Latest Project of Bobby Roberts, River Market's Arcade Building, Nearing Completion

Bobby Roberts has attained a reputation for being half-librarian and half-developer as the executive director of the Central Arkansas Library System.

Backed by property tax revenue, Roberts has overseen construction of a string of branch library projects as well as less conventional developments in downtown Little Rock.

The newest addition to the CALS real estate roster will be the Arcade Building at 100 River Market Ave. The $14 million, 59,000-SF, mixed-use project represents a loose joint venture between CALS and private development interests.

The building will be linked by a sky bridge to the $21 million Arkansas Studies Institute, a 66,383-SF center also championed by Roberts.

The library system’s piece of the Arcade Building cost $7 million, funded by refinancing and extending a 2004 bond issue, a move that was approved by voters in March 2012.

The investment gave CALS a 52.8 percent stake in the project. When construction of the CALS space is completed in early December, ownership will be conveyed to CALS.

At $3.1 million, the two-story, 325-seat theater is the biggest line item for CALS. Office space and the theater give the library system a combined 27,832 SF in the Arcade Building. Other tenants and owners will occupy the remaining 25,200 SF.

“I would hope we would have our first events in there by the middle of January,” Roberts said of the theater. “It’s designed to handle music performances, movies and lecture events.

“We call it a theater but it will be used for a lot of things. We want to keep it busy.”

Along the way, CALS also bought a ribbon of land around half the building for $235,000 from Clinton-Commerce LLC, and the limited liability company, which owns the Arcade site, had to relocate a police kiosk in a trade with the city

Another significant part of the Arcade Building will be Cache. Space for the restaurant was acquired for nearly $2 million, about $234 per SF.

“Jimmy [Moses] is a good salesman, and he kind of strapped me on that,” said Rush Harding III, who led the purchase of Cache space. “It’s an expensive piece of property. On a per-SF price, it might be the most expensive in Little Rock.”

Even pricier are the improvements that will make Cache a dining showcase. The building permit for the finish-out work tops $3.1 million.

That level of investment rivals the construction budget of the theater underwritten by the library system.

“It’s ever-changing,” Harding said of the Cache budget. “It’s going to be nice, I promise you. But I really don’t want to get into the costs.”

Five years ago, the property attracted a 131-room Aloft Hotel proposal that drew public debate. Roberts was a leading opponent of a requested height variance needed to make the hotel project feasible.

Jimmy Moses of Moses Tucker Real Estate supported McKibbon Hotel’s Aloft proposal, which evaporated without the needed height variance.

But Moses remained interested in the site and worked with McKibbon to develop something else on it, realizing that Roberts had an eye on the property as well.

“We also knew they were interested in it and wanted it to be part of their campus,” Moses said. “That’s when we said, ‘Why don’t you do what you wanted to do, and we’ll build what we think the market can absorb, and we’ll do this together.’”

One component of the Arcade development is helping drive another CALS construction project: a proposed parking deck. The Arcade Building is replacing a surface parking lot and also displacing parking elsewhere.

To participate in the Arcade project, CALS agreed to accommodate tenants and owners in the building with up to 60 parking spaces in the River Market parking deck at 500 E. Second St. that the library has leased from the city.

Relinquishing those leased slots through sublease agreements means CALS needs replacement parking.

The library system looked at developing a parking deck on its surface lot at the northeast corner of Second and Rock streets.

However, the talk has shifted to possibly building a 400-space deck in a joint effort with the city on a site in the Riverfront Park area.

Roberts has indicated that this location, home to a surface parking lot between Cumberland Street and the First Security Amphitheatre, would be less costly to develop than the CALS surface lot in front of the Main Library at 100 Rock St. and behind the Arkansas Studies Institute.

The proposed location on the city-owned riverfront property has drawn some opposition, but the idea of building a large parking deck is attracting support. Jimmy Moses is among those who think there is a better location than the Riverfront Park area for the proposed 400-space parking deck.

“If that’s the number, I think the ideal spot is on Scott between Second and Third,” Moses said.

This half-block site is two blocks west of the Main Library, about the same distance as the proposed Riverfront parking deck location.

The property, adjacent to the Statehouse Parking Deck at 201 Main St., is home to a surface parking lot and also is owned by the city.

Jim Lynch, co-organizer of the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods, believes that building a parking deck outside the River Market District would help make the area more pedestrian friendly and not add to the vehicular traffic.

“It’s for people and not cars, but we have to provide for the cars,” Lynch said.

Inside the Arcade Building

Ownership

Central Arkansas Library System 52.8%

  • Bobby Roberts, executive director

Clinton-Commerce LLC 31.2%

  • John McKibbon, CEO of McKibbon Hotel Group of Gainesville, Ga.
  • Jimmy Moses and Rett Tucker, partners in Moses Tucker Real Estate
  • Rodney Thomason, Little Rock businessman

Monroe Cache LLC 16%

  • Rush Harding III, CEO of Crews & Associates, and his wife, Linda

Note: The Meadors Adams & Lee insurance agency has an option with Clinton-Commerce to purchase its third-floor office space, which represents a 17.6 percent stake in the Arcade Building.

 

OccupantsSquare Feet
Central Arkansas Library System* 27,832
Meadors Adams & Lee 9,362
Cache Restaurant** 8,514
Unnamed Retailers 4,345
AMR Architects 2,981
Total 53,034

*The CALS-owned space includes a 325-seat theater and offices for CALS, Arkansas Studies Institute, Little Rock Film Festival and Clinton School staffers.

**The restaurant venture, owned by Payne Harding, will lease first and second floor space owned by Monroe Cache LLC, controlled by his parents, Rush and Linda Harding.

 

Construction Costs 
Building Core & Shell $6,112,773
Cache Restaurant Finish Out $3,167,904
Theater Finish Out* $3,124,236
Meadors Adams & Lee Finish Out $589,135
CALS Finish Out* $541,709
Clinton School Finish Out $291,832
AMR Architects Finish Out $159,882
Connecting Sky Bridge* $132,368
Total $14,119,839

*Paid for by Central Arkansas Library System and includes Arkansas Studies Institute and Little Rock Film Festival offices. The sky bridge will join the Arcade Building with the neighboring Arkansas Studies Institute to the west.