LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Little Rock city leaders see a great opportunity to invite redevelopment, and they want residents’ help to shape the vision of the city’s future.
A series of open meetings will take place around the city this month to invite input on how the city markets its four opportunity zones.
“It’s such a great opportunity to help mold the future of the city of Little Rock,” said Martie North, Co-Chair of the Little Rock Opportunity Zone Task Force.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. formed the task force to guide him as he promotes the opportunity zones, areas in which investors may claim tax incentives for long-term development projects.
“We don’t want this to turn into something that is happening to a community,” North stated. “We want to make sure we’re involving the community in this process.”
Opportunity zones were born out of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Investors can defer tax payments on gains from a project, and percentages of the tax burden will be eliminated based on how long the initial partner/s hold the investment. The zones were designed to spur investment in census tracts were residents had lower incomes.
Governor Asa Hutchinson nominated 85 opportunity zones around Arkansas, which were then approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. In Little Rock, one zone encompasses the Oak Forest and Hope neighborhoods; one surrounds South Broadway street; another covers the Pettaway and Hanger Hill neighborhoods; and the other runs from the East Village past Clinton National Airport.
“The sky is the limit. The potential is there,” North said.
North said the zones all have different characteristics and acknowledged that the East Village has seen a recent spike in development and new businesses. “That already has some momentum,” she stated. “But there are other needs and opportunities there. So, when we think what’s possible there, we need to think about the uniqueness of that zone.”
While opportunity zones have existed for more than a year, North said investment that takes advantage of them has been slow to come. “There are a couple of funds that currently exist that are starting to invest in some projects,” she explained. “And then there are investors that are like, ‘okay, we need some help. What does this community want in this particular area that we’re looking at?’”
To provide that help, the task force will submit a report to Mayor Scott with recommendations. North said task force members have studied other cities, including Birmingham and Atlanta, to learn best practices and find methods that could help market Little Rock. One thing she mentioned that would benefit the city is to add a new section to its website, “that is telling where they are, opportunities that exist, going over the assets in these communities, and then community engagement.”
North hopes for large turnouts at the four meetings, but she especially wants to see residents of the zones, business owners, and potential investors attend, “so, they can see that we are interested, we are willing, we are engaged, and we’re wanting to go ahead and get some of these dollars invested and start making some things happen,” she said.
The first meeting will be Thursday, February 6 at the Hillary Clinton Children’s Library. The other meetings will be February 13 at the Dunbar Community Center, February 20 at the East Little Rock Community Center, and February 27 at the Macarthur Military Museum. Each meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m.