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Arkansas Arts Center Project Boosts Little Rock Economy

LITTLE ROCK, AR — Construction on the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center in MacArthur Park continues on schedule, despite the challenges posed by a global pandemic, boosting the Central Arkansas economy in a challenging time.

“During these uncertain and challenging times, this construction project is a remarkable success story for our community and our state. Due to the support of the City of Little Rock and private donors, we are spending approximately $4.5 million a month at the jobsite,” said Warren Stephens, AAC Foundation Chair and Capital Campaign Co-Chair. “We are making every effort to involve local companies and suppliers in this remarkable project. This Arts Center is for the community and built by the community, and we’re committed to constructing this new facility with the talents and expertise of Arkansas workers and companies.”

At the downtown Little Rock jobsite, which is managed by Arkansas construction companies Nabholz and Doyne along with Chicago-based Pepper Construction, nearly 150 people are working daily in various aspects of construction. The project is also currently employing the expertise of more than 50 Arkansas companies in subcontracted services.

“This expansion of the Arkansas Arts Center is one of the most significant construction projects currently underway in the state of Arkansas,” Nabholz President Jake Nabholz said. “A project of this magnitude helps stabilize the state’s construction community, especially during these uncertain times. Close to 90 percent of the subcontractors and suppliers involved in this expansion are Arkansas-based, meaning that the majority of building funds from this project will be poured back into the state’s economy.”

Arkansas companies are integrated into every aspect of the construction. Demolition and excavation on the site was completed earlier this year by Rogers & Dillon Demolition & Excavating, based in Mayflower, Arkansas. Construction on the steel structure for the two-story gallery and collections space is underway with steel sourced by WW/AFCO, based in Little Rock, and C & F Steel Erectors, based in Benton, Arkansas. The original 1937 façade of the Museum of Fine Arts has been revealed as the new north entrance, and restoration work on the limestone façade will begin this fall. Inside the 1937 building, a new sleek glass balcony marries the historic building into the contemporary design of the newer spaces. Glass for these balconies — as well as for the glass-enclosed gathering space at the north entrance — will be sourced by Mabelvale, Arkansas-based Glass Erectors, Inc.

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The concrete blossom roofline — a key element of the building’s architecture — will create a connective axis through the building. To create this complex feature, each piece of the blossom’s geometry is poured and cured in a custom mold. To date, 2,700 cubic yards of concrete have been poured for the building, much of it provided by Little Rock-based Bass Commercial Concrete.

At the south end of the site, structural modifications in the art school are also underway to expand the number of studios and include a gallery for displaying student artwork. New elevator shafts are being placed by Little Rock-based Otis Elevator Company. Significant updates to the theater space will improve the efficiency while also bringing features into the space to allow for a wide variety of performing arts ventures.

Mechanical improvements — by Action Mechanical, Inc., based in Barling, Arkansas, and Middleton Heat & Air, based in Bryant, Arkasas — throughout the space will result in a building that is significantly more energy efficient while also providing stable atmospheric conditions to house the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection, which includes 14,000 works of art from around the world.

“The Arkansas Arts Center is one of the largest and most complex projects I’ve directed due to the integration of a one-of-a-kind custom addition as well as extensive renovations of the existing buildings and integrating new mechanical systems throughout the facility,” Pepper Project Executive Anthony Alleman said. “Our team shares the Arkansas Arts Center’s commitment to hire local contractors to complete this historic project. Along with having an immediate impact on the local economy, the monumental project will attract people from throughout the region to visit the Arkansas Arts Center and Little Rock for decades to come.”

As construction continues, more Arkansas-based subcontractors will be employed on the project: Custom Millwork; Covington Roofing; Roberts-McNutt; Royal Overhead Door; PC Hardware; Oaks Brothers, Inc.; White River Flooring; McCormick Industrial Abatement Services, and Smith Underground.

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At the end of May, the construction spend on the project had reached $20.2 million, with another $3.5 million projected to be spent throughout June.

The Arkansas Arts Center project is being realized through a public-private partnership, with a $31-million commitment from the City of Little Rock, funded through a hotel-tax revenue bond. Contributions from private donors have more than tripled the public commitment, and fundraising is ongoing.

In October 2019, capital campaign Co-Chairs Harriet and Warren Stephens announced that they had raised more than $122.7 million toward a $128 million goal. The campaign will also provide transition and opening support, while also strengthening the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation endowment, yielding support for operations, exhibitions, acquisitions, and education and outreach programming in the new building.

Upon its reopening in 2022, the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center will be a hub of activity. Exhibitions, as well as the architecture itself, along with art classes, educational programs, and performing arts events will bring visitors from communities far and wide to downtown Little Rock. Events, a restaurant, landscaping, and other amenities will also draw visitors to MacArthur Park. Designed by renowned architecture firm Studio Gang and landscape architecture firm SCAPE, the new building’s architectural identity signifies the Arts Center’s role as a cultural beacon for the future of Arkansas while celebrating the institution’s legacy.

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