Two LR Retail Projects Show Progress, But Developers Not Talking

The race among Little Rock retail developers is showing signs of movement after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations to firm up tenant rosters at several large projects.

Lou Schickel's Pleasant Ridge Town Center should be the first project out of the ground if on-site activity is used as the measuring stick for progress. Schickel was issued building permits on July 22 to begin developing the 270,000-SF retail center, according to city officials.

Heavy equipment is on the near 27-acre site on Cantrell Road between Pleasant Ridge and Woodland Heights roads. Crews are clearing out the remaining houses along Summit Drive on the southern boundary of the property and working on utilities and minor grading.

Asked for an update on his project Schickel said, "I just feel like its better not to talk about anything with anyone. How about if we send you an invitation to the grand opening?"

Based on past reports, that gala event is expected to be held before the kickoff of the 2006 Christmas shopping season.

A 120,000-SF Parisian department store, owned by Saks Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., is set to anchor the $65 million development. The Fresh Market Inc., an upscale grocery chain based in Greensboro, N.C., is the only other named tenant at the project.

However, a Fresh Market spokesman said negotiations for a 20,000-SF store at Pleasant Ridge Town Center aren't completed. "We hope to be there, but there are a lot of details to be worked out," said Eric Blaesing, Fresh Market's director of community relations.

About five miles to the south, at the would-be Summit Mall site, backers of the 650,000-SF Shackleford Crossing project are hemming and hawing about a deal with J.C. Penney Co. of Plano, Texas.

Construction of a 98,000- to 110,000-SF Penney's is expected to break ground during the first quarter 2006, according to one insider; another hedges that the Penney's lease isn't a done deal.

Several other tenants, including retailers new to the market, are involved in the mix, but those names remain shielded for now. Expanding Shackleford Road to five-lane traffic south of Interstate 430 and improving the overpass are part of the development package.

Shackleford Crossing is envisioned to include an additional 200,000 SF of office space at the southwest corner of Interstate 430 and Shackleford Road. Detailed plans for the retail portion of the project will undergo review by the Little Rock Planning Commission on Aug. 18.

The 97-acre development is a joint venture between Little Rock's Clary Development Corp. and Little Rock businessman Leonard Boen.

A Penney's decision to align with Shackleford Crossing would affect at least two other retail properties.

The new location is expected to result in the closing of the company's store in University Mall at 300 S. University Ave. The loss of Penney's as an anchor tenant would send the mall's current 68 percent occupancy rate into a nose dive below 50 percent.

Penney's originally was linked with The Village at Brodie Creek, a 500,000-SF retail proposal at the northwest corner of Interstate 430 and Col. Glenn Road. However, reports surfaced earlier this year that negotiations between The Ashley Co. of North Little Rock and the retailer had grown cold.

Described as a $60 million open-air development, The Village at Brodie Creek is planned for an 87.6-acre site.

Early work on the Col. Glenn Road entrance to the property, the only sign of construction activity at the location, was finally completed after sitting idle since November.

The four-lane divided entryway is now paved along with a widened section of Col. Glenn Road. The paving extends a short distance northward into the property, forming a T with dead ends to the east and west.

The word from The Ashley Co. is that there is no news concerning the project's status. Reports of Penney's wavering coincided with unfulfilled expectations in February of an announcement of an early tenant lineup.

There also is no news from RED Development LLC of Kansas City, Mo., concerning its proposed 48-acre Prome-nade site at the southwest corner of Chenal Parkway and Rahling Road.

The property remains under option with no construction activity evident other than a "Coming Soon" sign. Dillard's remains the only named retailer that intends to set up shop there.

In March, RED Development officials had talked of an opening in the summer or fall of 2006. That timetable for the proposed 485,000-SF center appears doubtful.

Unrestrained

Altering Schickel's development plans for Pleasant Ridge Town Center also appears doubtful. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza on July 22 ruled not to extend a temporary restraining order that had limited Schickel's ability to move the project forward.

"We were disappointed he didn't keep the TRO in place," said John Holleman, attorney for Chabad Lubavitch.

Chabad Lubavitch of Arkansas, a group of Hasidic Jews, sued the city and the board of directors in December after Schickel's development plans were approved.

The group alleged that city officials acted capriciously and arbitrarily in its decision while denying the group a say in the matter. Chabad Lubavitch, which owns neighboring property, claims the retail center will adversely affect its Jewish center at 11905 Fairview Road.

Schickel has since joined the legal fray, and a hearing on summary judgment motions by both sides is scheduled for Aug. 18.

Holleman said an appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court is planned if a summary judgment goes against his client. For now, that possibility doesn't seem to have an effect on Schickel's construction timetable.

A large hill cut is required to carve out enough room for Pleasant Ridge Town Center. This will require hauling tons of dirt off the site, and Schickel hasn't filed for a permit yet for this aspect of the work.

Schickel is working with the Dallas office of Jones Lang LaSalle Retail for leasing services for the project. The company's Web site lists Fresh Market as a tenant, in contrast to the grocer's wishy-washy statements.

Jones Lang LaSalle Retail is touted as the nation's largest third-party manager of regional shopping centers, with a portfolio of more than 35 million SF in about 60 regional malls and transportation terminals in 26 states.

Worldwide, the publicly traded concern manages a portfolio of more than 843 million SF in more than 280 shopping centers on four continents.

Elsewhere in Arkansas, Jones Lang LaSalle is consulting on the 1.2 million-SF Pleasant Crossing retail center in Rogers. The development group on that project is BOS Group LLC of Washington, D.C., Charles Reaves, Greenhat Partners of Memphis and First Security Vanadis Capital of Searcy.