include a movie theater and be the home of the Little Rock Film Festival. The $17 million development will also include a restaurant, Cache, to be operated by RH Cuisine, and the insurance agency Meadors & Lee, founded 103 years ago downtown.
“Little Rock is big enough to have the energy to be a dynamic city, but small enough that individuals can make a difference,” Tucker said. Little Rock could use more of those individuals, he says; the success of downtown isn’t assured despite all the activity on Main. Just as the Downtown Little Rock Partnership envisioned years ago, Moses and Tucker want to see the city locate its Technology Park downtown to add depth to the area’s success. (The tech park board hasn’t jumped at the idea; forced to abandon plans to build in the residential area between the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and UALR, it’s been loath to embrace alternatives.)
“We’re on thin ice,” Tucker said. “If we step the wrong way, it can be really painful.” But to mix a metaphor, Moses added that no matter the risk, “I’m going to go down swinging.”