by Gwen Moritz
Posted 8/12/2013 12:00 am
Updated 8 months ago
Ground will be broken this month on a 5,000-SF spec retail building that developers hope will inject new life into North Hills Shopping Center, the crumbling commercial strip on the dividing line between North Little Rock and Sherwood at the busy intersection of JFK and North Hills boulevards.
“We think it’s a good area, but sometimes you have to start moving dirt to make anything happen,” said Stan Hastings, whose family has been part of the shopping center’s ownership since the 1950s.
The groundbreaking, scheduled for Aug. 27, will begin the first of three phases of redevelopment. But the ball really started rolling three years ago, when the Hastings family — led by Stan’s father, Harry Hastings Jr. — and the family of Rolla Fitch unwound their 50-50 partnership in North Hills Development Corp. that dated back to the 1950s.
The families divided up the site. The Hastings clan kept the northern half, the part that touches the intersection of JFK and North Hills and extends south to the intersection of North Hills and Country Club Road.
The Hastingses’ property includes a branch of the family-owned Eagle Bank & Trust and the aging building that for decades was home to Mark’s Rexall Pharmacy. Mark’s closed in March with the retirement of pharmacist/owner Mark Speer; all that’s left in the building is Popatop North, a package liquor store owned by Dennis Davenport Jr.
The Fitches kept the southern half of the parcel, which is largely undeveloped but includes the strip building best known as the location of Gadwall’s Grill since its original home next door burned in 2007.
“We own all the asphalt,” Stan Hastings said, including the uphill driveway that leads to Gadwall’s. And that driveway is essentially where the new building will be planted, almost directly in front of Gadwall’s — “but a whole lot lower,” he said.
The topography of the site “is a huge issue. It’s an expensive issue,” Hastings said. A new access drive will be cut into the grade with direct access from one of Sherwood’s main thoroughfares, Country Club Road. A fourth arm will be added to what is currently a three-way stoplight, correcting the awkward ingress to the property.
Building permits had not yet been issued by the city of Sherwood last week, but Hastings said the combination of the drive and building would cost between $1.1 million and $1.2 million. The work should be completed in about eight months, he said.
The new building was designed by Tim Yelvington of Roark Perkins Perry Yelvington Architects in Little Rock, and the contractor is Dave Grundfest Co., also of Little Rock.
The one-story design is flexible enough to accommodate one, two or three retailers, Yelvington said. The design has a drive-through on the east end that could work for a pharmacy or dry cleaner, but the building is not suitable for a restaurant because it will have limited parking. The preliminary site plan calls for 26 parking spaces.
What business or businesses will occupy the new building is “the $64,000 question,” Hastings said. “At this point, we don’t have any tenants lined up,” he said.
Popatop is a possibility, and it will have to move somewhere because, Hastings said, “our plans are really to tear down that building where Mark’s was and Popatop is.”
Davenport, the owner of Popatop, declined to be interviewed for this article.
A preliminary site plan, filed with the city of Sherwood, shows that the Hastingses hope to replace the liquor store/pharmacy building on the north edge with a new, 4,800-SF Eagle Bank branch, a replacement for the building that began as First State Bank of Sherwood in the limited-branching days of 1967.
That, Stan Hastings said, will be phase two of the redevelopment of North Hills Shopping Center. The existing bank branch’s location parallel to North Hills Boulevard won’t allow the addition of any more drive-through lanes, he said. If no suitable tenant for the old bank can be found, it too will be razed.
After the south and north ends of the site are redeveloped, the third phase would involve redeveloping the middle. The preliminary site plan calls for another retail building of about 15,000 SF with 77 parking spaces.
“We think there’s a market over there for a nice, little retail center — a half-dozen retail spaces, maybe a restaurant or two,” Hastings said.
And he thinks activity will lead to interest, which could speed up the timeline on the next phases of development. “If we get tenants lined up, we could definitely do phase three at the same time as phase two,” Hastings said.
According to 2012 data from the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department, some 23,000 vehicles per day travel by the site on JFK (Highway 107).