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.

"That bank was booming, and the dividends were outrageous," Jeannie Fleeman said. "It was a lot of money.

"We were still a major stockholder [when ANB was closed], and that was bad. But by then, we had gotten our money back and then some.

"It was a really bad deal, but we were really fortunate to get out of it like we did. It looks like we were really lucky, but Bill was so dadgum smart."

Started in June 1994 with $5 million, ANB was headed to $500 million in total assets after only six years, piling up millions in profits along the way. Despite the early success, her late husband had misgivings, according to Jeannie Fleeman.

He resigned from the board of directors before his death in 1999, and she remained a passive investor until regulators closed ANB.

"Bill was happy to give up his seat on the board of directors because he was conservative and didn't agree with the aggressive direction of the bank," she said. "They were already doing things that Bill didn't feel good about, making big loans to people he didn't feel were good credit risks.

"We talked about it back then. I remember Bill saying 'The bottom is going to fall out of this one of these days.' "

The man who founded Car-Mart in 1981 and sold it for $41 million 18 years later was right. The company became America's Car-Mart Inc. in January 2002 when the venture made an initial public stock offering.

Financing a Feature

Real estate and lending were components of the Car-Mart venture as well as the Fleeman's earlier homebuilding enterprise. In both endeavors, financing sales was an important part of their business models.

"I have people who come up to this day and say if it weren't for you and Bill carrying this second mortgage we would've never been able to buy a house," said Jeannie Fleeman.

Sons Todd and Bart work with her today, and their Dynamic Development oversees construction work on the family holdings. The real estate portfolio includes Car-Mart projects scattered across Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and Indiana.

The Fleeman family retained ownership of Car-Mart properties after selling the company to Crown Group Inc. of Irving, Texas. Now landlords instead of owners, they continue working with the company nearly 30 years after the first location opened in Rogers.

"I'm back to building Car-Marts again, and they plan to expand in the next two to three years," said Jeannie Fleeman. "We're opening the 100th store [in Opelika, Ala.] and No. 101 is planned for Springdale.

"These milestones are still happening, and I'm still a part of it."



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