Retail Rebounds in Little Rock Market

The Little Rock-area retail scene continues rebounding, evidenced anecdotally and statistically.

Changes during the past 12 months reflect positive activity in the Pulaski County retail market, as recorded by the Central Arkansas Commercial Data Exchange.

Retail occupancy improved from 89.4 percent to nearly 91.2 percent, according to the affiliation of local commercial real estate professionals who pool sales and leasing information for office, retail and industrial properties.

The amount of vacant retail space was reduced from nearly 1.8 million SF in 2010 to about 1.5 million SF this year.

Improved leasing activity came calling on two west Little Rock lifestyle centers slowed by the two-year economic lull: 278,000-SF Shackleford Crossings and The Promenade at Chenal, a 241,000-SF development.

"It's all starting to get absorbed, but I don't see any new retail center coming soon," said Isaac Smith, principal at Colliers International in Little Rock.

Occupancy at Shackleford Crossings is at 70 percent, with potential leases pushing that figure to 85 percent by year's end.

The momentum swing is especially dramatic at RED Development's The Promenade at Chenal, where since January about 50,000 SF of tenants have opened or have begun the process of opening shop.

"We project that we will be close to 90 percent leased by the end of the year, not opened, but leased," said Ron Lazenby, owner's representative at The Promenade at Chenal.

Joining the rent roll are a Nike store, 12,000 SF; W by Azwell, women's clothing, 10,000 SF; J. Crew, 5,000 SF; and Big Orange restaurant, 3,500 SF.

Lazenby said more deals should be finalized soon, resulting in more announcements during the next few weeks.

"All the nationals are out roaming around again," he said. "It's nice to see them out and about."

Other new Promenade tenants include Crazy 8, children's apparel and accessories, 1,500 SF; Perfume Max, 1,500 SF; Warren's Shoes, 1,400 SF; Francesca's Collections, women's apparel and accessories, 1,200 SF; and Select Comfort, bedding products, 1,000 SF.

Rounding out the Promenade list is the officially unofficial Apple Store, set to open Aug. 20 in a 7,500-SF slot, and Kenneth Edwards Fine Jewelers, opening in a 3,500-SF location, its second Little Rock store.

"There's definitely some activity compared to this time  last year," said Mark Bingman, associate broker at Little Rock's Rector Phillips Morse Inc. "Everybody seems to be getting back into the game. This time last year, there just wasn't that much interest.

"Are we ricocheting and bouncing back? I don't know if I'd say that, but more players are looking for space."

The build-out of west Little Rock's Pleasant Ridge Town Center is nearing with the Aug. 16 opening of a 2,200-SF Chipotle Mexican Grill, the Denver chain with a health-conscious twist.

Lou Schickel, owner/developer of the 300,000-SF Pleasant Ridge project, said only one out-parcel remains at the 27-acre development. This 30,000-SF site is capable of supporting a 6,000-SF building.

"We're talking to people, but nothing is definite," Schickel said.

New Life for Older Space

Absorption of older, vacated retail space is picking up pace, too.

The former National Home Center project in west Little Rock is undergoing redevelopment as a Windstream data center.

Ross Dress for Less is filling space formerly occupied by PC Hardware at west Little Rock's Markham Square project at 9101 W. Markham St.

Wal-Mart is said to have a Neighborhood Market store in the works for the former Harvest Foods store in Riverdale, and the old M.M. Cohn space at North Little Rock's McCain Mall is undergoing a redevelopment as a 12-screen movie theater as part of a $5.5 million project.

"Large, big-box retail space keeps getting gobbled up, which is great," said Isaac Smith, principal at Colliers International in Little Rock.

The Wal-Mart at 700 S. Bowman Road in west Little Rock that went dark after the company opened its Shackleford Crossings supercenter is destined for redevelopment. At last report, the 150,000-SF store, next door to Sam's, will be transformed into a supercenter.

Retail watchers report that Lowe's is close to finalizing a decision for a new project in west Little Rock, which would mark a return to town after a 25-year hiatus.

The North Carolina home improvement chain has its eyes on the northwest corner of Kanis and Bowman roads.

Over the years, the company scouted and passed on several Little Rock locations.

Some  would-be sites are now home to Sports Academy, Sports Authority, Garden Ridge and the future Baptist Health satellite campus at the southwest corner of Chenal Parkway and Highway 10.