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story.lead_photo.caption Officials including Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola pry boards from the Robinson Center stage in a ceremony marking the beginning of a 26-month renovation. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

The Robinson Center is an important anchor in a revitalization of downtown that has been "nothing short of a miracle," Gov. Mike Beebe said in an event celebrating the auditorium the day before it closes for a 26-month renovation.

Beebe heralded the redevelopment Little Rock has seen in the River Market and along Main Street and said the $68 million renovation to the historic performance hall will usher in new growth. He said it and the Clinton Center about a mile to the east are the bookends of a cultural district that has grown into a "showplace, something to be proud of, for our people."

"This is another step toward making it even better," Beebe said of the Robinson overhaul. "And, yeah, we're going to miss for 26 months all the activity that would go on here. But the final result, when it's all said and done, will make this a viable arena for entertainment and for presentations for the rest of our lifetimes — the folks in this audience."

At the event, Beebe joined a small group of city officials and Robinson supporters, including Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, to officially mark the beginning of the renovations. Some, though wore hard hats and gripped crowbars before ceremonially prying up boards from the center stage, a location where Elvis Presley famously sang the first recorded version of "Hound Dog."

Attendees at the event Tuesday also saw images detailing the planned changes, which include adding a convention space on the hall's north side, lowering the stage to better site lines and acoustics, expanding the lobby and adding restrooms.

Voters last year approved the rededication of an existing sales tax to pay for up to $73.5 million in bonds to cover the extensive construction work.

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