(A correction has been made to this article. See end for details.)
ATA International, formerly the American Taekwondo Association, will break ground Wednesday on its new $13 million, 45,300-SF world headquarters in Little Rock — complete with a museum, video production studio and international martial arts training.
Located at 1800 Riverfront Drive on the south side of Riverdale Road, the campus-like headquarters will feature a three-story office tower with three wings containing the museum, video room and training center. While the training center will house most of the organization’s activities, the 6,500-SF wing also includes a fitness center for the company’s 75 employees.
The building will be a steel beam structure clad with a mix of metal panes and glass with stone accents. Nabholz Construction Services of Conway was hired as general contractor on the building, which was designed by Little Rock’s Wittenberg, Delony & Davidson Inc.
As reported by Arkansas Business early last year, the 3.2-acre site was purchased in December 2013 for about $1.85 million. Ed Wright, the chief executive officer of the ATAI, said the total project will cost around $13 million, with the actual building cost pushing $11 million. The facility is set to be completed in August 2016.
Wright said he expects to add 18-20 new positions during the first few years of operation as the association brings in house a large portion of activities and services that were previously outsourced because of the lack of space. For example, the ATAI has three employees in Los Angeles for video production, Wright said, because the company’s current world headquarters, at 6210 Baseline Road in Little Rock, does not have the facilities to produce mass video of events and training seminars.
In addition, the new training center will eliminate the need to host costly events across the country and even as far away as the Dominican Republic. The new training wing will be large enough to host both domestic and international guests.
The ATAI’s annual World Expo, held in Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center, brings in tens of thousands of visitors and competitors each year. From July 8-12, the 2015 World Expo will bring in more than 3,000 competitors and about 20,000 visitors from 45 states and 15 foreign countries, Wright said, including teams from South Africa, Mexico, China, Korea, Australia and Argentina.
The new headquarters will eliminate most of the company’s need for travel, though some seminars will still be hosted elsewhere. Wright sees the change as a positive, saying he hoped that the ATAI will build enthusiasm among its members and licensees, as well as attract more attention to the Little Rock area.
“We’re going to have, aesthetically, a building that we hope to be iconic and add to the landscape of Little Rock, as well as reflect the status of an international headquarters,” Wright said. While the ATAI’s current office is somewhat “conservative,” as Wright put it, he looks forward to featuring landscapes that reflect Asian and Korean culture, including a large water feature and gardens, though more external features could be added in space that is not being used initially.
“We’ve got a lot of ideas and plans that may not be there early on, but will be added as we grow in order to show our history through statues and sidewalks with engraved names of [members] who reach a certain status within our organization,” he said. The water feature, which comprises several pools that decrease in size as they feed from each other, conveys an important ideal of taekwondo: the passing of knowledge.
“This will reflect part of our rank system,” Wright said, referring to the master instructor rank, which can take as many as 15-20 years to reach. “As part of the ceremony, you pass water from the grand master to master instructor to the student.”
In the museum wing, Wright said, the organization hopes to erect a statue of its founder, Grand Eternal Master Haeng Ung Lee.
Lee founded the company in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1969, and moved it to Little Rock in 1977. ATAI, with more than 300,000 members, is the largest martial arts organization in North America and oversees more than 1,200 independently operated schools and clubs spanning five continents. The company offers five taekwondo programs for members 2 years and older.
Arkansas Business Publishing Group, publisher of Arkansas Business, has a contract to produce the ATAI’s quarterly magazine.
(Correction, June 22, 2015: The original version of this article made an incorrect reference to the new name of the company long known as the American Taekwondo Association. It is ATA International.)