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By Erica Sweeney
January 9, 2018
Since its founding more than 130 years ago, Cromwell Architects Engineers, a Little Rock, Arkansas-based company, has strived to make a positive impact on the community. So, when the firm decided to move its headquarters, company leaders chose an up-and-coming part of downtown Little Rock, an area they felt they could improve.
“It was really a pretty clean slate, a blank canvas,” says Dan Fowler, Director of Finance and Business Development at Cromwell. “It has some amazing single-family residential neighborhoods nearby. Those neighborhoods in particular drew us because they really are underserved, underutilized, and undervalued, and really need a lot of help and support. Coupled with that is the availability of real estate that really fit the goals and missions of what we're trying to achieve. It all kind of came together at the same time.”
Cromwell purchased the former Stebbins & Roberts paint manufacturing facility (later renamed Sterling Paint) on the eastern side of downtown Little Rock and began a major renovation project.
Now referred to as The Paint Factory, Cromwell has transformed the former industrial space into a mixed-use development. Besides becoming the firm’s home, it will also include retail space, loft apartments, and a restaurant. Cromwell plans to move in sometime in February 2018.
“It was built by a pretty well-known local architect and was an amazing structure that we could celebrate as architects. It gave us the opportunity for something bigger than just our headquarters. It allowed us to have an impact in a larger footprint,” he says.
Built in 1947 and designed by Burks and Anderson architects, the 50,000-square-foot warehouse is an example of a post-war commercial and industrial space. The Paint Factory is on National Register of Historic Places and will remain on the list after the renovations are complete.
“That was a pretty significant challenge between the LEED rating and energy efficiency, the preservation, and the historic aspects of it and the National Park Service requirements and city codes—all of those things made it a very complicated project,” Fowler explains. “We had to balance a lot of things.”
Fowler says they used as much of the old building as they could and repurposed some parts of it. The goal is for The Paint Factory to have an LEED Platinum certification. Features include native plants, drip irrigation, a solar skylight, and a pollution-reducing roof.
While renovating an old structure can be challenging, Fowler says it’s much better for the environment and the community. Opting for new construction in undeveloped areas can lead to urban sprawl and the decay of city centers.
“To me, that’s a shame,” he says. “People can’t use their skills and talents to preserve a part of our community and culture.”
Along with The Paint Factory renovation, Cromwell is spearheading the revitalization of its neighborhood, which is known as the East Village. The downtown neighborhood is bound by the Arkansas River on the north, Ninth Street on the south, Interstate 30 on the west, and the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport on the east.
“You really had an area that was languishing,” Fowler says of Little Rock’s East Village district. “We have this environment, which has amazing building stock and is just screaming for a new for a life, redevelopment, a creative purpose, and greater use. You’ve also had a few pioneering entities prove out that you can draw people outside the 8-to-5 timeframe, which really primed it for us to come in.”
Over the past 10 to 15 years, a handful of businesses and attractions have moved into the area, slowly revitalizing it. These include the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, the headquarters for the nonprofit Heifer International, two craft breweries, and a distillery.
Cromwell, the oldest architecture firm in Arkansas and one of the oldest west of the Mississippi River, owns a couple of other buildings and a parking lot in the neighborhood. Fowler says they plan to develop these spaces but don’t have specific plans yet. He also encourages other developers to realize the potential of the East Village.
“Bigger than that is helping the entire community see what the potential is and helping plan for some responsible growth, revitalization, and rehabilitation,” Fowler suggests.
“I’m excited about that. I'm also excited about the potential in that neighborhood. The thing that gets me really excited is talking to people and hearing them say, ‘Man, I drove through there, and it's amazing. It's going to be terrific.’ The development, construction and design—all those things are great. I loved every bit of that. The knowledge that we're really doing something important in a community is really, at the end of the day, the most important thing.”
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