Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola is calling for city infrastructure improvements, while likely candidates to challenge his reelection bid this fall say changes should have been made long before now. Stodola delivered his annual State of the City Address Wednesday, which covered everything from the fire department’s new International Accreditation Designation, to new bikeways and outdoor sculptures.
Stodola started his speech discussing public safety. Last year there was a 5.3 percent increase in violent crime, but property crime came down 0.75 percent. He also brought up his "Little Rock for Life" initiative, announced last July, as a way to further "decrease violence" and "re-build neighborhoods."
Speaking about the creative corridor, Stodola proclaimed, "downtown is alive with excitement." The mayor said expansion of business and apartments "have created that 24/7 environment that will attract millennials and other creative young talent to live and work in our downtown core."
On the city's unemployment rate, Stodola recognized the "unemployment rate remains in the double digits" for people of color compared to the city's overall rate of 3.8%.
"Hundreds of what we call 'opportunity youth' that are not in the workforce or enrolled in school," he said. "Coupled with adults who need to be reengaged in school, reconnected to the workforce, and given a chance to advance beyond low-wage jobs that can't cover the rent or put enough food on the table."
Stodola's stance on improving the city's infrastructure raised criticism from his potential opponents as too little too late.
The mayor said Little Rock is not alone in needing to repair its aging infrastructure, and said the city needs to position itself to take advantage of new federal matching dollars to make those improvements.
"It is time to think big and to be creative," said Stodola. "In the next few weeks I will be calling together our major municipal utilities, our airport, and other commissions of our city, and our capitol heavy city departments, along with our business sector departments to do just that, with regards to capital projects."
Stodola said one way to be creative is to inventory assets, categorize them as policy and commercial assets, and look for ways to generate fees for the latter group. He also mentioned the city is not spending enough on street and drainage improvements which could cost "more than $1 billion" over the next ten years.
Arkansas Rep.Warwick Sabin, who plans to challenge Stodola this year, told KUAR News after the speech that some of the Stodola's ideas sound familiar.
"It sounds like the mayor has been adopting a lot of the talking points I have been bringing since July," said Sabin. "He's bringing things he's never talked about before, yet he's had 12 years in office to bring these things up. So I don't think it's a coincidence that since I've begun exploring this race for mayor back in July, that all of a sudden the mayor is picking up on many of the ideas I've been raising."
A third potential candidate for mayor, former state highway Commissioner Frank Scott Jr., also said Stodola's proposals are long overdue.
"We should have been thinking big and creative as a relation to improving our infrastructure 12 year ago," said Scott. "The foundation of economic development and fostering jobs growth is making certain we improve the infrastructure because infrastructure is a sound foundation of economic development and creating jobs and we should be focused on it and we should have been focused on it for quite some time."
Mayor Stodola did not mention his reelection campaign or potential opponents during the address.
Closing out his address Stodola held up a glass of water filled midway and compared the city to it, asking his audience the common question is it half-empty or half-full? He took a different approach to the answer and said "perhaps it more like this, full of energy, optimism, and commitments embrace by our citizens to make Little Rock all that it can be as the next great American city in the South."