Bentonville's Fountain Plaza Touted as NWA 'Oasis in a Desert of Failed Dreams'

by George Waldon  on Monday, Oct. 18, 2010 12:00 am  

Jeannie Fleeman, owner of Fountain Plaza: "an oasis in the desert of failed dreams" in northwest Arkansas.

Jeannie Fleeman remembers when she and her husband, Bill, looked out over a greenbean field along state Highway 12 in Benton County back in 1983. Instead of a 50-acre patch of pods that lay before them, Bill Fleeman saw the land someday producing a different crop of green.

"Bill said, 'Jeannie, this is going to be a helluva deal and worth a lot of money,'" she said. "We didn't have any idea what we were going to do with it at the time. We were into homebuilding back then, but we had no intention of doing residential on the property."

Today, the once-rural acreage is in the Bentonville city limits, less than a mile west of Interstate 540 at the southwest corner of Southeast Walton Boulevard and Dodson Road. The property is home to the Fountain Plaza project, a mixed-use commercial development with retail, office and more.

The successful project, a profitable survivor of the northwest Arkansas real estate boom gone bust, stands apart from the casualty list of failed and struggling Benton County developments.

"Bill always felt like Bentonville and Rogers would eventually grow together," said Jeannie Fleeman, heiress to the fortune her husband made selling Car-Mart. "He was way ahead of his time. In the 1990s, he had architectural drawings done that remained largely intact."

Development of the commercial park Bill Fleeman envisioned began in 2004, five years after his death. To date, the $70,000 bean field investment has generated $9.9 million in land sales alone for Jeannie Fleeman's Dynamic Development Inc.

The sale of an 18,000-SF office building to Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas produced an additional $2.6 million in January 2006.

Her company still holds undeveloped parcels at Fountain Plaza totaling 14 acres and three commercial buildings approaching 100 percent leased: the 20,800-SF Signature Plaza retail center, the 28,300-SF headquarters of the company now called America's Car-Mart Inc. and the 13,390-SF Dynamic office building.

"It's an oasis in the desert of failed dreams, an example of development that was smart and made money," said Ramsay Ball, a principal with the Bentonville office of Colliers International.

The latest additions to Fountain Plaza are the 12,600-SF Crye-Leike building, which opened this summer, and 4,900-SF Christian Brothers Automotive. Footings were poured recently for the 20,000-SF Premier Dermatology project.

The 1.5-acre Crye-Leike site originally was bought for $935,000 in August 2005 by BancorpSouth Bank of Tupelo, Miss. Instead of developing a branch bank, the lender resold the location to Crye-Leike Realtors of Memphis for $1.1 million in August 2009.

Ramsay Ball views the recent activity at Fountain Plaza as a favorable sign the Benton County commercial market is restarting after the real estate bubble burst.

"We're seeing the stirrings of an awakening market, and the good locations are seeing the activity first," he said.

 

 

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