Large Construction Projects Top $1.8 Billion in State

(To see the list of the largest commercial construction projects in Arkansas click here.)

Commercial construction activity in Arkansas dipped during the past 12 months based on a list of active $5 million-plus projects.

The total contract value declined 6.8 percent to just over $1.8 billion this year, but the number of projects – 122 – was shortened only by three compared with 2008. The totals during the past two years came even closer to the $2 billion mark.

The question on many minds is: What will next year look like? The disruption of service for the financial pipeline controlling the flow of construction dollars also affected timetables.

"It's certainly not business as usual," said Keith Richardson, a partner in North Little Rock's Ridge Construction LLC. "The credit markets tightened up during the past 10 months. But it's certainly been better during the last four months."

Loan underwriting that once took six weeks to complete bogged down to three months in some cases. Richardson said the normal rollout of projects was stymied, but he expects activity to increase as pent-up projects start moving again.  

"Our pipeline got backed up," he said. "We were closing loans every two months. There was a stretch where we didn't do any deals for six months."

Two prominent family names on the Arkansas Business scene are associated with this year's two largest projects: Walton and Rockefeller.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, led by chief patron Alice Walton, landed atop this year's roster of large construction projects in Arkansas. The contract for the show-stopping Bentonville development exceeds $100 million.

Linbeck Construction Corp. of Houston is overseeing the work in a joint venture with Conway's Nabholz Construction. The museum design promises to be a crowd-pleasing Taj Mahal complete with its own reflecting pools.

The complex development, built around and incorporating Crystal Spring, also promises to grace the list of largest Arkansas construction projects for the next couple of years.

The $81.5 million Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute on the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences campus in Little Rock, a holdover from last year, weighed in at No. 2. The project, directed by Little Rock's CDI Contractors LLC, was one of 11 health care-related construction jobs that made this year's list.

Education Top Sector
Education was the biggest sector, with 40 of the 122 projects divided among universities, colleges and K-12 schools. Ouachita Baptist University's $45 million student housing project in Arkadelphia, overseen by Little Rock's VCC, is the largest collegiate job.

At nearly $28 million, the new Marion Junior High School is tops among K-12 projects. Little Rock's Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. is the general contractor on this Crittenden County job.

Apartments accounted for 18 entries on this year's list, with Fayetteville's Lindsey Construction contributing five of the larger projects and Ridge Construction adding seven.

Pulaski County was once again home to the most big-dollar construction projects in Arkansas. But the recent tally of 31 reflects a 26 percent drop compared with 42 a year ago.

The decline wasn't as precipitous asthe 42 percent fall in the Benton-Washington County project total: 38 to 22.

Little Rock alone accounted for 24 projects versus 32 in 2008. Other leading cities this year included Conway at 10, Fayetteville at nine, Rogers at six and Hot Springs at five.

Lindsey Construction's Greens at Nutters Chapel is the largest Conway project on the list at $34.7 million. The $62.5 million expansion of the VA Hospital by Crossland Construction Co. of Columbus, Kan., is the biggest construction project in Fayetteville.

Average Value Drops|
While the list of big-dollar construction projects was pared in some of the larger markets in Arkansas, other projects sprung up around the state to keep the headcount stable.

Coinciding with the geographic dispersion of job sites was a downward nudge of the average project value: more than $15.7 million in 2008 compared with nearly $15.2 million this year.

Nabholz Construction had the most projects of any general contractor on this year's list with 21 (or 22 if the joint venture on the Crystal Bridges project is counted).

Next in line is CDI Contractors, 11; Baldwin & Shell, 10; and Ridge Construction, seven. Three companies have five projects each on the list: Lindsey Construction, May Construction Co. of Little Rock and Crossland Construction.