Metro Little Rock's Luxury Units Bridge the Generation Gap


The Thrive Argenta apartments, seen here against the Little Rock skyline, are rising rapidly in North Little Rock.
The Thrive Argenta apartments, seen here against the Little Rock skyline, are rising rapidly in North Little Rock. (Kerry Prichard)
The Thrive Argenta apartments, with Verizon Arena in the background, are rising rapidly in North Little Rock.
The Thrive Argenta apartments, with Verizon Arena in the background, are rising rapidly in North Little Rock. (Kerry Prichard)
The Village at the Gateway in southwest Little Rock is a vision by Russ Huckaby and Bob Francis for duplexes offering hassle-free living and the amenities of luxury apartment complexes. They say residents enjoy enhanced privacy and the convenience of an attached garage.
The Village at the Gateway in southwest Little Rock is a vision by Russ Huckaby and Bob Francis for duplexes offering hassle-free living and the amenities of luxury apartment complexes. They say residents enjoy enhanced privacy and the convenience of an attached garage. (Kerry Prichard)
The Village at the Gateway in southwest Little Rock is a vision by Russ Huckaby and Bob Francis for duplexes offering hassle-free living and the amenities of luxury apartment complexes. They say residents enjoy enhanced privacy and the convenience of an attached garage.
The Village at the Gateway in southwest Little Rock is a vision by Russ Huckaby and Bob Francis for duplexes offering hassle-free living and the amenities of luxury apartment complexes. They say residents enjoy enhanced privacy and the convenience of an attached garage. (Kerry Prichard)
The Thrive Argenta apartment complex going up in North Little Rock, seen here looking west toward the corner of Fourth and Main streets.
The Thrive Argenta apartment complex going up in North Little Rock, seen here looking west toward the corner of Fourth and Main streets. (Kerry Prichard)

Millennials and young professionals who ignited the luxury apartment boom in central Arkansas are now living with people their parents’ age.

Empty nesters have joined millennials and professionals in their 30s occupying dozens of high-end apartment projects in the Little Rock region, sustaining a decade-old multifamily construction boom expected to deliver nearly 1,000 new rental units this year in Pulaski County alone. “These folks choose to live in apartments,” Little Rock market expert Richard Cheek told Arkansas Business.

The overall multifamily market has softened a bit in the Little Rock metropolitan statistical area, but luxury units command occupancy rates well above 90 percent and are filling the construction pipeline, developers and analysts say.

Rents have ticked up about 2 percent a year at the top end, where one-bedroom units command $800 and up, and three-bedrooms have hit the $2,300 stratosphere. Top local developers like John Burkhalter and Keith Richardson are dreaming ever bigger, and Russ Huckaby and Bob Francis are building high-amenity townhomes as development pushes southwest near the junction of Interstates 30 and 430.

“We feel good about the market and about the response to the over-the-top amenities in our properties,” said Richardson, who developed a $100 million pair of four-star properties on South Bowman Road and recently cleared ground for his biggest project yet, Pointe North Hills in North Little Rock. That development, along North Hills Boulevard near I-40, has a $35 million first-phase budget for 300 units, and Richardson envisions it as a 900-unit complex over the next five years.

“We think high-end luxury is a growing lifestyle choice,” Richardson said.

Burkhalter, who blazed the high-end apartment trail with his Fountaine Bleau Maumelle project, is proud to offer quiet and secure units with amenities like like top granite countertops, frameless showers and marble fireplaces. “Apartments used to be boxes with Sheetrock in them; what we have today in the Class A luxury market matches or is better than what you’d find when you purchase a top home in west Little Rock. Today’s apartments are completely different.”

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Avoiding the Hassle
Houses don’t come with 25,000-SF clubhouses, sports bars or million-dollar pools like the 225,000-gallon one at Richardson’s Bowman Pointe, where the first phase was finished last year and Phase II is now ready for move-ins. The project is across the street from the 500-unit Pointe at Brodie Creek, which Richardson Properties LLC of North Little Rock completed last year. A little farther down Bowman Road, Burkhalter’s $16 million Fountaine Bleau West sparkles, spanking new.

Many high-end apartment dwellers could easily afford single-family homes, but they have different priorities, Richardson said. “Millennials don’t see home ownership as a road to wealth, and young professionals and empty nesters just don’t want the hassle of home ownership.”

Bowman Pointe features 750-SF one-bedroom units, about 250 SF smaller than comparable units at its sister development. “Millennials tend toward 800 SF and smaller, while young professionals like one- and two-bedroom units up to 1,100 SF,” Richardson said. “Our low units are as low as $800 a month, and our high units are about $1,800, attracting the empty nesters.”

Richardson has invested $100 million in the Bowman Road properties, he said, and he expects a similar investment in Pointe North Hills.

Burkhalter’s grand $100 million vision — the Rock City Yacht Club on the Little Rock waterfront — has been in planning since the early 2000s and is now nearing reality. He also sees apartment living as good for the nation. “Back before the Great Recession and the mortgage meltdown, government pushed home ownership probably too high for the country’s good. A lot of people saw their parents or friends lose homes. People’s lives are now more mobile, and they have more jobs over their lifetimes. Apartments have become very, very attractive.” (See Rock City Yacht Club Poised to Set Sail.)

An estimated 628 multifamily units of all sorts were delivered in Pulaski County last year, and up to 981 units could be added this year, according to Cheek and his partner Ted Bailey III of Multifamily Group LLC, which tracks the market at a granular level and offers consulting and brokering services.

Bailey is also encouraged by rising prices. “We knew it was just a matter of time before we’d see higher prices per unit, because Class A types of property were in development eight, nine and 10 years ago,” he said, mentioning established projects like Stonebridge at the Ranch and Carrington Park in west Little Rock. “The prices have gone up a lot because of the demand in the market, and cap rates have been compressed. We’ve sold some product for over $150,000 per unit.”

Both Sides of the River
The multifamily market has been the recent “darling” of commercial real estate locally, Bailey said, outperforming office and other properties for the last three years. “For that reason, we’ve seen an amount equal to 2.5 percent of our existing multifamily stock in the pipeline now, under construction.”

New construction has pushed builders toward decorative backsplashes, walk-in showers, crown moldings, granite countertops and stainless appliances. “That coincides with the tastes millennials have; they grew up in homes with those features,” Cheek said.

The multifamily boom has also spurred face-lifts in older properties seeking to stay competitive. “The result of this renovating and repositioning is that housing stock is being improved, especially in apartment communities that are 10 to 20 years old,” Cheek said.

Development trends are evolving, too, spilling south from Little Rock’s traditional growth corridor along Cantrell Road. “Now that’s turning to the south of Chenal Valley along Bowman Road and further toward Colonel Glenn Road. You’ve got a downtown market that’s emerging as well.”

In downtown Little Rock, Deep Creek LR LLC is completing the 34-unit Main Street Lofts between Fifth and Sixth streets, and Moses Tucker Real Estate has renovated a 1940s factory building into 12 Star Flats at 1300 E. Sixth St. “The apartments will be available in April,” leasing agent Rachael Scott said in an email. “There are 16 total units, and five of them have been leased.”

Burkhalter’s plans for the Yacht Club, beyond a state-of-the-art marina, restaurant and riverside store, include 176 luxury apartment units east of the Clinton Presidential Center.

He’s also thrilled about the 202-unit Fountaine Bleau West at 4216 Bowman Road. “We want everybody in our apartments, but you always ask what’s your demographic,” he said. “Ours is young professionals and empty nesters.”

Across the river, between Verizon Arena and the planned Argenta Plaza in downtown North Little Rock, Thrive Argenta is rising quickly into a $16 million, 164-unit colossus developed by ERC Cos. of Fort Smith.

“There’s also Wimbledon Green at Otter Creek coming online in the next year or so, and a really nice townhouse community south of the Gateway Town Center that’s being developed,” Cheek said. “We’re seeing a lot of growth with Bass Pro Shop and the FedEx ground facility around I-30 and 430; they’re building hotels and retail and creating a lot of synergy.”

Huckaby and his business partner, Francis, are CEO and CFO of Big Rock Development LLC, which designed and is building Village at the Gateway, a complex of highly innovative duplex townhomes with luxury amenities on 37 acres off Vimy Ridge Road.

Huckaby, a veteran developer, called the hybrid idea “a God-given gift” that combines the community attractions of a giant clubhouse and resort pool with the privacy and quiet security of a house. Francis, who has a finance background, said that beyond traditional amenities, their project offers many free or reduced-price advantages.

“We pay for water, natural gas for your tankless water heater, your wastewater, pest control, security, 28 channels of TV and 15-megabit internet beamed from the private antenna we built to each unit,” Francis said. “We pay for landscaping and mowing. You pay electric only, and we’re working on solar projects that could mean you won’t eventually pay that.”

A Grand Tour of Amenities (Sometimes Virtual)
Top-end amenities are what luxury apartment hunters are looking for these days, but they may not be looking in person.

“When you have a market this size [44,000 to 50,000 rental units] one way to distinguish yourself is to offer new amenities,” said Richard Cheek, a Little Rock multifamily housing analyst and consultant. “Things are so different even apartment shopping has changed, with online-savvy millennials shopping by computer. Over 50 percent of millennials now sign leases on apartments without ever seeing them.”

Ted Bailey III, Cheek’s partner at Multifamily Group LLC, said virtual tours are ideal for showing off “amenities like beautiful pools, fitness centers and clubhouses with coffee bars, offices and wine rooms. Some of these projects are offering just great-looking product, both interior and exterior,” he said. This appeals to “people who are renters by choice, with good credit and disposable income.”

Developer John Burkhalter of Burkhalter Technologies wants renters to feel that they’re on vacation. “We want it to be like you’ve walked into a boutique hotel,” he said, “so we’re building larger pools, great patios and other amenities.” Units at his Fountaine Bleau West have marble fireplaces, island kitchens with black granite and baths with frameless glass-enclosed showers.Dog parks are wildly popular.

Keith Richardson, whose Bowman Pointe and Pointe at Brodie Creek are just down Bowman Road from Fountaine Bleau West, says the sister developments offer great features for a range of budgets. “Our low units are as low as $800 a month and our high units are about $1,800. This lets everyone get the amenities they want even if they can’t afford quite as much space.”

Complexes like Riverhouse in Riverdale, owned by Carter-Haston of Tennessee, appeal to students with bankable futures, particularly those studying law and medicine.

“We get a lot of students, too,” Burkhalter said, “and many of them come in with their parents, who want to know that their kids are going to be safe and secure. A complex with strong doors, gates and security makes them feel reassured.”


Major Properties Under Construction
Little Rock-Area Multifamily Projects

Bowman Pointe-Phase II
3321 S. Bowman Road, Little Rock
Rating: ★★★★
Number of Units: 202
Number of Stories: -
Start Date: April 2016
Completion Date: May 2018
Developer: Richardson Properties

THRIVE Argenta
501 N. Magnolia Ave., North Little Rock
Rating: ★★★★
Number of Units: 164
Number of Stories: -
Start Date: Dec. 2017
Completion Date: Feb. 2019
Developer: ERC Cos.

Fountaine Bleau - Phase II
4216 Bowman Road, Little Rock
Rating: ★★★★
Number of Units: 80
Number of Stories: 3
Start Date: May 2016
Completion Date: April 2018
Developer: Burkhalter Technologies Inc.

The Pointe at Cabot Phase II
3001 W. Main St., Cabot
Rating: ★★★★
Number of Units: 74
Number of Stories: 3
Start Date: Jan. 2017
Completion Date: June 2018
Developer: RichSmith Development

The Reserve at Tucker Creek
2820 College Ave., Conway
Rating: ★★★
Number of Units: 72
Number of Stories: -
Start Date: Sept. 2017
Completion Date: May 2018
Developer: Trinity Development

Parkland at Renaissance Point
1 Ayla Dr., Little Rock
Rating: ★★★
Number of Units: 48
Number of Stories: 3
Start Date: April 2017
Completion Date: April 2018
Developer: Dharamsey

Main Street Lofts
524 Main St., Little Rock
Rating: ★★★★
Number of Units: 34
Number of Stories: 12
Start Date: April 2017
Completion Date: April 2018
Developer: Deep Creek LR LLC

J-Loft Apartments
1098 Spencer St., Conway
Rating: ★★★★
Number of Units: 21
Number of Stories: 4
Start Date: Jan. 2018
Completion Date: May 2018
Developer: Salter Properties

12 Star Flats
1300 E. 6th St., Little Rock
Rating: ★★★
Number of Units: 16
Number of Stories: 2
Start Date: Dec. 2016
Completion Date: June 2018
Developer: Moses Tucker Real Estate

* Rating based on CoStar five-star rating system
Source: CoStar via Multifamily Group LLC


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