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Old-building kinks delay Main Street Lofts again

by Glen Chase | October 2, 2014 at 4:41 a.m.

The twists and turns of renovating old buildings have again delayed the move-in dates for tenants of the Main Street Lofts project in downtown Little Rock.

Everything from updating electrical systems and figuring out where to run sprinkler lines to selecting fixtures that will fit into odd spaces has slowed the project. Developers originally thought they would have the first tenants in place by the spring of 2014, but delays pushed that back to late summer or early fall.

David Robinson and Josh Blevins of Reed Realty Advisors said Wednesday that their project is now on track for ground-floor tenants -- the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Arkansas, and several artists and craftsmen -- to be in place by January, if not sooner.

The construction delays have forced the prospective tenants to alter their moving plans.

"Whenever you get into an old building, just when you think you've got a handle on it, something else comes up," said Robinson, a managing director with Reed Realty.

The Main Street Lofts project involves three buildings fronting a block of Main Street between Sixth Street and Capitol Avenue -- the Arkansas Building, the M.M. Cohn Building and the Annex Building, which is also known as the Kahn Building. The project is part of the city's arts-corridor plan, which involves properties on Main from Third to Seventh streets.

Other businesses with creative bents, such as the new advertising firm, Cranford Co., have plans to move into the Main Street Lofts.

The developers said they expect that 36 apartment units in the Arkansas Building and the Annex Building will be available by late spring, followed by another 34 units in the adjacent M.M. Cohn Building.

Robinson said change orders needed to get the buildings up to code have "cost a significant amount," but he declined to provide budget details.

Blevins, director of special development projects for Reed Realty, said the project's budget is still running in favor of the developers.

"At this point, everything is new construction," now that the design and structural work is complete, Blevins said. "Now, we're able to just build."

The developers had to address structural concerns in a way that preserved each building's historic nature in order to qualify for state and federal historic district tax credits. Reed Realty has said the credits make such restorations possible financially.

Reed Realty and other partners bought the three buildings, as well as the Boyle Building at Main and Capitol, for $1.5 million. They later sold the 12-story Boyle Building to the Little Rock-based Chi Hotel Group for $4.6 million. The Chi group has committed $18 million to convert the building into an Aloft Hotel that will include a restaurant and coffee shop.

Reed Realty is involved with another Main Street project, the K-Lofts at 315 Main St., that has also experienced construction delays, including a collapsed rear wall in October 2013 that had to be rebuilt at a cost of $800,000. The same developers are also working on a third project, the Capitol Lofts at Capitol and Louisiana Street, which will likely be complete in mid-2015 because of the delays in the other projects.

Blevins said tenants are eager to move into the Main Street Lofts, which is adding to the pressure to complete their spaces. He said Philip Mann, music director for the symphony orchestra, toured the space Tuesday.

Bob Hupp, producing artistic director of the Arkansas Repertory Theater, said The Rep's plans to expand into a new experimental theater, classrooms, rehearsal space, offices and dressing rooms have been put on hold, but are tentatively set for January. The Rep raised $400,000 over three months last year to pay for renovations and equipment for the space.

Hupp said The Rep had to cancel some educational programs over the summer because of the project delays.

Since The Rep doesn't want to cancel future programs, it's holding off on scheduling education programs in the new space until "we're walking in the door," Hupp said.

The January date "is as firm as anything when you're having conversations about construction and rehabilitating old buildings," Hupp said.

Another future tenant -- Kent Walker, an artisan-cheese maker based in Little Rock -- said he's not been given a new date for when he can relocate from 1515 E. Fourth St. to the renovated Main Street space.

"No, unfortunately not," Walker said. But, he said that given the age of the building, "there's a lot of work to be done."

With the delay, one artist who has signed on to move into Main Street Lofts has already made alternate plans, with Robinson's and Reed Realty's help.

Brandy Thomason McNair, owner of Bella Vita jewelry, signed a four-month lease with options to renew on a month-by-month basis for a 350-square-foot space in the Lafayette Building adjacent to the Main Street Lofts. She said she hopes to open on a limited basis for a few days a week beginning Nov. 1 to offer jewelry, as well as soaps, lotions, candles, scarves, shirts and vintage home decor.

McNair said the last information she had was that her new studio space in the Main Street Lofts could be ready in November, but he wanted to establish herself downtown in the event of an additional delay. She said she moved back to Little Rock from Oklahoma about a year ago in anticipation of opening her business on Main Street.

"I want to be part of this project, that's why I'm holding on so hard," McNair said. "I don't want to sound too frustrated right now, but I've come up with a temporary solution."

A Section on 10/02/2014

Print Headline: Old-building kinks delay Main Street Lofts again


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