The city of Conway is on the verge — if it hasn’t reached it yet — of a boom in commercial real estate availability.
Just up Interstate 40 from Little Rock, the city has been the host of several recent development projects and is set to begin more in the coming years.
And from the city’s first Sam’s Club to a variety of clothing stores and restaurants, companies are lining up to move into the spaces. News about the developments has trickled out over the past few months, but many people involved in the projects are still holding their cards close as they finish up deals and inch closer to completion.
Brad Lacy, the president and CEO of Conway Development Corp., ticked off the list of projects in a recent interview.
In addition to Lacy’s main project — development of the old Conway Municipal Airport into a shopping destination known as The Shoppes at Central Landing — he said there were at least three other large-scale developments in the works across the city. All of the simultaneous development, at least on the scale in effect now, is something new for the city, Lacy said.
“It’s really historic. We’ve never seen, to my knowledge, this much commercial construction either underway or soon to be underway, and it really redefines the city in a lot of ways,” Lacy said.
Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, who was first elected in 1998, said he has seen “stairstep” commercial development in the city over the years with other projects, such as the Conway Commons shopping center in the mid-2000s. But he said that the redevelopment of the airport and the introduction of new businesses such as Sam’s Club and Dillard’s, is allowing the city to take on a bigger role as a “gateway” to the Little Rock metro area.
“It’s a transition period for us,” Townsell said. “It’s our opportunity to become more of a market town than we already have been.”
One of the more recent developments in the works in Conway is the transformation of the old Superior Chevrolet at 915 E. Oak St.
Planners behind the project have said they want to divide the 6.2-acre site, which was purchased in September for $3 million, into several plots and anchor the development with a hotel.
T.J. Lefler, a partner at Sage Partners in Fayetteville who is lining up tenants at the development, declined to say which businesses would be moving in. But he said in an email interview that Conway’s growth, boosted by opportunities in higher education and stable businesses, makes it an attractive place to do business.
“They have just reached a point where it fits [in] line with new retailers and large national chains all at the same time,” Lefler said. “They have been ready for this retail for a while, but the available sites were slim. Now that the sites are starting to become available, retailers are heavily focused on getting a location because there are few opportunities available.”
Lacy said the Superior Chevrolet development is one of several along Oak Street. He noted that recent projects along the street have included a CVS Pharmacy and Arvest Bank and a recently opened MedExpress.
All of the development is breathing new life in a part of town that was previously “a little bit tired looking.”
“I think that’s significant too, because it’s really starting to push downtown and the look of downtown a little closer to the Interstate,” Lacy said.
Kitty-corner to the site of what will be a new Baptist Health hospital along Interstate 40, Lewis Crossing has already lined up several tenants to move in.
The 441,871-SF development will be anchored by a 135,500-SF Sam’s Club, which has plans to open in early 2016. The company in charge of that development — Collett & Associates LLC of Charlotte, North Carolina — has also said that Academy Sports, Bed Bath & Beyond, Petco and Ross Dress for Less among others have signed on for sites there.
The company did not return phone messages seeking information about the project.
In a flier describing the development published on the company’s website, Collett & Associates notes Conway’s growth and the benefits of doing business there.
“Conway ... has sustained consistent population growth and has an essentially recession-proof economy, anchored by three higher learning institutions, the burgeoning natural gas industry, a regional health facility and approximately 2,500 government jobs,” the company wrote in the flier.
The flier later adds that the “Conway trade area, which has a population of about 165,000, is one of the most vibrant in the state.”
Old Airport Changes
The Central Landing project is the largest development in the works in Conway, but few details about the project have been released. The estimated 750,000-SF mixed-use development will be laid atop the 151-acre site of the old municipal airport, which closed in January.
The Shoppes at Central Landing — the first 250,000-SF phase at the site — will be home to a 100,000-SF Dillard’s, but its other tenants have not been announced by Jim Wilson & Associates LLC of Montgomery, Alabama, which is working on leasing for the project.
Anita Carter, vice president for Jim Wilson, said the company was not ready to release more tenant names.
Lacy said he also did not have new updates to share, but said Jim Wilson was expected to speak at the annual meeting of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, which was scheduled to be held the evening this edition went to press.
Development at UCA
T.J. Johnston, the director of special university projects and community affairs for the University of Central Arkansas, is overseeing the Donaghey Hall mixed-use development on campus at the corner of Donaghey Avenue and Bruce Street.
He said the university plans to break ground on the project in May and open in the summer of 2016, although some commercial space may be available before then.
The 67,500-SF development will include about 15,000 SF of commercial space on the ground floor. Johnston said that no tenants have been announced but that the university expects to do so in the next 30 days.
The development will also double as a residential space with 165 beds designated for sophomores and juniors at the university.
The project is funded through a bond issue that was approved by the UCA board in January. But the project cost came in below estimates at $16.3 million after the interest rate on the bonds came back lower than anticipated, Johnston said.
The Donaghey project is one of several projects in various phases at UCA that are also expected to drive attention to the area. Johnston said he expects the residence hall to also be the beginning of similar developments in the Donaghey District.
“The aim was to create a sense of place for both the UCA community and the citizens at large in Conway,” Johnston said. “In our opinion, this type of development is one of the main ingredients you need in order to better recruit and retain the best students, faculty and staff to this campus.
“To put it simply, we’re officially in the business of place-making now, and Donaghey Hall was our first critical step for that.”