WLR Retailing Retains Cloak of Intrigue

West Little Rock Commercial Development
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The battle for tenants among retail developers in Little Rock is heating up while Cantrell Road, aka Highway 10, continues as the hot development corridor in west Little Rock.

Seven commercial projects totaling 322,000 SF are in various stages of construction along a three-mile stretch between Sam Peck Road on the east and Chenonceau Boulevard to the west.

Dirt work farther east on an eighth project, Pleasant Ridge Town Center, is expected to start by June and move toward completion in August 2006.

"We're hoping to start in the next few months," said Lou Schickel, president of Little Rock's Schickel Development Co.

Since September 2003, Schickel has invested $4.2 million in 17 acquisitions to double the size of the originally planned Pleasant Ridge Shopping Center development to nearly 27 acres. The proposal has grown from 97,680 SF of retail space and 463 parking slots to 270,000 SF of shops and restaurants and parking for 1,258 vehicles.

A 120,000-SF Parisian store remains the only announced tenant at Pleasant Ridge. Plans for the $65 million project gained final approval from the Little Rock City Board on Nov. 9.

However, the city is requiring Schickel to obtain a building permit to develop most of the site before he will be allowed to make his requested 50-foot hillside cut on the property.

Schickel doesn't believe a lawsuit challenging the city's approval of his development plans will affect his timetable. A decision by Judge Chris Piazza is expected during the next 60-90 days.

Chabad Lubavitch of Arkansas sued the city and the board of directors over the decision, and Schickel has since joined the legal fray. The group of Hasidic Jews alleges 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.

The lack of activity at three proposed retail projects in Little Rock belies an intense behind-the-scenes battle over tenants.

Reports of leasing setbacks are now dogging The Village at Brodie Creek and Midtowne Little Rock.

The Ashley Co. of North Little Rock was expected to have details last month on its store lineup at the 500,000-SF retail center; instead, there are indications that its initial roster of anchor tenants is wavering.

Repeated attempts to contact company president Rick Ashley were unsuccessful.

Large would-be tenants have included J.C. Penney Co. of Plano, Texas; Goody's Family Clothing Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn.; and The Dunlap Co. of Fort Worth, Texas.

Described as a $60 million open-air development, The Village at Brodie Creek is planned for an 87.6-acre site at the northwest corner of Interstate 430 and Col. Glenn Road.

Early work on the Col. Glenn Road entrance to the property, the only sign of construction activity at the location, remains unfinished and largely unchanged since November.

Reports of a tenant tug-of-war also are linked with Midtowne Little Rock, the retail redevelopment pushed by Strode Properties Co. of Dallas. Company President James Strode couldn't be reached for comment.

Since September 2003, Strode invested $5.3 million in 27 transactions to assemble the location, which wraps around the northeast corner of Markham Street and University Avenue. The structures on the property have been removed, but the site remains dormant.

Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and Restoration Hardware are three would-be tenants associated with the 130,000-SF project.

CBL & Associates Properties Inc. of Chattanooga, Tenn., which bought the nearby Park Plaza Mall for $77.5 million last year, is said to be courting the trio as replacements for a downsized Dillard's presence.

CBL officials at the mall and its corporate headquarters couldn't be reached for comment.

The scenario involves Dillard's vacating its company-owned, 198,000-SF location at the west end of Park Plaza in coordination with opening a new 155,000-SF location at The Promenade at Chenal in west Little Rock.

But the development timetable of that proposed "lifestyle center" is off schedule as well.

Officials at RED Development LLC of Kansas City, Mo., indicated the 48-acre Promenade site at the southwest corner of Chenal Parkway and Rah-ling Road would be purchased from Deltic Timber Corp. of El Dorado at the end of 2004.

That transaction has yet to happen, no construction activity is evident and Dillard's remains the only named retailer that intends to set up shop there.

RED Development has extended its purchase option for the land and is now shooting for an opening in the summer or fall of 2006.

"We are still planning on building 485,000 SF, but we may be adjusting that," said Lee Ra Johnson, marketing and communications manager with RED Development.

The project is described as a $75 million joint venture between RED Development and Dillard's, although CBL & Associates is mentioned as being a silent (for now) player.

Nailed Down

While question marks abound on The Village at Brodie Creek, Midtowne Little Rock and The Promenade at Chenal, things are in better focus elsewhere.

• Rees Development Inc. of Little Rock has two $3.5 million commercial projects in the works on Cantrell Road. Concrete is set to pour this month for the 25,000-SF Pinnacle Station on the west side of Capers restaurant at 14502 Cantrell Road.

The 9-acre development is scheduled to open by September or Octo-ber.

The 26,000-SF Pinnacle Creek project adjoining the Walgreens drug store at 14820 Cantrell Road is expected to open in March 2006. Construction of the 2.1-acre development should start by June.

• The Centre at Ten is expected to open this summer. The $11.5 million development will have 113,000 SF under roof. The 10.7-acre site at the southwest corner of Sam Peck Road and Highway 10 will contain a 60,000-SF office building, 40,000 SF of retail, plus a restaurant and bank branch.

• West Cantrell Plaza at 14000 Cantrell Road is in the early stages of development. The $3 million project entails 30,000 SF of office/retail space plus ministorage units.

• Bella Rosa Commercial Center, a $2.7 million mixed-use project is nearing completion at 16101 Cantrell Road. The development, owned by a local investment group, encompasses 30,000 SF of office, 29,000 SF of warehouse and 24,000 SF of ministorage space.

• Chenal Corners, a 12,000-SF mixed-use project owned by Little Rock's Karen Flake, is nearing completion at the southeast corner of Chenonceau Boulevard and Cantrell Road.

• The second phase of Dogwood Crossing, with 33,000 SF under roof near the northeast corner of Cantrell and Ranch Drive, is moving toward completion in May. McAlister's restaurant is opening this month, and Posh furniture store will follow in April.

West Group LLC of Little Rock, led by Willis Smith, Bek Kaiser and C.J. Cropper, are the owners/developers of Dogwood Crossing.

With all the activity along Cantrell Road, land prices are receiving a healthy boost. Some locations are sporting prices as high as $24 per SF.

"At those prices, it's going to be hard making the numbers work for some projects," said Willis Smith.

Smith wouldn't be surprised if planned sites for an El Porton restaurant and USA Drug store are instead resold because the money is too irresistible.

Ed Willis, president of Financial Centre Corp., agrees that dirt is getting expensive along Cantrell Road.

The George family has neighboring houses on the north side of Cantrell across from the Wal-Mart Supercenter that are listed for sale bearing a land price of $24 per SF.

"They're in a great location, and they're willing to wait," said Willis, whose firm is overseeing development of The Ranch project nearby.

Steven Hockersmith, a commercial broker with PDC Cos. of Little Rock, is working on a 3.5-acre de-velopment on the east side of the Regions Bank branch at 14920 Cantrell Road.

A 4,500-SF restaurant is planned for a 1.2-acre piece, with 30,000 SF of office space planned for the balance.

"We're going to try to put in a sit-down restaurant that is new to Pulaski County," Hockersmith said. "We're not in any hurry to put in spec office space."