Main Street Reclamation Gains Momentum

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Aug. 13, 2012 12:00 am  

Some structure resurrection work began along Little Rock’s Main Street in the first week of August.

The effort of local investors is a $20 million project to convert decades-vacant Blass store buildings into apartments and retail and office space at the corner of Fourth and Main streets. The project is slated to finish in June 2013.

The Blass Department Store was a major retailer in Little Rock for scores of years until Dillard’s bought it in 1964.  

The project at Fourth and Main is one of several to spring up in that part of downtown Little Rock.

Sharon Priest, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, said Scott Reed and other investors with Reed Realty Advisors in Portland, Ore., were the first in recent years to buy and begin rehabbing an old building on Main Street. The building that currently houses Porter’s Jazz Cafe at 315 Main St. is Reed’s ongoing project.

(Reed has had trouble finishing residential work he’s started in Little Rock. The Arkansas Development Finance Authority took ownership from Reed’s company of most of 30 residential properties because of a lack of renovation progress and some unpaid bills.)

Stephens Inc. also is converting the former federal exchange bank building at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Main Street into state offices for the Department of Higher Education, Priest said. A Stephens spokesman declined to answer questions.

“We’re starting to see some action happening, sort of like a 10-year overnight success,” Priest said. “We’re starting to see people make investments.”

Only one vacant Main Street building — the Donaghey Building — between Capitol Avenue and Sixth Street isn’t under contract with a buyer who has renovation plans, she said. She declined to share details of other pending projects.

“I think it’s going to be hustling and bustling,” Priest said of downtown.

A group led by Reed  closed a deal last Thursday to buy the buildings at 500, 510, 514 and 524 Main St. The seller was Lafayette Plaza LLC. Once renovated, the upper floors will be residential and the ground level commercial, Reed said.

The most recent renovations to start in the area are at the adjacent Blass buildings, where demolition and asbestos abatement began this month.

Principals in Moses Tucker Real Estate and Doyle Rogers Co., both of Little Rock, are partnering in the work on former Blass Department Store and its neighbor, another building used by the Blass company.

Both buildings are about 100 years old, according to Jimmy Moses, president of Moses Tucker.

“We have to gut most of what was in there, and we’ll start the redevelopment once that work is done,” Moses said.

The partnership is also constructing a 400-car parking garage behind the main store building.

The former department store, which is also called the Mann Building, is a seven-story 140,000-SF facility that was designed by Arkansas architect George Mann. Mann also designed the Arkansas Capitol building.

The neighboring building is three stories high and 30,000 SF. The redevelopers are calling it the Mann Annex.

Clark Contractors of Little Rock is renovating the Mann Building and parking garage. Central Construction, also of Little Rock, is overseeing work on the Mann Annex. AMR Architects of Little Rock is handling the design for overhauling both. IberiaBank of Lafayette, La., financed the work.

Jimmy Moses said he’d had his eye on the Mann-designed building for about 20 years, but it wasn’t until about a month ago that his investor group, Mann Properties LLC, bought the facility from Doyle Rogers and his family. The owners of Mann Properties are Chris Moses, Jimmy Moses, Rett Tucker, Tommy Lasiter, Rog Rogers and Barbara Hoover.

The Mann Building has “kind of an early commercial high-rise look,” Moses said. He said he thought the concrete structure was “one of the most architecturally significant buildings in Little Rock” due to its style and “handsome ornamentation.”

The ground floors of both buildings will be retail space. About 95,000 SF of the Mann Building will serve as office space.

Tenants lined up to rent office space in the Mann Building include the state’s regional headquarters for the Office of Child Support Enforcement and a division of the state’s finance department, Moses said. The Mann Annex will also contain 19 loft apartments.
Moses already is an owner of about 75 downtown apartments.

“There’s a pretty good demand for new and newly renovated apartments in downtown Little Rock,” Moses said. “I think people like living, particularly in historical buildings, in downtown Little Rock.”

Reed’s Project
Reed, whose company owns the Blass warehouse at 315 Main St., said construction on the upper stories of the property should begin soon.

Reed described Porter’s Jazz Cafe as the current tenant, but declined to talk about the status of the business operations there.

Reed’s company is turning the top four stories of the building into 32 loft apartments.
About $275,000 in work to remove asbestos and lead paint from the 1902 building finished in early July, he said.

The five-story building is about 43,000 SF in size. The structure, like those Moses’ team is renovating, was vacant for about 20 years when K Lofts, Reed’s investor group, bought it in 2010.

“I think a lot of people are saying, ‘I’m willing to bet long on Main Street,’” Reed said of the recent redevelopment efforts downtown



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