Raise the Roof

If you take a quick drive around Little Rock, you’ll notice there’s a lot going on. New construction and renovations are popping up all over Pulaski County. These new commercial properties and remodeled buildings are creating a buzz around the capital city and bringing in new jobs, new residents and tax dollars.

It seems like you can’t go anywhere downtown anymore without something new happening. Main Street has several projects under way that are taking historic buildings and getting them ready for urban lifestyles.

In the 500 block of Main street, construction is under way on the former Boyle Building, the MM Cohn Building, the Arkansas Building and the Annex Building. The project has already picked up two big tenants: The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and The Arkansas Repertory Theater. The symphony will move its offices and rehearsal space into the first floor of the MM Cohn building and the Annex Building. Not only will this double the orchestra’s rehearsal space, but the move will give pedestrians a chance to sneak a peek at rehearsal from the street. The building will also contain retail and residential spaces.

“Once they have one good tenant in there, it makes it easier to get other tenants signed up,” said Sharon Priest, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.

Just north, the Mann on Main, formerly the Blass building, is being renovated to create new office, retail and residential spaces. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will have 19 one- and two-bedroom lofts, a parking deck which was done by a paving contractor and a restaurant – Bruno’s Little Italy.

These new multi-use projects with residential and commercial spaces will help facilitate an urban lifestyle.

“If you look at cities nationally that have been successful with urban redevelopment, they’ve all had a mixed-use component,” said John Flake, a partner at Flake & Kelley Commercial, a real estate firm in Little Rock that works in commercial sales, leasing and property management. “We’re very enthusiastic about that.”
Flake & Kelley is also working to breathe new life into one of Little Rock’s biggest landmarks – the Metropolitan Tower. By offering six-month leases on the structure’s second floor, the company hopes to encourage local startups to occupy space in the tower. The leases will include access to common areas such as break rooms and conference rooms, and to services such as phones and Internet connections.

“We’re creating a business incubator of our own,” said Hank Kelley, a partner at Flake & Kelley Commercial. “We want to have more and more short-term-commitment space so that we can be part of that whole incubator atmosphere that we feel is coming and being more and more a part of downtown.”

In the River Market District, construction is under way for the Arcade Building at the corner of River Market and President Clinton avenues. This building will include a two-story, 325-seat theater; Cache, a restaurant run by Payne Harding; the Meadors Adams & Lee insurance agency; the Clinton School; and AMR Architects.

Big changes are also on the way in west Little Rock. Currently, construction workers are moving forward on construction of what’s been dubbed “the Big Rock Interchange” at the intersection of interstates 430 and 630 and Financial Centre Parkway, which becomes Chenal Boulevard.

The $125 million project is designed to relieve congestion among the roughly 200,000 vehicles that use the interchange daily and the anticipated 300,000 vehicles per day that highway department officials expect to use the interchange in 20 years.
A few miles south of the Big Rock Interchange, a new shopping center is being built on Col. Glenn Avenue. The new shopping center – The Village at Brodie Creek – is being developed by Flake & Kelly Commercial. The site will be the new home of auto dealer Crain Ford and have space for everything from restaurants and shops to office space. With proximity to I-430, numerous car dealerships, a hotel and a movie theater, the area has become a hotbed of development.

“[Automobile sales are] what’s attractive to that area,” Kelley said. “We’ll develop over the next five years a series of uses that include automotive, support to automotive, some restaurant uses, some office uses.”

Kelley added that the recent economic downturn has forced the commercial-development industry to get creative with new projects and adopt new strategies when planning future projects.
“When you’re developing land like that, you literally have to work it and work it and work it, and develop as the users are there,” he said. “What you see when you see a development like [Village at Brodie Creek] in stage 1, you see the difference today versus the “go go” years when people would say, “Build it, and they will come.”

“Now we say, ‘Come, and we will build it,'” Kelley said.
When businesses are looking for new office space or to expand, it can be difficult to find exactly what they’re looking for, but by using a real estate broker, the process can be a lot easier.
Colliers International is a full-service real estate company involved in sales, leasing and property management of commercial properties, including office space, retail, industrial and more. Colliers manages more than 13 million square feet of property in Arkansas.

“[Our clients] will direct us on what they’re looking for, and then we go and try to find the particular site that will match up with their goals and objectives,” said Mark Bentley, principal and managing director for Colliers International Central Arkansas.
Bentley said that currently, the office market is fairly stable and that the retail side of the business is steadily growing.

“There are a number of retailers looking to come into this market that have not been here before,” he said.

One big-box retailer coming soon will be Bass Pro Shops. The 120,000-squarefoot outdoor store is set to open this summer and expected to create 250 jobs. The store will be at the intersection of interstates 430 and 30.

Just a few miles west of the I-430/I-630 Interchange, Chenal Parkway is seeing new buildings and new business sprouting.
In 2011, Kroger opened its new Kroger Marketplace adjacent to its former building, which is now occupied by a Marshalls department store and Chenal Health and Fitness.

Because of the high volume of traffic a grocery store like a Kroger Marketplace creates, the area becomes very attractive to national chains. This summer, Starbucks will open a new location on the southeast corner of Chenal Parkway and Kirk Road. Chuy’s Mexican Food will also add a location at the corner of Chenal and Kanis Road, and Mellow Mushroom Pizza will move into a new shopping center that was built onto the former Kroger building.
“When you look at the residential [demographics] around Kroger, it’s pretty stellar,” said Johnny Kincaid, chief operating officer of Whisinvest Investment Group.

In addition to the restaurants, Kincaid said, each building will have additional retail space available.

These restaurants will not only serve the people who live in the area, but also those who work there. For example, Southwest Power Pool Electric Energy Network recently opened its new offices on Worthen Drive behind the Kroger Marketplace. With about 550 employees, the restaurants give them a place nearby to grab a hot meal in lieu of the facility’s cold-sandwich cafeteria.
Whisinvest is also planning new developments on a 28-acre tract west of Kirk Road and another 40 acres south of Rock Creek. Kincaid said plans are to put multifamily housing on the southern tract, and office, retail and restaurants on the tract on Kirk Road.
“[We’ll then] span the creek with pedestrian bridges that get over into [the Kirk Road area] where all the excitement will be,” he said.
Traffic counts at the Chenal Parkway and Kirk Road intersection in 2010 were 29,000 cars per day, and just west of the intersection at The Promenade at Chenal, traffic counts are at 22,000 cars per day, said Dave Meghreblian, vice president of real estate at Deltic Timber, the developer that provides the infrastructure for all of Chenal Valley. Deltic also sells commercial tracts in the Chenal Valley area.

One of Little Rock’s other major thoroughfares is Cantrell Avenue/Arkansas 10, which links the farthest reaches of west Little Rock to I-30 downtown.

Pleasant Ridge Town Center, at 1152 Cantrell Road, is an example of what a successful open-air shopping center can be with the right planning. The shopping center contains a variety of businesses ranging from national department stores like Belk to grocery stores like The Fresh Market and specialty shops like The Dog Bowl.

“We’re kind of unique as a shopping center,” said Lou Schickel, developer. “One hundred thousand-plus people a week come into the center.”

With such a variety of businesses, shoppers can easily spend an entire day at Pleasant Ridge, he said.

With more than 100,000 people in a five-mile radius of Pleasant Ridge, Schickel said, the shopping center is “in the middle of the money, with many homes in the nearby area selling for more than $250,000.

When recruiting new businesses to the center, Schickel said, he makes sure to show business owners that the area provides great amenities for their families, too. Just a short drive from Pleasant Ridge are the recently completed Two Rivers Park and The Big Dam Bridge. Just west is the Little Rock Athletic Club, which offers a variety of health and fitness services. The center also offers easy access to I-430.

“If you look here, there’s a tremendous number of things that create a lot of activity,” he said.