City, UA Little Rock Take Steps to Improve Asher Avenue Properties

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Little Rock city officials announced Wednesday revitalization plans for the Asher Avenue corridor, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock announced redevelopment plans for its University Plaza shopping center.

The plans include the city, Central Arkansas Water and the Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority waiving fees to incentivize redevelopment south of Interstate 630 and east of Interstate 30.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said at a news conference in the Robinson Center ballroom that the incentive package is a first of its kind for Little Rock.

As part of the plan, Little Rock will waive building permit fees, and CAW and the reclamation authority will forego other payments made by developers, including fees associated with water and sanitation infrastructure. 

Scott said areas not previously included in “opportunity zones” will be included by the city. Investors in development projects in opportunity zones qualify for tax incentives designed to spur jobs and development in those zones.

The mayor’s spokesperson, Stephanie Jackson, told Arkansas Business the city isn’t currently receiving fee revenue at the properties that qualify for the incentives. But she said the fees could amount to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, she said.

Jackson said the city hopes that, by waiving the fees to encourage redevelopment, new businesses will open in the area and generate more revenue for Little Rock.

University Plaza Redevelopment

UA Little Rock Chancellor Christina Drale said the university will begin redeveloping the University Plaza shopping center it owns this year. 

“Our plans have always been to rebuild this center with a focus not just on our campus needs but also how those might intersect with the interest of business and the concerns of the community in which we live,” she said. 

Uses could include “retail, restaurant and a variety of other cultural activities alongside campus needs,” Drale added. 

She said UA Little Rock is interested in working with the city on a “safe and attractive entrance” to the university-owned University Village apartments at 3200 Coleman Place and university-owned Coleman Sports and Recreation Complex at 5732 Asher Ave.

Drale also told Arkansas Business in an email late Wednesday, “We are just now restarting a process we began last fall to move into the planning phase for redeveloping the center. We don’t yet have specific timelines or budget estimates, as those will come from the planning process. Currently, we are talking with partners that we’ve been working with to this point, such as the city of Little Rock, about the design of a public-private partnership for the project.”  

The university purchased the shopping center in 2004.

3 Dilapidated Buildings

Jamie Collins, Little Rock’s director of planning and development, said city officials have been meeting with the owners of dilapidated buildings in the Asher Avenue corridor to persuade them to repair and rehabilitate or demolish and rebuild.

Three such buildings he cited are at 5518 W. 33rd St., 4500 Asher Ave. and 3004 Lewis St. 

He said the first property has been sold to new owners who are rehabilitating it to house a new business. Their plans haven’t been submitted to the city yet.

The second will be demolished; an environmental impact study is underway before that work can be done.

The owner of the third property has engaged an architect to rehabilitate it into a mixed-use building with offices. The city is awaiting plans for it as well.

Collins said he expects to see significant progress on these properties within the next three months.

The mayor said the Asher corridor has a history of vacant, structurally deficient commercial properties, which “sometimes can breed and enhance criminal activity, sometimes can breed low quality of life.”

He called the planned revitalization “intentional efforts” by his administration to bring unity to and improve quality of life in the city. “Intentionality truly breeds unity but also breeds growth and change,” Scott said. 

Scott said his administration has worked with the university and the state Department of Transportation to repave or resurface Asher Avenue and part of South University Avenue. He said the city would announce more projects in the coming weeks.