Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Center closes for renovation

On July 1, 2014, Robinson Center Music Hall closed so that renovations could commence.  Instead of having a groundbreaking ceremony, Gretchen Hall and LRCVB arranged for a “stage breaking.”  Slats from the stage flooring were pried up with crowbars.

Twenty-eight months later, Robinson Center reopened on-time and on-budget.

(As a side note:  the Culture Vulture announced the countdown before Governor Mike Beebe and various Little Rock leaders used their crowbars for the first breaking of the stage flooring.)

Here are some photos from that ceremony.


Women’s History Month – Gretchen Hall

At the 2017 Downtown Little Rock Partnership annual meeting, Gretchen Hall became the first woman to receive solely receive the Top of the Rock Award.

A hardhat and reflective vest were part of Gretchen‘s work wardrobe almost every day for the past 30 months.  As the President and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, she actively oversaw the deconstruction and reconstruction of Robinson Center Performance Hall. Taking a New Deal era assembly hall and making it into a state-of-the-art performance facility was not an easy task. Gretchen and her team have worked with the architects, engineers, designers and consultants to make it happen.

Gretchen joined LRCVB in 2001 and worked her way up through the organization.  In May 2011, she was named to her current position.  Since that time, the LRCVB has undertaken numerous efforts to enhance Little Rock including a new amphitheatre in Riverfront Park, enhanced programming at the River Market, and increased financial support of cultural organizations.  She has worked to improve not only the meeting space available for conventions, but also to enhance the dining and lodging scenes in Little Rock.  In addition, she helped lead the effort to see the additional penny of the hotel tax be dedicated to support the Arkansas Arts Center and MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.


Little Rock Look Back: LR votes to Restore Robinson!

restore-robinson-121013On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, voters of Little Rock overwhelmingly chose to renovate the historic Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

By a vote of 5,183 For and 1,800 Against, Little Rock citizens approved a plan to use a portion of the city’s existing 2 percent restaurant and hotel tax to repay bonds for a renovation of Robinson Center.  The campaign was chaired by businessman Charles Stewart, restaurateur Capi Peck and former LR Mayor Jim Dailey.

Robinson has long been a landmark in central Arkansas. Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1938 (after a December 1937 groundbreaking under a deadline) and officially opened February 1940. The structure was a PWA (Public Works Administration) project, and is an excellent example of the Art Deco style architecture of the time. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

The facility is owned by the City of Little Rock and managed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The 1940 structure suffered from a wide array of deficiencies, including stage loading and unloading, stage size, acoustical insufficiency, dressing room access and inadequate wing space within the performance hall. Also, structural, mechanical and electrical issues, public circulation and outdated conference center spaces existed within the facility.

Knowing the center is in need of major upgrades if the facility is to continue to serve central Arkansas into the future, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) empanelled a Robinson Center Concept Team in October 2011. The group was tasked with evaluating all aspects of the existing facility, researching user needs, proposing conceptual solutions and estimating the cost and construction schedule of the proposed additions and renovations. The concept team was led by Mike Steelman of SCM Architects, PLLC, and included representatives from WD&D Architects, Shuler Shook Theatre Planners, Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants, TME Inc. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, ECI Inc. Structural Engineers, McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. Civil Engineers, East Harding Construction, HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group.

Additionally, stakeholder and tenant organizations representing the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Double Tree Hotel participated in the planning. The concept team findings were presented publicly on June 5, 2012.

On January 17, 2013 the LRA&P announced the selection of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, partnered with Ennead Architects, as the architectural and design team for the future renovations. On March 28, 2013 CDI Contractors LLC, partnered with Hunt Construction Group, were selected by LRA&P as the general contractors and construction managers.

On September 23, 2013 the final schematic renderings and cost estimates were presented publicly. The schematic plans depict major interior upgrades within the performance hall including additional volume to create a two-balcony setup, increased lobby space, acoustical improvements, theatrical upgrades, loading dock expansion, a larger stage area, and new dressing room facilities. Additionally, an enhanced modern ballroom and small conference center was unveiled. New technology, mechanical systems, and outdoor plaza spaces were included in the presentation.

Construction would begin on July 1, 2014.  It reopened on schedule and on budget on November 10, 2016.


Creative Class 2016: Gretchen Hall

cc16-hallA hardhat and reflective vest have been part of Gretchen Hall‘s work wardrobe almost every day for the past 30 months.  As the President and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, she has been actively overseeing the deconstruction and reconstruction of Robinson Center Music Hall. Taking a New Deal era assembly hall and making it into a state-of-the-art performance facility is not an easy task. Gretchen and her team have worked with the architects, engineers, designers and consultants to make it happen.

Gretchen joined LRCVB in 2001 and has worked her way up through the organization.  In May 2011, she was named to her current position.  Since that time, the LRCVB has undertaken numerous efforts to enhance Little Rock’s cultural life including a new amphitheatre in Riverfront Park, enhanced programming at the River Market, and increased financial support of cultural organizations.  In addition, she helped lead the effort to see the additional penny of the hotel tax be dedicated to support the Arkansas Arts Center and MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. That tax was approved by voters earlier in 2016.

The new Robinson Center will feature seats that are closer to the stage and acoustics that can be adjusted to maximize the different needs of a symphony performance and a Broadway musical.  The changes in the facility have already attracted bookings by the national tours of The Phantom of the Opera (in 2017) and The Lion King (in 2018).  In addition, there will be new special event space including a ballroom and meeting rooms.  The historic lobby at the top of the iconic front steps is being restored to its original appearance — much of which was stripped away or covered up in the early 1970s.

After the November 10 ribbon cutting, Robinson Center will be re-opened.  As Hall points out, almost all residents of Central Arkansas have a connection to Robinson Center. She notes in her family alone, her mother played basketball there, her own high school graduation was there, and her niece has appeared in Ballet Arkansas’ The Nutcracker there.


Big Jingle Jubilee Holiday Parade this afternoon

santa big jubilieeFloats! Marching Bands! Santa Claus! and Miss Arkansas! What more could you want?

The Annual Big Jingle Jubilee Holiday Parade, sponsored by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau (LRCVB), will return to Little Rock Saturday, December 6, 2014. Serving as this year’s Grand Marshal is Miss Arkansas 2014, Ashton Campbell. She is a 20-year old junior at the University of Arkansas, where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration with an emphasis in Human Resource Management. In the recent Miss America Pageant, Campbell represented Arkansas very well finishing as 2nd Runner Up to Miss America and took home a $20,000 scholarship. Campbell’s platform is “Aim Higher: Setting our Sights on Higher Education”. This aims to help students across Arkansas take the next steps in furthering their education. It’s Ashton’s personal goal to speak to 75,000 students in Arkansas during her reign and help create a stronger Arkansas through Higher Education.

Beginning at Second and Broadway, the Holiday parade will start at 3:00 p.m. and travel south on Broadway, turn west onto Capitol Avenue and end at the State Capitol. The lighting and fireworks display will follow at dark or approximately 6 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

Campbell will join Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudy the Reindeer and many of their friends for this year’s highly anticipated holiday parade. Bring your camera and kids to watch decorated floats, marching bands, dancing troops and more make their way through the streets of downtown Little Rock.

School marching bands and non-profit community organizations will again have the opportunity to win cash prizes as part of the parade’s float competition. The band cash prizes will be $1,000 and $500 for first and second places and $1,000, $750 and $500 for the top three winners among non-profit entries. Local guest judges will evaluate the competition and will be positioned along the parade route at an official judge’s stand. Winners of the float and marching band competition will be posted on http://www.HolidaysinLittleRock.com after the conclusion of the parade.

“Miss Arkansas Ashton Campbell is a wonderful ambassador to our state, and we are very excited that she’ll be joining us in this year’s holiday parade” said Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau President & CEO Gretchen Hall. “We look forward to Little Rock citizens and visitors alike enjoying the upcoming Big Jingle Jubilee event. We encourage everyone to come and participate in this fun family-friendly celebration and experience our community holiday spirit during this memorable event.”


The Economic Impact of the Clinton Center focus of noontime discussion

cfiles16593The past ten years have witnessed incredible growth in Little Rock.  This is a panel discussion to highlight the tremendous influence the Center has had on Central Arkansas.

Panelists will include Gretchen Hall, CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau; Dr. Sadie Mitchell, Little Rock School District Associate Superintendent for Elementary Schools; Bruce Moore, Little Rock City Manager; Grant Tennille, Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; and Van Tilbury, 2015 Chairman of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. Panelists will discuss both the economic and social impact of the Center, as well as how it continues to thrive as a vibrant educational and cultural venue for visitors of all ages. The panel will be moderated by David Goins of Fox16.

This program is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Please RSVP to LRevent@clintonfoundation.org.

It will take place at noon today at the Clinton Presidential Center.