Historical panel votes approval for downtown North Little Rock projects

Designs for the development of an Argenta Plaza District in North Little Rock's downtown were met with hesitation by the city's Historic District Commission before most portions gained approval Thursday evening.

Architectural plans for the plaza district -- consisting of the public Argenta Plaza, a three-story office building, a three-story restaurant and apartment building and the five-story First Orion headquarters -- were reviewed by the Historic District Commission that is responsible for protecting the "unique character" of the Argenta Historic District.

The commission, during more than two hours of discussion and presentations of each property, approved the plaza design, 5-0, the restaurant building, 3-2, and tentatively approved the office building to be at 600 Main, 5-0. Architects must attend the commission's June 14 meeting for final approval of the 600 Main building because of concerns over window tinting or shading on its Main Street side.

The Planning Commission will review the plans before they go to the City Council, though the 600 Main building must first wait on the Historic District Commission's final approval.

The commission didn't review the five-story First Orion Building because it will be built just outside the historic district boundaries. It was included in the overall presentation because Taggart Architects of North Little Rock designed the plaza and each of the three buildings with similar features.

"It functions as a district," said Taggart's James Meyer, the project's lead architect. "It's hard to break them into individual pieces."

The commission had to consider how the more modern look for the buildings will blend with, but not mimic, the rest of the historic district, which has some buildings dating to the late 1800s.

Several comments from commissioners and the public regarded a desire for the new buildings to reflect the historic features in Argenta. Much of each building's design includes glass and metal instead of brick.

"New construction is judged by its ability to blend with the neighborhood," commission Chairman Tom Marr said. "The question is: Do these blend?"

Meyer said the designs took into consideration the district's historic fabric and the site's history, while following guidelines that buildings should reflect their own time period as well.

"You can't make a 'new old' building," he said. "Part of the beauty of a historic district is representing multiple, different styles from multiple time periods. We are sympathetic to what's around it, but it also is to be true to its time period."

The $4 million, 42,000-square-foot plaza has been a project of Mayor Joe Smith's as a centerpiece for office, retail, restaurants and residential developments around it.

The $10 million First Orion building will be the new global headquarters for the software company. The $3.6 million, 18,000-square-foot restaurant building, with a tenant to be determined, is being named the Argenta Power & Ice Building*, a nod to early city electric and water departments on that site.

The $4.8 million, 24,000-square-foot 600 Main building will include the North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau on the ground floor, the Arkansas Automobile Dealers Association on the second floor and Taggart Architects on the third floor, with a rooftop deck.

Metro on 05/11/2018

*CORRECTION: The restaurant building in North Little Rock is named the Power & Ice Building. The name in a previous version of this article was incorrect.