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Mayor Scott, neighbors working to redevelop Little Rock's neglected southwest community

Southwest Little Rock has been neglected for years, but Mayor Scott and people living in the communities are working to help develop the neighborhoods.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — Over the years, we've seen development in Little Rock that almost seemed like it happened overnight. Areas like west Little Rock and Main Street have been or are currently being revitalized.

But what about the area south of Interstate 630?

When businesses left south Little Rock, jobs and people left right along with them. Pride left too.

But Mayor Frank Scott Jr. campaigned on a promise to redevelop that area and homeowners are ready to see it.

We spoke with four women who are neighbors in the southwest part of town. Carla Coleman, Nell Johnson, Carolyn Jordan and Beulah D. West have all lived in the area for a combined 150 years.

"Don't believe the stories [you] hear. Come to southwest Little Rock," Coleman told us. She's been a southwest resident for more than 40 years.

But it's an area that even Scott has been neglected.

"That's a particular area that has not been paid attention to," the Little Rock Mayor said. "But in addition to southwest Little Rock, it's the south end, it's the east end of Little Rock. It's primarily the south of 630 and east of 30 areas."

West, who has lived in the area for 59 years, said it was like "you kind of wake up one day and say where is everything? Well...it's gone."

With the help of concerned homeowners, the City of Little Rock is working on redeveloping the area. A huge part of Scott's mayoral campaign focused on industrial development and workforce investment.

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The mayor, who was born and raised in the city, has a team that is now focusing on communities south of 630.

"This is the last one to provide access over railroads where we're eliminating the at-grade crossings," said Jon Honeywell, director of public works.

As we followed a public works crew through wards 2 and 7, we saw infrastructure projects being worked on or already completed. The city has finished sidewalk replacements as well as overpass construction.

The city has also deployed its code enforcement crews to ramp up patrol to identify code violations and enforce cleaner streets.

"It's okay that the city administrators have wishes and desires for us, but if we don't have those same wishes and desires, what's going to happen to southwest Little Rock?" Coleman asked.

That same sense of morale is what Pastor Terrance Long is hoping to bring back to his hometown.

Each month, Long and some of his church members read at a nearby elementary school. They also feed the teachers lunch.

It's a way to give back that was years in the making.

"I went to prison when I was 16. I got out, I was 21," Long said. "And the community had changed altogether."

He said he wants to bring the vibrant energy back to the streets south of the interstate. But he does fear the possibility of life-long residents in these communities could be forced out of the homes they've worked so hard for.

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"We want to build new homes, new apartment complexes, but we want them to be able, for the people, [to] afford it," Long said.

Scott said he's very "empathetic to the concern of gentrification" and that's why he is focused on mixed-use development in these neighborhoods.

"I'm focused on ensuring that every resident has affordable housing, that every resident is not priced out based on the growth that we're seeing," he said.

That part of Scott's plan is what gives neighbors, like the four women spoke to, a bit of hope.

They've seen changes in their community and feel it coming back to life.

"A lot of business is coming back in investing," Carolyn Jordan said. "And when they invest in the business then there's more jobs coming in."

These neighbors are proud to say they'll be around to see the area they love so much return to what it once was.

"This has been a good place to raise our children and a good area and I'm not moving," West said.

"I don't intend to move either," Nell Johnson said. "I plan to stay right where I am."

One of the biggest projects in the area will be the new Little Rock Southwest High School, where students from JA Fair and McClellan High will combine into one school. It's scheduled to open next fall.

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