If you have been anywhere close to downtown in the past year it is impossible to miss the construction going on at the famous Robinson Center Auditorium on Broadway and Markham.
Robinson Center opened in 1939, and since then has received only one major update in the 1970’s. The $68+ million renovation is the largest update to the center and will hopefully carry the building for another 70 years. The project was designed locally by Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects and has CDI as the general contractor along with a number of other local sub-contractors and architects.
The Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (LRCVB) has kept the city updated along the way with construction progress, however they plan to end the updates until the center is complete in November. We got in for one of the last looks at the new space.
The overall stage of the project at this point has the structure finally coming together. Almost every major element is in place, even if it is surrounded by scaffolding or draped in plastic. The space is ready for the final push to begin aesthetic upgrades to pull together the final look.
One thing you will notice if you have ever been in Robinson before is how open everything feels. From wider hallways and lobbies to the openness of the meeting spaces, everything just feels larger. This is mostly an illusion, the building itself only added 4,500 sq ft to the space. It mostly comes from optimizing some spaces and rearranging others.
If you have attended a meeting before at the center, it was in the basement with little light. Those space have now been moved upstairs with 4 new meeting rooms and a large ballroom that feature floor to ceiling windows, all featuring a view of the river, the eventual new Broadway bridge, and the baseball stadium.The upper meeting rooms feature a wraparound outdoor terrace that meeting guests will be able to enjoy. The partnership with neighboring Double Tree hotel means either can sell meeting space into the other and creates one of the best meeting venues in the city.
From a performance hall standpoint, the changes are even more dramatic. The seating and overall structure is greatly improved, each seat is carefully placed with a great line of sight to the stage. There is not a bad seat in the house, something that couldn’t be said before.
The overall shell of the performance hall is improved as well with a bigger emphasis on acoustics, something you can really see now that the structure is starting to come together. The whole area is capped off by a grand staircase that allows easy access to every level.
There are so many large upgrades, honestly the place is unrecognizable from the previous look, it is easy to overlook the small things that will make the Robinson upgrade special. For the first time the space has a service elevator that will allow event and catering staff to setup and breakdown event space easier.
“Before we had to just haul things in and out of the public elevator, something that was never meant to fit large banquet tables,” LRCVB CEO Gretchen Hall tells us. “It will really allow us to do more than we ever anticipated from a conference and convention standpoint.”
The overall number of restrooms and the increase in accessibility are big upgrades, as is the ease of accessing each part of building.
Our favorite element, however, is the way the new space included elements of the old space. Where new space was added over the existing structure, the original structure was preserved indoors. Additionally a large face imprint on the facade was pulled into the new design.
With the combination of the Broadway bridge project, the corner of Broadway and Markham has the opportunity to be the core of downtown Little Rock. It is a focal point for many visitors to the city, and the renovations to both projects should ensure it remains that way for years to come.