What's new and coming soon to Little Rock's East Village
The Paint Factory Sixth Street and Shall Avenue
Little Rock east of Interstate 30: With the important exceptions of the Clinton Presidential Center on the Arkansas River and southern neighbor Heifer International, the town's old industrial area has been a sort of rusty and uninviting neighborhood. Lots of folks who live here know what lies east of I-30 only because Sixth Street used to be the way to Adams Field and later the shortcut to the "new" airport. That has begun to change, thanks to our taste for craft beer, homemade spirits and the neo-warehouse aesthetic. Rock Town Distillery, Lost Forty Brewing and Rebel Kettle lubricated the move into the area in recent years, and now the land east of the interstate even has a new moniker that calls to mind the bohemian spirit of the Big Apple: the East Village. The Cromwell architectural firm, which has been around for more than 130 years in Little Rock, made quite a splash when it announced in 2015 it had purchased what were called the Sterling Properties at Sixth Street and Shall Avenue and would relocate its offices there. The firm has joined with Moses Tucker Real Estate to develop a 50,000-square-foot building at the northeast corner of Sixth and Shall, across the street from Rocktown Distillery, into The Paint Factory, housing Cromwell's offices on the first floor and 16 loft apartments on the second. Dan Fowler, Cromwell's business developer, promises the new apartments will be "cool and edgy" and unusual, their industrial aesthetic similar only to Tuf-Nut Lofts'. The idea, he said, is to "evoke the spirit of that old industrial part of Little Rock, which is our goal really for the entire development — to retain the history and the spirit and the quality" of the area. In addition to the Cromwell firm, the first floor will also include a small retail space — Fowler is hoping a restaurant will lease the 4,000-square-foot carve-out — and a community room, complete with bathrooms and a catering area, for lease to the public. "We hope it fosters a lot of creativity and interaction between people in the neighborhood now," Fowler said. He estimated investment in the project at $10 million.
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The Paint Factory will be a centerpiece in Cromwell's transformation of the five Sterling Properties (originally the site of Stebbins and Roberts' paint manufacturing business). Fowler said Cromwell is also "working pretty hard" on its property at 1212 E. Sixth St., the former site of Ron King's bike refurbishing facility. Fowler said Cromwell has some "serious tenants" lined up for the building, and an announcement would be forthcoming. Fowler said Cromwell's decision to move to the East Village was meant to inject life into the area and "show people it's OK to come there, OK to live there," in the same way the firm's building on Markham Street played a role in the revitalization of that area. "We hope we are the first of many investments in the East Village."
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Rock Town Distillery 1216 E. Sixth St.
Phil Brandon's engineering degree has come in handy since July 2010, when the debut of Rock Town Distillery's gin and vodka was met with a chilly reception. Nearly seven years later, Brandon has slowly and quietly rebuilt the formula, earning top honors from New York City's Ultimate Spirits Challenge, Chicago's Beverage Testing Institute and Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, which in its 2017 edition bestowed its "Liquid Gold" label to three Rock Town spirits: the Arkansas Rye Whiskey, the Barley Bourbon and the Single Barrel Bourbon. The company announced last June it had been exploring the idea of moving to a lot at 616 E. Capitol Ave. to accommodate its expanded production, but tours and events coordinator Kelly Gee told us Rock Town aims to stick around in the East Village. "We would like to stay where we are, but we'll need a little more space. It's a good problem to have, but we're selling more whiskey than we can make."
Artisan on Collins Fourth and Collins streets
In late 2016, David "Rusty" Thompson bought one block in the East Village from Industrial Realty Co. for $1.7 million. Thompson has said he envisions mixed-use development, with retail in the ground floor and apartments above. The property is bound by East Capitol Avenue on the south, Rector Street on the west, East Fourth Street on the north and Collins Street on the east. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's plan to massively widen the Interstate 30 may require buying a 60-foot-wide slice of the western boundary of the property. eStem Public Charter School
EStem Public Charter School 400 Shall Avenue
Little Rock's best-known charter school is on track to open a new elementary/junior high campus by July 2018, which will allow it to more than double its student capacity in grades K-9. Last May, eStem purchased the 111,096-square-foot warehouse on Shall Avenue for $1.7 million, and the charter operator hopes to have its financing complete by the end of the first quarter of this year. EStem CEO John Bacon said the plan is to gut the warehouse, then divide it into two separate buildings, one of which will be a K-6 elementary that eventually will contain 800 to 900 students. The other will be a junior high that will one day hold 450 students in grades 7-9. "We won't start with that many but will grow it out over time," Bacon said.
EStem is also working on a new high school for grades 10-12 at the UA Little Rock, which will allow its campus at Third and Louisiana to transition to serving grades K-9 only. When the expansion is complete, Bacon said, eStem will have two separate K-9 campuses in the downtown area (one on Shall, one on Louisiana) that feed into the UALR-based high school, accommodating a total of 3,800 to 4,400 students. (Today, the charter has an enrollment capacity of 1,462.)
Lost Forty Brewing 501 Byrd St.
When Yellow Rocket Concepts opened the doors to Lost Forty Brewing and began making craft beer in December 2014, the locally rooted team behind it already had made it big on the restaurant scene with Big Orange, ZAZA Fine Salad and Wood Oven Pizza Co. and Local Lime. Lost Forty continues to churn out craft beer in cans and from the tap in small-batch limited releases, like the "Nighty Night" Imperial Stout and the "Snake Party" Double IPA, in addition to standard brews like the Love Honey Bock, the Lost Forty Pale Ale and the session-worthy Day Drinker. Lost Forty's "Beer Food" menu is full of curiosities like the Hoppin' John hummus, an open-face fried Italian bologna and egg sandwich and a batch of 50 house-smoked rib plates every Thursday and Friday, sold by the pound until they run out.
Rebel Kettle Brewing 822 E. Sixth St.
The newest addition to the East Village brewhouses is Rebel Kettle, which opened its doors on March 25, 2016. The taproom and adjacent beer garden pour standard brews like Working Glass Hero Blonde Ale, Dirtbag Double Brown Ale and Moontower Cream Stout, supplemented by a roster of "rotator" beers and seasonal brews like the Richard Persimmons Sour Saison and the After Hours Smoked Porter, all pair-able with menu items like Boudin Stuffed Mushrooms, po' boys, burgers and salads. Rebel Kettle was founded by brewer John Lee; Pat Beaird, formerly of The Southern Gourmasian, runs the kitchen.