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THAT’S BUSINESS

It’s springtime on Main Street, with new growth out of the old

By Jack Weatherly

This article was published March 24, 2013 at 2:07 a.m.

Main Street was budding Wednesday, the first day of spring.

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre confirmed on that day its intent to occupy space in the Main Street Lofts project catty-cornered from the theater.

Commercial leases to two artists for that project on the west side of the street between Capitol Avenue and Sixth Street were also revealed.

The Rep’s artistic director, Bob Hupp, acknowledged that the troupe’s board has signed a letter of intent, which is one step removed from a lease.

The theater has set a July deadline for signing the lease, he said. It depends on raising money needed to equip and adapt the space, about 7,800 square feet.

Hupp said he is optimistic that the lease will be signed.

The theater would expect to start using the space in early December, he said.

There will be three classrooms and a small “black box” space for performances.

Hupp, who has been at the Rep for 14 years, said, “We’ve seen some false starts in the past” in plans for downtown revival.

This time, the change is being driven by the private sector - for-profit and nonprofit - with backing from the public sector. The city got a federal grant to develop an “arts corridor” concept, while federal tax credits are helping defray the cost of construction.

“That’s the model we’ve seen all over the country,” Hupp said.

Scott Reed, a partner in Main Street Lofts LLC, also revealed on Wednesday that two more artists have signed leases in the project. That means that nearly all the commercial space has been claimed, he said.

The artists are already showing their creativity in their plans for their respective spaces.

Brandy Thomason McNair, who is moving to Little Rock from Norman, Okla., will use a small area for a studio where she’ll make her jewelry and display it. In terms of floor space, it’s only 270 square feet but she will maximize it.

She plans to add a loft, thanks to its soaring, 17-foot ceiling.

Upstairs will be the office, downstairs the studio and gallery, McNair said, adding that she plans to move in in August or September.

Another artist, an established Little Rock painter, plans to set up shop about the same time.

His will be a studio and gallery. Because he has commitments to two local galleries, he isn’t ready to put his name on his new venture.

He is leasing about 1,000 square feet and, like McNair, wants to put in a loft, in part for living.

The idea of a community of artists and artisans gets the painter’s creative juices flowing.

In fact, he’s already thinking of receptions and wine, along with cheese from a soon-to-be fellow Main Street Lofts tenant whom he has yet to meet.

“As I understand it, he’s looking to make really good cheese.”

Kent Walker, the cheese maker, announced two days before the start of spring that he too has signed a lease for space in the mixed-use redevelopment, which will include loft apartments.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra said in midwinter that it will move its base of operations into 12,500 square feet in the Main Street Lofts project, which actually involves four historic buildings.

So with hammer and saw also transforming Main Street south and north of that project, the old heart of the city soon will be pulsing with pleasant sounds, smells and scenes, something it hasn’t experienced for years and years.

If you have a tip, call Jack Weatherly at (501) 378-3518 or email him at: jweatherly@arkansasonline.com.

Business, Pages 61 on 03/24/2013

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