River Market Tower Developer Forecasts 50% Condo Occupancy by Mid-Summer

Financial market conditions in 2008 gave Jimmy Moses plenty of opportunity to second-guess the wisdom of launching the River Market Tower. The 131-unit condominium project at 315 Rock St. is his firm's most ambitious development to date in downtown Little Rock.

Last year, it wasn't difficult to discern that beneath his normally upbeat persona lurked concern for what unwelcome developments the future might bring.

"We feel better about things than we have in a long time," Moses, partner at Little Rock's Moses Tucker Real Estate, said last week.

With only 23 sales during its first 10 months of closed transactions, it might appear that Moses is whistling in the graveyard. That's half the total sold during the first 10 months of closed transactions at Moses Tucker's 300 Third condominium project.

But that comparison is misleading because closed sales don't tell the full story.

Moses said an additional 27 units are in the process of selling through installment purchases, contracts or pending sales. That includes one recent transaction that hasn't hit the public record yet: a $1 million sale on the 17th floor.

"That was a very good event in every sense of the word," Moses said of the big transaction. "We think the market is slightly improved and certainly better than it was this time last year. We think we'll be at 50 percent occupancy by early to mid-summer, which would be a major feat in this market.

"Little Rock, thank God, has performed as a market among the best in the nation. Most cities would kill for our economy."

Funding Package Reworked

The 1.2-acre development's original $52.3 million funding package with Little Rock's Metropolitan National Bank was reworked last year, and borrower and banker remain together moving forward.

"We're pleased with our lender, and they believe in us," Moses said. "They have been absolutely phenomenal to work with, a true partner in every sense of the word."

The loosening of last year's lending restrictions by regulators combined with activity at the project sets the stage for improved sales, too. Recorded sales at River Market Tower total nearly $10.3 million.

"We've had enough success that we've found some other Arkansas lenders willing to work with our buyers," Moses said. "That's been really gratifying as we move forward. We don't have to rely on five-year financing like we did only six months ago.

"Our package is much better than it was sometime back. Now buyers can get 30-year money."

Arkansas Federal Credit Union stepped up with a 15-year loan on a River Market Tower condo in September, making it the first lender to offer a longer term mortgage.

Good news on the condo front has spilled onto the project's commercial space on the ground floor.

Two retail bays are leased to Dugan's Pub (set to open in 3,103 SF in July) and Green Earth Pharmacy (scheduled to open in 1,360 SF in June)

"We have another retailer we're working with," Moses said. "That [1,460-SF location] would be the last piece of retail."

Tower Resident

From the 20th-story patio atop the River Market Tower, Austin Grimes, a retired orthopedic surgeon, can survey Little Rock from an uncommon vantage: on high. The planes touching down at Little Rock National Airport are clearly visible (a point of attraction for the Air Force veteran), the River Market bustles in miniature along the Arkansas River, and water towers dot the horizon to the north.

"The Fourth of July, we could see 14 different sets of fireworks all around," Grimes said. Cloudy weather muddled the view of the faraway displays, but the display on the Arkansas River was immediate and vivid.

He and his wife, Ann, a judicial law clerk at the Arkansas Court of Appeals, were the second tenants to move into the building last spring after their $513,000 purchase. They chose a sixth-floor unit that includes, along with its 1,658 SF, a 38-foot-by-17-foot patio overlooking the condo's pool and the back of the Hampton Inn, which sits across a small green space from the condo.

Just outside their front door is the residents' access to the rooftop tennis court, basketball court and putting green. They have a great view of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and, at night, its lighting.

The Grimeses bought here after getting a pitch from Rett Tucker himself, who heard they were looking for a downtown space.

They settled on one of the only units with a skylight along one wall, better to illuminate their collection of ceremonial masks from the likes of Indonesia and the South Pacific and paintings that they've accumulated over the years, including several by Austin Grimes himself.

One of his oil paintings, framed near the fridge, depicts a trolley car in transit, another aspect of the downtown environment that they have come to appreciate.

"I love it," he said. "I've had about seven different homes in the Heights and in Little Rock. This is by far the most fun. You can walk down to the River Market. There's several restaurants within a two-, three-block area that you can walk to that are really superb. I was one of those naysayers that were against downtown development because I thought it would never be worth anything. But I had to eat my words and move here."