The substantial glass, granite and zinc structure nearing completion in west Little Rock is more than a 21st century edifice for a $23 billion-asset finance house.
The new Bank OZK headquarters is envisioned as a spectacular calling card to recruit new talent to come and work for the company and an amenity-laden investment to retain staffers.
“It’s so tough to hire in a full-employment environment,” said CEO George Gleason. “It’s more than an option to provide space people want to work in.”
To meet that prerequisite, Bank OZK is investing more than $98 million to position the company for future growth and success. The new headquarters at 18000 Cantrell Road is the centerpiece and first phase of a 44-acre campus with a projected build-out of 15-20 years.
The 248,000-SF office building is less than 14 weeks away from transitioning into the new and improved nerve center for more than 240 Bank OZK locations sprinkled across a 10-state footprint stretching from Little Rock to San Francisco, New York, Miami and Sunbelt-dominated points in between.
“With our growth, I expect we will add staff at a pretty good clip,” Gleason said.
Opened in 2008, the current headquarters at 17901 Chenal Parkway is maxed out at about 300 employees, and dozens of additional workers are scattered in make-do rental space.
With room for more than 800, the new HQ will allow the corporate workforce to reassemble under one roof with space to spare. Occupancy will stand at 50%-60% when the staff migration is completed this summer.
“This building will hold so many more people, yet do it in a way that provides more mobility for employees and collaborative opportunities,” Gleason said. “It’s the most intelligent-designed building we’ve had.”
Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects was charged with designing a world-class headquarters that represents not only an Arkansas-based bank but a forward-thinking, sophisticated corporation with a national presence.
“The architecture is very progressive, full of light and views,” said Reese Rowland, principal of the Little Rock design firm. “It will help set them apart from the competition. It’s the sort of building where there’s a wow factor when you drive by.”
The wow factor extends inside the building for foot traffic, too.
The interior is drenched by natural light with a 75-feet tall atrium providing airy common space for the larger eastern four-story wing to meet the smaller western five-story wing. Atrium bridges connect floors 2-4, and open stairways offer views of the wooded ridgelines that inspired the undulating slope of the roof.
“We wanted to do something that was special,” Gleason said, “to make our city, our state and our people proud.”
Rowland describes the headquarters as two buildings under one roof, with the atrium serving as a vertical conference center and collaboration space. Nine conference rooms overlook the atrium.
“We think a lot of people will come out of their workspaces and work in these collaborative areas around the atrium,” said Gleason, who served as tour guide on a recent visit to the property.
Beyond the atrium, more conference pods of varied size are scattered around the interior. Bench seating around the building provides more options for roaming work supported by Bank OZK’s private Wi-Fi network, which expands the possibilities outdoors for laptop-toting staff.
“You don’t have to miss a beautiful day just because you’re at work,” Gleason said of creating a place that is as much about working outside as indoors.
His observation has the makings of a corporate catch phrase destined for Bank OZK T-shirts, except such casual wear isn’t part of the company’s line of signature apparel.
The outdoor ambiance will be augmented by extensive landscaping with ponds and a botanical census of 14,000 new plants and 450 new native trees that include oaks, maples, bald cypress and magnolia.
In and around the building, workers are engaged in a hodge-podge of finish-out chores: rolling paint on walls, wiring light switches, grouting granite floor tile, mounting zinc panels, planting greenery and more.
Workers also are adorning the interior with a collection of 13 unusual wall hangings, natural works of art from South America, Asia and Europe. The hangings, which comprise a dozen slabs of 10-foot-by-28-foot polished marble cut 3 centimeters thick, are being placed in bookmatch fashion on floors 1-4. Measuring 10 feet by 37 feet, No. 13 on the fifth floor is the biggest of the bunch on display.
The rock work spans the exotic to the familiar with picnic table-size blocks of limestone from the Ozarks quarried near Batesville. On this overcast Friday morning, the Arkansas stone is staged in a parking area awaiting final placement on the grounds.
Gleason will be among the first of 10 to 12 waves of employees to migrate to the new digs in a series of successive Friday moves. Joining him on April 24 will be the facilities and information technology staffers who will help assimilate the teams that follow. Weekend setups will have each new group ready for business on Monday morning.
“By the end of June, we expect to have everybody in here,” Gleason said.
His corner office with the southwestern view of Shinall Mountain doesn’t differ in elbow room from other executive space on the fifth floor. “All the offices are the same size,” he said. “It’s a real egalitarian approach.”
The building is filled with functional symbolism as well as subtle metaphors.
Glass walls and doors on offices and meeting space hearken to transparency and across-the-board accessibility to see movement and work being done in the building.
The design capability to reconfigure walls and doors throughout the building without the down time and need for hammer and nail construction speaks to practical flexibility.
Walls and furniture can be broken down and moved to turn the boardroom in the northwestern corner of the fifth floor into one big open space for charity soirees. The atrium is expected to host public and private events.
“We’re very open to having the community use the building,” Gleason said.
Off the atrium on a portion of the first floor of the east wing will be a self-serve canteen and food-service concession. Across the way, the entire first floor on the west wing is devoted to training, a dedication of space reflecting the significance to the company.
“I’d like to have most of our employees come to the headquarters every year or two,” Gleason said. “Not just for training, but for personal interaction to perpetuate our culture. That in no way understates the importance of training. It is so important to what we do.”
The column spacing is as wide and open as possible for current layout configurations and to accommodate future revisions. Nearly every part of the building is filled with natural light.
“I thought that was pretty amazing when we were going over the construction plans,” said Chris Edwards, superintendent on the Bank OZK headquarters project for CDI Contractors.
A rare exception to accessible sunshine is space dedicated to a pair of strategic operation centers (SOC). The windowless SOCs in the core of the west wing are where security monitors watch over the Bank OZK network.
Gleason recounts an incident when the SOC caught a miscreant inserting a phishing device in a Florida automated teller machine under the cover of a hurricane. Remote monitoring detected the breach attempt, and the foul weather ploy prompted the remote shutdown of the ATM from Little Rock.
The 111,000-SF underground parking beneath the headquarters is as much about aesthetics as employee comfort. It’s secure, hidden from sight and protected from the elements so that vehicles aren’t baked in the summer and frozen in the winter.
In addition to open stairways and atrium bridges, movement within the headquarters is assisted mechanically by three elevator towers, each housing two elevators. With a top-end speed of 350 feet per minute, the Bank OZK elevators are rated as the fastest in class for servicing a midsize office building.
Bank OZK has committed to invest more than $6 million to develop a solar array capable of delivering 4.8 megawatts of electricity to the power grid. That’s enough sun-sourced energy to meet the demand load of the corporate headquarters plus 40 full-service bank branches.
Construction on the array is expected to begin this year. However, the company hasn’t settled on a site for its central Arkansas solar farm, where about 12,000 panels of photovoltaic cells will be planted to harvest sunlight.
On the north side of the building, three Kohler diesel-fired generators, each capable of delivering 1,750 kilowatts of operational juice, are on standby for emergency power. Two of the massive units can provide enough electricity for the entire building. The third is merely a backup for the backups.
Analytically, Gleason views the building as “an appropriate response to the preference of modern workers,” for the new generation of Bank OZK staffers. “We built this building with a much more modern workforce in mind,” he said.
Creatively, the project opened the door for Gleason to immerse himself in a sea of details to produce a showcase of substance and style.
Though downplaying the depth of his involvement, his role in the headquarters project is considerable.
“It would’ve been a lot more enjoyable to wade into the details than some of my other duties, but it’s job first,” he said.
Gleason is a big-picture guy also known to delve with relish into the jot or tittle of things like construction projects to scratch his detail-oriented itch.
During the past 20 years, Gleason has spent more than casual time planning and developing his grand west Little Rock home, a project sandwiched between the company’s current 92,616-SF headquarters and its soon-to-be new address.
Gleason notes that he’s getting too old for another move, residential or corporate, indicating the headquarters could be the last of his big building projects. Behind this perspective, he admits to other considerations beyond age.
“My wife has threatened me with harm if she sees me talking to an architect,” Gleason quipped.