Little Rock mayor unveils plan for Asher Avenue area

LITTLE ROCK — Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and other officials on Wednesday announced an incentive package and a targeted redevelopment plan for the Asher Avenue area to spark economic development in areas traditionally haven’t seen as much as other parts of the city.

The city will waive building permit fees for developers in areas that include federally designated opportunity zones as well as other areas in Ward 6 and Ward 7, officials said.

Exact geographical details of areas where developers would be eligible for incentives were still being finalized Wednesday. Jamie Collins, the city’s planning and development director, said a map would be available next week.

The city’s four opportunity zones — census tracts where the federal government allows the deferral of capital-gains taxes on new investments — are in the 12th Street and University area; the Dunbar area; the Main Street and downtown area; and the eastern area of the city.

Scott described the effort as Little Rock’s first incentive package for south of Interstate 630 and east of Interstate 30, areas that historically haven’t seen as much economic activity as other parts of the city. Many of the city’s Black and Hispanic residents live south of Interstate 630, according to census data.

“We have to have decisive and intentional efforts to spur economic development,” Scott said. “This is a game changer. It’s a first step to help spur more economic development south of 630 and east of 30, particularly in the areas of our opportunity zones.”

Central Arkansas Water and the Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority also will waive or discount utility setup fees for commercial and residential developers in those areas, the agencies’ chief executive officers said.

“It’s a costly thing to do, but we think it’s the right thing to do,” Water Reclamation Authority CEO Greg Ramon said.

A redevelopment project that targets the Asher Avenue area is also underway. Collins said the city’s development division is three weeks into the process of meeting with building owners in need of renovaton to help them develop a plan.

That could mean renovating buildings to house a new businesses, rezoning sites so development can take place, or in some cases demolition, Collins said.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which is at University and Asher avenues, also is collaborating with the city to revitalize the area. Chancellor Christina Drale said at a news conference the university plans to begin redeveloping University Plaza Shopping Center this year.

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