Cromwell Architects Engineers and Moses Tucker Real Estate are working together on what the firms call a new urban renewal and redevelopment project in downtown Little Rock.
It was initiated by Cromwell's purchase of five tracts at 6th and Shall streets that make up the former Stebbins and Roberts properties. The land lies east of Interstate 30 and just south of Heifer International's world headquarters.
"Forty years ago, when we built our building at Markham and Spring Streets, the area was in need of a major redevelopment effort," Dan Fowler, Cromwell's director of finance and business development, said in a news release. "Our building, along with investments in the Camelot Hotel, Excelsior, Stephens Building, and Capital Hotel, created a vibrant district within the core of our city. We hope to do the same east of I-30."
Charley Penix, CEO of Cromwell, called the area "the new River Market and Main Street."
The main building, a 50,000-SF warehouse, will be Cromwell’s new headquarters, housing 120 employees. Penix said hopes to attract restaurants and apartments to the project, as well.
"We’re wanting the area to be a mixed use so that it has people there 24 hours a day – commercial space, retail, eating establishments, apartments," Penix said. "We’re hoping for it to be a community that’s a variety, mixed-use type of neighborhood."
Fowler emphasized that he would like to see a variety of creative businesses located there.
"I think what’s fascinating about that area is that you’ve seen a long-time establishment of creative and construction related businesses," Fowler said. "We’d love to see that continue and actually blossom to include other creative establishments and businesses … Maybe some art studios, maybe even some art schools — things like that might be really a good addition … Small independent creative establishments that are making food and local beer and whiskey and those sorts of things."
The strip is already home to Rock Town Distillery, which set up shop in 2010 inside a 15,000-SF building at 1216 E. 6th St. The company makes vodka and whiskey.
The area would be the latest to undergo revitalization efforts downtown. The River Market renaissance, led by Moses Tucker, began in the 1990s. And work has been underway for about five years on Main Street, dubbed the "Creative Corridor."
Penix said it was important for them to branch out into a new region of downtown. He said the area at 6th and Shall Streets has a lot of character, especially in the warehouse-type building where Cromwell will be situated.
"There’s really not space on Main Street that would meet the needs of our company – that would have the parking and the square footage that we would need," Penix said.
Fowler said that the area needs stimulus to help revitalize and draw people in. He hopes that this project can do that.
One looming question is the fate of I-30. State Highway and Transportation Department officials recently unveiled plans to widen the interstate and rework on- and off-ramps downtown. Critics have said those plans could result in areas of east of I-30 — including the Clinton Presidential Library, Heifer and other businesses — being more isolated from the rest of downtown.
But Penix believes those plans are nowhere near final. He said the I-30 design can be improved and the city will be involved in those discussions to come up with the best plan.
But they realize that there will be challenges along the way.
"We’re looking very closely at traffic circulation, especially on 6th Street, and how we can add public parking to the area so that restaurants and bars and things like that have access to parking," Fowler said. "We know that the streetscape is incredibly important … and that’s going to have to be a public-private partnership."
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