North Little Rock's Rockwater Residences Poised for Relaunch

(Photo of Jim Jackson and Lisa Ferrell by Michael Pirnique)
(Photo of Jim Jackson and Lisa Ferrell by Michael Pirnique)
Lisa Ferrell and Jim Jackson, standing, of North Bluffs Development Corp., look over building plans with future Rockwater residents. Seated left to right: Ashley Russell, Michele and Wayne Hardy. | (Photo by Michael Pirnique)
Lisa Ferrell and Jim Jackson, standing, of North Bluffs Development Corp., look over building plans with future Rockwater residents. Seated left to right: Ashley Russell, Michele and Wayne Hardy. | (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

The opening round of single-family development is about to launch at Rockwater Village in North Little Rock. Seven of the 33 lots are under contract to future residents of the riverside neighborhood.

Infrastructure work on the 6-acre site, about nine blocks west of the Broadway Bridge, is expected to start after Labor Day. Construction of the first of the new homes along the Arkansas River could start next month as well.

The activity comes six years after North Bluffs Development Corp. intended to begin rolling out 60 residential lots by mid-2008. Unexpected developments in the financial sector brought that timetable to an abrupt halt.

“The biggest surprise for everyone was 2008,” said Lisa Ferrell, president of North Bluffs.

The Great Recession postponed the introduction of single-family construction at Rockwater and set the stage for its more modest debut today. The first batch of lots is hitting the market with price tags of between $110,000 and $160,000.

If the sticker prices hold, the 33 lots in The Residences at Rockwater represent about $4 million of real estate sales.

Wayne and Michele Hardy are poised to be the first homeowners in Rockwater Village. They expect to close on their lot purchase during the next two weeks.

“We have a builder on board, and we’re waiting for the final paperwork,” Wayne Hardy said.

The Hardys have been making do in an apartment after selling their home in North Little Rock’s Park Hill neighborhood in January. If things go according to plan, construction of their 2,757-SF home could start as early as mid-September with completion as early as March.

Brett and Ashley Russell, who live in North Little Rock’s Overbrook neighborhood, are joining the Hardys as homebuilding pioneers at Rockwater.

“We’re taking a leap of faith, but we’re OK with that,” said Ashley Russell.

“That’s what people have told us, too,” said Wayne Hardy.

A 10-Year Project

Lisa Ferrell and her husband, Jim Jackson, began assembling land for Rockwater Village back in 2004. The lion’s share of the land they put together for the project was accomplished in deals with four ownership groups totaling $2 million.

The Little Rock lawyers waded into real estate development with their vision for transforming the area into a “traditional neighborhood development,” melding old-school layouts with new construction.

The TND features on tap for Rockwater include big front porches, less space between houses, alleys that lead to rear parking garages and neighborhood layouts that embrace pedestrian traffic.

As the prep work for the project’s first houses is about to start, the city of North Little Rock will finish relocating overhead utilities below ground, installing architectural lighting and resurfacing a portion of the Arkansas River Trail that runs through the Rockwater property.

The work represents the city’s latest contribution to support the development. Using a mix of federal and local funds, North Little Rock built the Pike Avenue traffic circle ($1.6 million) and Rockwater Boulevard ($1.2 million).

“That’s a good piece of property that the city wants to see be successful,” said Nathan Hamilton, North Little Rock director of communications.

The expansion and transformation of Third Street west of Pike Avenue into Rockwater Boulevard allowed the city to convert a big segment of River Drive to bike and foot traffic only.

The project was aided in part by the Lower Baring Cross Tax Increment Finance District, which encompasses Rockwater Village. TIF districts use property tax growth within their borders to pay for such work.

The roadwork also provided a more direct connection between Pike Avenue and the 264-unit Riverside at Rockwater apartment project and the Rockwater Marina.

The marina opened a year ago with 64 slips, and its amenities recently expanded to include power pedestals to supply electricity for bigger boats and 24-hour self-serve fueling with ethanol-free gasoline and diesel.

The marina site could accommodate as many as 136 slips when built out. The city-owned property along the river is leased to the marina for 25 years, with a nominal monthly rent of $100 for the first five years that climbs to $250 on Sept. 1, 2017.

Development of the marina was funded with two federal grants totaling $1.12 million that flowed through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. Scott Fitzgerald, president of MariCorps U.S. of Shell Knob, Missouri, provided the logistical know-how to develop the marina with Ferrell and Jackson.

The sale of the 13-acre apartment site to the Post Investment Group of Los Angeles for $1.84 million in 2011 and the start of the marina in 2012 marked the first developments at Rockwater.

Along the way, Ferrell and Jackson have purchased several dozen lots scattered across the neighboring Baring Cross area, some of which are part of the TIF district.

Excluding the couple’s holdings and the Riverside apartments, the largest block of land in the district is owned by the Recovery Centers of Arkansas, touted as the oldest and largest substance-abuse treatment provider in the state.

“People have an image of us as a homeless shelter, but that’s not what we are,” said Carole Baxter, executive director of RCA. “We help people get their lives back together.”

The nonprofit’s Riverbend facility at 1201 River Road sits on 3.2 acres. Baxter said a lot of things have changed in the Riverbend area over the years, but the facility continues to operate business as usual.

She noted that during the past few years a would-be developer made them an unsolicited sales pitch. “He said, ‘I don’t want to insult you all or anything’ and offered us $200,000,” she said. “We have buildings that are worth more than that. We’re not necessarily interested in leaving, but we’d entertain offers.”