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UAMS, Philander Smith College, Southern Bancorp in talks to occupy space in Little Rock's 12th Street police station

Three outside entities are in talks to occupy the long-vacant retail space in Little Rock’s 12th Street police station, according to officials.

When the new substation at 3917 W. 12th Street opened in 2014 after a multimillion-dollar construction project, the building included space for private-sector entities on its side that faces Pine Street.

Officials at the grand opening said pharmacies, grocery stores, credit unions or banks would be welcome additions to the neighborhood, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported at the time.

But roughly 8,000 square feet available in the mixed-use building has sat vacant ever since.

Now, Southern Bancorp, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Philander Smith College are in talks to occupy space in the police station, according to Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore.

In an email Wednesday, Moore said officials were still in the process of visiting with the three entities to finalize the agreements.

“It will probably be early 2022 before everything is wrapped up and constructions [sic] begins,” he wrote.

Southern Bancorp is a community-development financial institution founded in 1986 that operates a 501(c)(3) known as Southern Bancorp Community Partners as well as a rural development bank.

At a 2015 community meeting, the chief executive officer of Southern Bancorp had signaled interest in locating a branch in the station, the Democrat-Gazette reported two years later in an article on the station’s still-empty retail space.

Representatives for Southern Bancorp could not be reached for comment Friday.

UAMS is in talks to potentially use space in the police station as “a food service location that would include a coffee and sandwich shop and a small market offering fresh produce, basic food staples and healthy boxed meals that can be prepared at home,” UAMS spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said via email Friday.

“This project connects with our Culinary Medicine Program for students as well as with our Vision 2029 Strategic Plan,” she added. “The UAMS mission is to improve health and health care and in line with that our strategic plan includes programs and plans that address issues such as population health and food insecurity as well as providing support for our employees, students and neighbors.”

Philander Smith College is a historically Black private college in Little Rock. Its campus is located off South Chester Street just south of Interstate 630.

Roderick L. Smothers, Sr., the college’s president, said by phone Friday that the project has been in the making for a few years.

Three of the college’s community-outreach programs are expected to participate, he said.

Smothers said the college has a new criminal justice program, both traditional and online, and officials are looking to merge it with a new cybersecurity initiative. The college hopes to partner with Little Rock by locating the program in the station, he said.

Smothers said they hope to “partner in such a way that our students can gain some real experience by working with the Police Department and being right there in that building where all of those operations are.”

The college also plans to locate a component of its Social Justice Institute in the station as a hub where youth in the community and others will be invited to interact with the college’s social-justice efforts, according to Smothers.

Finally, the college’s community development corporation is expected to do outreach through the station.

He described the potential partnership as one that was “made for the challenges of the time in that community.”

City Director Ken Richardson — who represents Ward 2, including the area of the police station — said that after the 12th Street revitalization plan, there was a desire to make the station big enough to allow additional partners to locate in the building with an eye to attracting private-sector investment as well as improving police-community relationships.

Moore has taken the lead in the discussions with the outside parties recently, according to Richardson.

The limited parking in the vicinity of the station has been the “central barrier” to locating entities in the building, along with efforts with the city attorney’s office to develop realistic pricing for a lease agreement for that part of the facility, Richardson said by phone Friday.

He said the potential partnership would be a “wonderful thing” for the community and suggested it could serve as a magnet to attract desperately needed private-sector investment in the area.