Four Projects on The Way To Downtown Little Rock

While the pace of development in downtown Little Rock tends to be glacial at best, these four projects are breaking new ground—by getting things done.

What:  AC Hotel by Marriott, along with a 5,000-square-foot restaurant and lounge

Where: Hall-Davidson Buildings at Capitol Avenue and Louisiana Street

When: Summer 2019

How much: TBD

“Come back.” For years, you could see those two words smudged into the dusty windows of the former Downtown Music Hall and Record Store, a long-shuttered storefront in the long-neglected 1923 Hall Building on Capitol Avenue. And for years, no one had bothered to heed them. Rumors had swirled, chances for revitalization had sparked to life and fizzled shortly after. But now, with the announcement of a 112-room boutique hotel boasting the AC by Marriott brand—a line of super chic, high-end hotels with  locations in places such as Atlanta, Boston and Seattle—as well as a locals-friendly restaurant and lounge, there’s reason to believe that people will throng those streets as they used to when retailers of yesteryear anchored the block.

What: Rock City Yacht Club

Where: Northeast of the Clinton Presidential Center

When: This summer

How much: $60 million

We’re not going to say that we forget about the river, but when you see it every day, it just sorta fades into the landscape. Soon enough, though, the 15-ish acres northeast of the Clinton Presidential Center will be more than noticeable—mostly owing to the Sisyphean efforts of developer John Burkhalter, who’s spent the past 12 years cutting through red tape of every stripe to open the first phase of Rock City Marina. Not just because of what’s sure to be an armada’s worth of pleasure boats and party barges sliding in and out of the 160 available boat slips. Or that new 6,000-square-foot floating restaurant and bar. Or even those 168 luxury apartments that’ll overlook it all (that’s Phase II, by the way). Rather, because with all that development, the shape of water’s getting harder to miss.

What: The Paint Factory, as well as eStem Charter Elementary and Junior High School

Where: Shall Avenue in East Village

When: 12 Star Flats: this April; Cathead’s Diner: this May; eStem Elementary and Junior High: this summer

How much: The Paint Factory: $10 million

For a while, the East Village felt the same as it always had. There was still grit. There were still yards of scrap metal, the dull red-brown of iron, the highly buffed shine of aluminum. But frankly, during all that time, there wasn’t a lot of village. More and more, though, as construction has reshaped Shall Street and the surrounding area, the industrial terrain has faded. In its place, you’ll soon find The Paint Factory, a 50,000-square-foot multiuse building with 16 downtown-peeping residences, and the soon-to-be purveyor of everything fried and delightful in life, Cathead’s Diner. Come summer, you’ll start seeing 1,068 K-8 youngsters matriculating at the new eStem Charter School, pulling in some much-needed youth. For all of these reasons, as the area rises, we’re finding it easy to see ourselves there, too.

What: Arkansas Arts Center

Where: MacArthur Park

When: Early 2022 (with a groundbreaking in fall 2019)

How much: $70 million

In the Children’s Theatre at the Arkansas Arts Center on Feb. 27, there were a whole lotta oohs, plenty of ahhs. Projected on the screen were light-filled atriums, second-floor galleries, a revamped north-facing entrance revealing the original 1937 Museum of Fine Arts facade. In those slides, supporters saw the familiar spaces around them virtually transformed: Gone were the oddly placed stairs, the disjointed galleries, the endearing but ultimately inefficient layout that had, since the AAC’s construction in 1937, been bulked up and built upon some eight times. Here was a place that better used its space, that had 127,000 square feet where there’d been just 110,000 before. In effect, any pre-existing museum envy was done away with. It was clear we’d had nice things all along.