Monde Group Unveils $30M Sylvana Project around Rockwater

Blake Jackson was given the ceremonial keys to Maumelle in recognition of The Villa at River Pointe Drive, a 272-unit luxury apartment development. The founder and managing partner of the Monde Group experienced another first when North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick declared Oct. 4 Esplanade Day.

The civic gesture was made in appreciation of the Monde Group and the progress of its 41-acre Esplanade District on the Arkansas River between Rockwater Marina and Riverview Park.

“I’ve never had a holiday named after a development before,” Jackson said of the recent gathering. “We celebrated three things: the opening of our first phase, the 10th anniversary of our company and the announcement of our second phase.”

Phase 2 will encompass a quartet of four-story apartment buildings with 167 units divided among studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans. A rooftop bar, yet to be named, is planned to crown one of the buildings.

The $30 million project is dubbed Sylvana (lady of the forest), a poetic nod to the 5.5-acre site tucked into the woods.

“We hope to break ground on that next year, hopefully at the beginning of the year,” Jackson said. “It will be an 18-month project to build.”

Though celebrated recently, the opening of the 7-acre, $20 million first phase off River Road unofficially began several months ago, and its 92 units are about 70% leased. Jackson said the first resident moved into the Esplanade in May, a few weeks after he began leasing the one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Next door to the luxury apartments, a building made of shipping containers is scheduled to undergo a makeover to become a bicycle cafe for pedaling patrons of the Arkansas River Trail. Developers originally envisioned the building as a job site office during construction and later as a temporary leasing office. Neither of those uses worked out, and the building was relegated to storage.

“We’ve already spent a hundred grand on this thing,” Jackson said. “Let’s slow down, and do this right.”

Plans include a deck and other features to transform the container building into a waypoint for pedestrians and cyclists on the nearby trail.

Rockwater Twist

About a mile east of Esplanade, the latest land acquisition at the Rockwater Village development has positioned the that North Little Rock project to take a new direction. The husband-wife team of Jim Jackson (no relation to Blake Jackson) and Lisa Ferrell are expanding their residential offerings eastward with a twist.

“There will be some commercial,” Ferrell said. “We’d love to attract a restaurant and place for bike riders and neighborhood residents to drink coffee or get a beer.”

The $1.7 million purchase of 3 acres in July extends the couple’s Rockwater holdings along the Arkansas River and adds more land adjoining their Pike Avenue property.

The transaction with Recovery Centers of Arkansas, which included its 18,450-SF Riverbend facility, was the latest piece in a 6-acre land puzzle put together during the past 15 years.

Arkansas Business reported the sale first on Aug. 9.

The Riverbend buildings will be removed to wipe the slate clean at the property, zoned for mixed-use development. How much of the land will be designated for commercial projects has yet to shake out.

“I think we’ll see construction in the latter part of 2022,” Ferrell said. “We’re doing all of our planning for all of our 2022 work.”

The commercial plans will involve development by Ferrell and Jackson, but they might also bring in new ownership.

“We would be interested in both,” Ferrell said. “We will develop some commercial ourselves. But we’d like to work with others, too.”

Among the possible partners are the investors behind Riverwalk Properties, which owns a 0.67-acre parcel on the Arkansas River between the former Recovery Centers property and Ferrell’s and Jackson’s Pike Avenue holdings.

“We’ve had discussions with them, but we’re not doing anything right now,” said Cope Gracy, president of Gracy Enterprises Inc. of Rogers. “We’re just land-banking the property.”

On a similarly sized site about four blocks north, Cope and partner Ryan Newcomb are building an 11-townhome project that should be ready for occupancy during the next six or seven months.

The $1.8 million development at 1300 W. Fourth St. will feature a two-bedroom and two-bathroom floor plan. The townhome format brings a new wrinkle to Rockwater’s ongoing residential construction.

New single-family homes have followed the rollout of new lots and added rooftops northward and eastward from the development’s start between the Arkansas River Trail and Rockwater Boulevard.

A dozen dwellings in Rockwater are now in various stages of completion. Of the 31 lots that came on line in The Gardens addition in November, 11 have sold.

All 16 of The Porches lots, which opened in 2018, have sold. All but one of the other Rockwater Village’s 39 lots have sold. Nearly all of these 55 sites have homes or have houses under construction.

Opened in 2012, the 264-unit Riverside at Rockwater apartments on the west end of Rockwater Village helped set a landscape for neighborhood commercial development to follow an influx of more affluent residents.

Catalysts for redevelopment include tax-increment financing and the Lower Baring Cross neighborhood’s designation as an opportunity zone.

Property within the boundaries of an opportunity zone qualifies for tax-sheltering possibilities for capital gains investments. If that investment remains in the property for 10 years, any ensuing sale of opportunity zone real estate is free from any capital gains tax. “That encourages investors to stay in for a while and not just flip property,” Ferrell said.