New Projects, Players Attracted To Downtown Little Rock Redevelopment

A wave of redevelopment in downtown Little Rock that began last year is pushing activity south across Third Street. A project sampling represents a mix of historic renovations, remodeling and teardowns put in motion by new players and familiar faces.

Scott Reed turned his attention from rehabing houses in the Central High neighborhood to renovating the Gus Blass Dry Goods Warehouse at 315 Main St.

Workers are busy at the building where Porters, a jazz-themed restaurant, is expected to open next year, followed by 30 apartments.

"We have 24 people on the wait list, and we only have 30 units," Reed said. "This is people standing out in front of the building giving us their name and contact information. These people work downtown."

The restaurant will occupy most of the basement and ground floor, with two apartments on the ground floor and 28 more on floors 2-5. Reed describes the 42,000-SF project as a LEED-certified, historic renovation.

"It will be a pretty unique building," Reed said. "That's not a combo you see very often."

Brad and Shelley Barnett are still in the planning phase to redevelop the YMCA Building at 524 Broadway. Workers have removed "10 tons" of material since the couple bought the property for $150,000 three months ago, according to Brad Barnett.

"If someone hadn't seen what it looked like before, they wouldn't realize that it's come a long way," he said. "We're looking forward to next year and pushing forward.

"We've talked with a dozen different people interested in coming to the building, including shops and restaurants. Is anyone definite? No."

Three properties and $2 million later, Greg Hatcher has called a timeout to further downtown redevelopment action.

"That's it for now," Hatcher said. "My cup runneth over."

He embarked on a small buying spree of downtown Little Rock that started with a new location for his insurance firm, The Hatcher Agency. The $675,000 purchase of the 308-310 Louisiana St. building in August 2009 led him to acquire two nearby properties.

"For me, what I was looking for was parking," Hatcher said. "Sometimes you just have to do things on a leap of faith. I knew the building we bought was a great buy and had great potential, and I tried to work out the parking five or six ways. But I just couldn't get it worked out."

Hatcher made an earlier offer on the largely vacant building but backed off, only to return six months later after deciding to close the deal and figure out the parking logistics afterward.

Hatcher thought Stephens Inc. owner Warren Stephens might put in a parking lot on the half block Stephens cleared on the west side of Main Street between Fourth Street and Capitol Avenue.

That nearby possibility didn't play out after Hatcher learned that Stephens was content to warehouse the property for future development.

With his $400,000 remodeling project at 310 Louisiana St. in full swing, Hatcher was still in search of parking for his staff. He found 25 slots a half block to the south.

However, buying the parking lot meant buying an adjoining 15,951-SF building at 400 Louisiana St. in a $500,000 package deal. The numbers made financial sense, so Hatcher accepted the role of landlord to gain half of his 50 desired parking slots.

"I was trying to buy parking here, there and everywhere," he said.

Sam Alley, CEO of the VCC general contracting firm, also was looking for parking options for his staff near the company's updated 18,000-SF headquarters at 216 Louisiana St.

Hatcher and Alley had looked at buying and razing the 61,000-SF KARK Building at 201 W. Third St. But the property was joined to its 46,000-SF Siamese twin at 207 W. Third St.

Logistics dictated razing both addresses, and the resulting cost and number of parking slots were too much for Hatcher and Alley to bite off separately.

"We figured out 'Why don't we just split it?'" said Hatcher, who will gain parking adjacent to his new offices. "We each needed half."

"It made a lot of sense," Alley said. "We're neighbors, and we love downtown.

"Once the buildings were offered for sale and we started looking into it and doing our due diligence, we discovered the asbestos."

Dealing with that extra expense required negotiating a price concession. Complicating matters were three different family ownerships divided among more than a dozen heirs. Both hurdles were crossed, resulting in a combined $675,000 transaction.

"As many people that were involved in the deal, I thought it might not ever close," Alley said. "I was not too optimistic, but the deal got done through persistence and patience."

James Dyke also opted to tear down a 26,348-SF office building at 306 Center St., built circa 1960, in favor of a parking lot. The property is expected to yield about 20 slots that will support his Dyke Industries staff across the street at 309 Center St.

 

'New Opportunities'

Sharon Priest, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, is somewhat philosophical about parking lots replacing vacant non-historic buildings.

"At least, we have lots of new opportunities for development," she said.

From Alley's perspective, the teardowns will remove an eyesore structure and improve the looks of downtown. He also believes the project literally paves the way for new construction in the future while reducing the inventory of class B or C office space.

"Will there be another 40-story building built in Little Rock?" Alley said. "Probably not.

"Will there be another high-rise office building built in downtown Little Rock? Probably. Maybe one will be here someday."

In the meantime, a landscaped parking lot will take the place of long-vacant property.

 

 

Redevelopment Activity

 

Feb. 20, 2009

Southern Bancorp of Arkadelphia, through its community development corporation subsidiary, acquires the old Federal Reserve Building at 123 W. Third St. for $1.35 million.

The 45,000-SF building, partially used for record storage, is renovated for use by the high school grades of neighboring eStem Charter School, housed in the Arkansas Gazette Building.

 

Aug. 27

Insurance exec Greg Hatcher purchases the 308-310 Louisiana St. project for $675,000 with an eye toward relocating The Hatcher Agency to larger digs.

 

March 1, 2010

Scott Reed buys Deedeekay Inc., which owns the vacant 315 Main St. building, remembered by some as the Gus Blass Dry Goods Warehouse. Reed is converting the historic 42,000-SF structure into 30 apartments and Porters, a jazz-themed restaurant.

 

July 9

Hatcher acquires the 400 Louisiana St. project for $500,000, mainly for the 25 parking spots that accompanied the 15,951-SF building. He wants the parking for his new offices.

 

July 10-22

Sam Alley and Greg Hatcher, through 207 West 3rd Development LLC, purchase the 61,000-SF KARK Building at 201 W. Third St. for $550,000 and adjoining 46,000-SF former First National Bank operations center at 207 W. Third St. for $125,000.

After dealing with asbestos, the long-vacant buildings will be razed and converted to parking for The Hatcher Agency and Alley's VCC general contracting firm.

 

Aug. 5

Deseo LLC, led by Shellie Barnett, buys the 41,910-SF YMCA Building at 524 Broadway for $150,000. She and her husband, Brad, plan to redevelop the historic property, vacant since 1995, into a mixed-use project with office, retail and residential space.

 

Nov. 8

The Hatcher Agency opens for business in its newly renovated quarters at 314 Louisiana St.

The property is remembered as the one-time home of two financial concerns that disappeared during the 1980s: First Federal Savings & Loan Association followed by the investment firm of Collins Locke & Lasater and its various successors.