When Mark Raines peeked inside the Fulk Building a couple of years ago, he couldn’t believe CJRW was considering it as a future home. The historic building at Main and Third streets in Little Rock had long been the home of Bennett’s Military Supplies.
And yes, Raines thought it looked like a war zone.
“Creative people were looking at all of this and seeing something great that could be,” said Raines, who was recently promoted to public relations director at CJRW, one of the state’s top ad agencies. “I’m an old reporter who sees things in black and white; I was seeing a mess.”
Now, as CJRW prepares to celebrate its first anniversary in the three-story landmark on Wednesday, Raines and his colleagues are ecstatic about their headquarters. Its gleaming offices and conference rooms are a showplace, and the building is the “gateway” to downtown’s Creative Corridor, the revitalization project designed by the University of Arkansas Creative Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architects. The reshaped stretch of Main includes the film production company Waymack & Crew across the street, and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and Ballet Arkansas just to the south. Restaurants like Bruno’s Little Italy and Samantha’s are thriving, and Soul Fish Cafe is expected to open this month. “Obviously the creative people were right,” Raines said.
CJRW touted its move from 303 W. Capitol Ave. to Third and Main as an example of its corporate citizenship in its recent successful pitch for a public relations contract from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. CJRW’s promotion, which won out over six competitors, called the new headquarters “a centerpiece for the city of Little Rock.” Bennett’s ended up a few blocks down, at 608 Main.
For Darin Gray, this week is more than the move-in anniversary. On the same day CJRW opened on Main, it also named Gray as chairman and CEO. He had been president under Wayne Woods. A year ago, Woods said Gray had “played an instrumental role” in the Main Street move, but Gray remembers it differently.
“It was a critical move, but it was in motion long before my arrival” in February 2014, Gray said from a second-floor conference table. “Shelby and Wayne Woods and a bunch of people internally had narrowed the search to two sites — here and out by the river” in Riverdale. “The vote was 11-1 for here. It was intentional; we were hoping to attract millennials, younger people who want to walk to lunch, ride bikes and be in the thick of things. We love it here, and couldn’t have asked for a better location.”
Just before the anniversary, Gray reflected on what he called an exceptionally successful year for the firm, which is owned by its staff under an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). “Our stock was up 26 percent last year, and financially we’re doing well,” he said.
While acknowledging significant ESOP cost obligations from a string of 2014 employee departures, Gray said CJRW is on a winning streak. Claiming two $800,000 state economic development contracts in the past several weeks was just an example, he said. Gray used his favorite sport, football, as a metaphor. “If I’m the quarterback, I want to get the best wide receiver, the best running back, the best linebackers. Then I can just hand off and get out of the way.”