A year after investing $25 million for a piece of downtown Little Rock, Simmons Bank continues to sort through details to make the former Acxiom headquarters its own.
The 12-story office tower and its five-story parking deck at 601 E. Third St. may still look like Acxiom on the outside. But changes inside the 188,460-SF building will become evident for all to see in the coming months.
“We want to create the best billboard in central Arkansas,” said Steve Massanelli, Simmons executive vice president and chief administrative officer. “We want to do something special that ties Simmons and this building into downtown. Little Rock has a beautiful downtown. We are excited to be part of it.”
The building awaits crowning with the Simmons name and the expected addition of an LED lighting scheme to showcase the property. Inside about 100 employees already are going about their daily jobs in support of the $15 billion-asset Simmons First National Corp., and a couple hundred more are on the way. The facility is in the process of becoming the single largest home for Simmons staffers in the company’s seven-state footprint.
Of the 2,600-plus Simmons employees scattered across Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, about 350 will be housed in the building a year from now.
The company’s four-year forecast calls for the building census to reach 533.
“When you have your own building, it’s like having your own clubhouse,” Massanelli said. “We want to make it a fun and comfortable place for employees to do the important things they do for the company.
“In theory, we could put everyone in here now, but it wouldn’t be optimal to what we do.”
The purchase of the building marks a transition from tenant to owner for Simmons in Little Rock. The new office space is a gathering center to consolidate local staffers, a headcount ballooned by the tandem purchases of Metropolitan National Bank in 2013 and Deltic Trust & Bank in 2014.
The biggest block of Simmons staffers destined for relocation to the new property are 10 blocks away where time is winding down on leased quarters. For now, about 165 employees work in the Simmons Tower at 425 W. Capitol Ave.
The future of the company’s naming rights on the 40-story building remains a loose end of the transition. Simmons is vacating floors 12-14 and a small part of the 11th along with some ground floor space not associated with its bank branch, which will remain.
When the Little Rock migration is complete, nearly all of the company’s accounting and information technology staff will be housed in the former Acxiom Building. The trust department will take most of one floor, and other departments such as human resources, legal, lending, corporate strategy and audit also will office at 601 E. Third.
Budget estimates for the makeover remain under wraps. Construction isn’t going to be significant but will touch each floor with plans for new carpeting, lighting and wall covering, along with fresh floor tile in the elevator areas.
“We’re looking at this as more of remodel,” said Reese Rowland of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects. “We’re going to give it a fresh look. It’s like visiting an old friend and dressing him up. It’s a fun process.”
The Little Rock firm, which did the award-winning design of the building that Acxiom opened 15 years ago, is helping Simmons work through the logistical possibilities.
“They’ve been great at telling us ‘I can see why you might want to do that, but let me tell you why you can’t,’” Massanelli said. “They’re good at keeping us out of the wish-list ditch.”
The biggest construction items planned are on floors 6-12: Adding east bathrooms and replacing cubicle space with offices on the south side of the building.
“We don’t have major pieces of equipment that need to be replaced, but we’re assessing that for Simmons,” Rowland said. “Acxiom took very good care of the building.”
While the Acxiom layout was heavy on cubes and light on offices, flexibility was incorporated into the building design.
“It was designed for a technology company that was forward thinking,” Rowland said. “Everything was set up with the future in mind. Now we’re seeing that work for Simmons instead of Acxiom.”
Simmons is taking care to build a showplace for recruiting new hires to the company. Work surroundings and the amenities that go with that are important considerations for attracting talent.
“What sets us apart from the others?” Massanelli said. “Do you like where you work? We want those questions to draw a favorable response.”
A staggered, floor-by-floor move-in schedule is envisioned once construction is launched. Once work on a floor is finished, staffers will follow. November is mentioned as a target date to complete work updating and reconfiguring interior space. But having everyone moved in by then is another matter.
“I will say that’s optimistic,” said Alexandra Kosmitis, executive project manager for Simmons. “We haven’t announced a firm date because we don’t want expectations to be crushed if it’s still January and not everyone is moved in there.”
For now, accounting has taken up residence on the 10th floor, a move made last summer. But this isn’t the final destination for the number-crunchers.
“We know what groups want to be next to each other, but we’re still working on which departments will be on what floor,” Kosmitis said.
The old-school ability to walk into someone’s office and talk is deemed a timeless asset by Simmons. The new space affords the opportunity to configure the layout of staff and departments to make the most operational sense and build critical adjacencies.
“It creates a central point of collaboration for our company, and that will benefit all of our operations,” Massanelli said. “Communicating by email is wonderful, video conferencing is wonderful, talking by phone is wonderful, but nothing beats face-to-face.”
Plans call for the lobby to have walk-up banking, an addition expected to coincide with Simmons signage.
“The minute you put up a sign you can expect customers to start coming in,” Massanelli said. “Even members of our board of directors are asking about the sign. But when you put up the sign, you better be prepared to catch customers. How will their experience be? You don’t want it to be bad. You want to get it right the first time.”
Myths on the Move
MYTH: Simmons is relocating its corporate headquarters from Pine Bluff to Little Rock.
This persistent notion even predates the announced acquisition on March 10, 2017, and lives on despite repeated denials by company execs from CEO George Makris on down the corporate ranks.
Only Little Rock area staffers are headed to the new building. “It’s all Little Rock,” said Alexandra Kosmitis, executive project manager. “There is no consolidation from the Pine Bluff headquarters.”
MYTH: Simmons will develop a second office tower on the adjoining park space.
“The park is an attraction that went into the decision to buy the building, but we’re not planning to build another building,” Executive Vice President Steve Massanelli said. “We might possibly sell it.”
All possibilities for the property are on hold until the nearby 30 Crossing project and its widened Interstate 30 traffic corridor take final form. “We want to see the final outcome of the highway realignment project,” he said.
MYTH: Simmons will reopen the park on the west side of the building to the public.
“No,” Massanelli said. The green space will remain secured, open only for corporate use. Liability insurance concern is the prime motivation.
The No. 2 concern, literally, is dealing with doggy doo left behind by lazy canine owners unwilling to clean up after their pets. The issue arose during Acxiom ownership and led to the end of public access to the area.
MYTH: The move is taking so long because Simmons is gutting the building.
Coordinating the expiration of leases with finish-out work on office space is the major consideration behind the measured timetable for filling the building with people.
“We’ve been meticulously trying to figure what we’re going to do in this building,” Massanelli said. “The key features we liked, and we’re going to keep those. We want to build the space out effectively, one time.”