Friday, March 1, 2013

Closing The Loop:Could Destruction Lead to Trail Construction?


I've been hearing rumors that Little Rock has patched together the funding necessary to build the fabled River Bluffs River Trail section behind Dillard's. I've heard this before, but nothing has come of it. Even if the funding is found, there is still the question of right-of-way acquisition from several property owners, with Dillard's being the most prominent. None of this is really news to those of us who keep an ear to the rail (or trail, as it were) for any news that affects the Arkansas River Trail system.

There has been a recent development that may serve to push the tired close-the-loop issue on down the road. Some of my assumptions are tenuous, but not illogical.

Bruner House, at 1415 Cantrell Road (from Arkansas Times)


The Arkansas Times has reported on the demolition of 2 Victorian homes on Cantrell Road. Immediately behind those homes lie the North Street excuse for the River Trail and the Episcopal Collegiate School. Read the Times blog article, but here is an excerpt:
Episcopal Collegiate's head of school says he has no knowledge the land will be used for expansion of the Jackson T. Stephens Campus, though the houses being torn down are owned by Warren Stephens.

I'm not going to research this to verify my recollection, but I vaguely remember that the city had agreed at some point to deed North Street to the school to allow for expansion of the campus with the caveat that the school must accommodate the River Trail right-of-way. That was unacceptable and the school made other plans. The school denies knowledge of Stephens's plans for the property, but let's start assuming.....

Assume that the property will be used for expansion of the ECS.

Assume that River Trail right-of-way through the ECS campus is stillverboten.

Assume that Little Rock will not allow this contentious piece of trail to disappear completely.

Assume that Little Rock can come up with funding for the River Bluffs Trail.

If those assumptions are close to correct, then the trail will have to go somewhere, and along the river behind Dillard's is just about the only option. In spite of Mayor Stodola's continued talk of routing the trail along the sidewalk in front of Dillard's, with its utility poles and six driveway crossings, that is simply not viable and it has been embraced by exactly nobody other than the mayor.

I would hope that Dillard's would get on board as a good corporate citizen. Perhaps Dillard's could receive naming rights for what would be a spectacular regional draw. 

This crazy scene is common today as cyclists negotiate the River Trail on Cantrell Road near the Episcopal Collegiate School

 This video illustrates what it could be with some funding and good corporate citizenship.

My understanding is that Stephens is also a major stockholder in Dillard's, so that could make for some productive give-and-take in negotiations to move the River Trail from the site of one entity in which he has an interest, the school, to another.
All of this conjecture is still dependent on the cooperation of Dillard's and funding, but a move to expand ECS across North Street could start the dominoes falling toward the resolution of a longstanding impasse.

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