A $22 million redevelopment of a historic structure on Little Rock's Main Street was formally dedicated Thursday, the latest effort in an ongoing process to revitalize the once active downtown stretch.
The Mann on Main project in the former Blass Department Store at Fourth and Main streets was opened during a ceremony that featured Gov. Mike Beebe and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, who both stressed the importance of bringing life back to the once-thriving area. It's been plagued in more recent years by vacant structures and boarded-up windows.
"Main Street was and is the most important street in the state of Arkansas," Stodola said. "It's a crossroads to the capital. It's the crossroads to the river. It's the crossroads to the excitement and activity that downtowns bring to a community."
Beebe called the downtown area "the front door to our state" and stressed how important it is as a reflection of all of Arkansas.
"I just think that you can't overemphasize the need for what's happening here," he said, drawing parallels between the ongoing work on Main and the successful efforts to create an entertainment district in the River Market. "... I don't know how many in this audience remember the dilapidated and the slum nature of what is now President Clinton Avenue. But it wasn't that long ago that there was no activity down there."
The Mann building, a seven-story structure that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will house state agencies including the Office of Child Support Enforcement, the Arkansas Crime Information Center, and the Arkansas Board of Pharmacy in its 90,000 square feet of space.
The project — a collaboration between Doyle Rogers Co. and Moses Tucker Real Estate — also includes 19 residential units in an adjoining annex building as well as street-level retail space in both buildings. The restaurant Bruno's Little Italy is expected to open late this month in the annex building and a space next door in the main building could house a store or a restaurant, though a tenant is still being sought.
Stodola said the apartments are among 256 rental units on Main Street that will be available for lease or occupied by next spring.
"This place is going to be alive with excitement," the mayor said during a news conference in front of Bruno's and across from another apartment project where hammering and sawing from active renovation work was audible.
Some of the office space in the Mann Building is already open, including the Office of Child Support Enforcement on the first floor. Employees were at work there while attendees of the dedication ceremony streamed through to check out the new space, admiring large photographs adorning the wall showing the Blass Building and surrounding blocks in Main Streets heyday several decades ago.
Stodola said he anticipated more announcements of developments on Main Street in the near future. Beebe said that would be welcome news.
"I hope this is merely the beginning," he said. "I hope in months and years to come we continue to see the kind of investment in this critical area of our state that is the front door for our visitors."