Asher Avenue in Little Rock is getting eyed for revitalization.
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. declared on Wednesday, Sept. 2 that the city was launching a revitalization initiative for Asher Avenue, specifically the area east of I-630 and south of I-30. This revitalization, he said, is part of an “intentional” effort to increase quality of life in an underserved area of Little Rock and spur economic growth.
“I think we can all attest that over the past 20 months, we have been very intentional. We have been able to move from platitudes to policy to proactive action,” Scott said. “One of those actionable efforts has been the revitalization of Asher Avenue. To help revitalize an area, you must first focus on how do you enhance an area. How do you help bring more quality of life?”
Revitalizing the area has been guided by a series of principles, according to Scott. He listed his pillars as justice, equitable economics and eradication of racism. The revitalization of traditionally neglected areas, he said, is critical for the city’s growth.
“We believe that if you’re not intentional, nothing else matters,” Scott said.
“How do we develop, how do we redevelop, and how do we increase more vibrancy south of 630 and east of 30, for this day and forever more?”
Scott noted that Asher Avenue, while used as a city street, is actually an Arkansas highway. One of the opening salvos in the revitalization effort was partnering with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to repave and resurface the Asher Avenue and South University roadways.
“We’ve seen that resurfacing and that repaving. That was an intentional effort to bring about more quality of life and a greater vibrancy for those travelers that are traveling those roads and those neighbors in that vicinity. But we want to be more intentional,” he said.
Revitalization will be a multi-pronged effort, encompassing an incentive package, property rehabilitation, assistance from water agencies, and development from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
A major part of the revitalization effort is the introduction of an economic incentive program. As part of the program, building permit fees will be waived for commercial and residential projects in selected regions that are south of I-630 and I-30. According to Scott, the region targeted will include many parts of the city’s Opportunity Zones, but will also include low- and medium-income regions, including parts of Wards 6 and 7.
In addition, the city is partnering with the Central Arkansas Water and the Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority to waive fees and reduce costs.
“This is a game changer. It’s the first step to help spur more economic development south of 630 and east of 30, particularly in the areas of our Opportunity Zones,” Scott said.
The City of Little Rock is also working to rehabilitate properties in the Asher Avenue corridor that have fallen into disrepair. Little Rock Planning and Development Director Jamie Collins outlined the city’s approach for improving properties in the area. He said that the city had selected a number of properties in disrepair and contacted the owners to discuss their plans for the properties.
Collins identified three of the properties: 5518 West 33rdSt., 4500 Asher Ave. and 3004 Lewis St. The West 33rd. property, an auto body repair shop that had fallen into disrepair due to a fire, is set to be rehabilitated and have a new business inside of it. For the Asher Avenue location, the roof had partially fallen in, and the property owner is demolishing it. Collins said the owner is conducting an environmental study and will be preparing bids afterwards. The Lewis Street property, which was previously used for storage, is set to be converted into an office/mixed-use building.
Collins said this will be a multi-phase process that has a roughly three-month timeline. He told reporters that it was currently in its third week.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock will also play a crucial role in the Asher Avenue revitalization as a major presence in the area. UA Little Rock Chancellor Christina Drale noted that the university owns significant tracts of property in the area and is looking to redevelop them to improve the area.
Drale said that the university is planning to redevelop the Plaza Shopping Center to use for retail and business purposes as well as academic uses.