Chenal Bank Branch Growth Elevates Field of Competition

Arkansas banks are on-the-go for commercial real estate in west Little Rock.
Arkansas banks are on-the-go for commercial real estate in west Little Rock.

Branching activity in west Little Rock is transforming a one-mile stretch of Chenal Parkway into a banker’s boulevard.

Five lenders have committed more than $50 million to buy or build between Rahling Road in the north and Kirk Road in the south.

Most of those investments are associated with new projects that account for more than $20 million in construction and more than $7 million in land acquisitions.

BancorpSouth Bank of Tupelo, Mississippi, will gain a new branch as part of a four-story, 40,000-SF office building under construction at 17900 Chenal Parkway. The location will serve as BancorpSouth’s northwest regional banking and insurance headquarters, overseeing operations in Arkansas and Missouri.

The $12 million project, which will house staffers for insurance, commercial lending, wealth management and mortgage services, is the biggest of four new, ground-up bank-driven developments taking shape in the corridor.

Batesville’s First Community Bank is developing a two-story, 16,000-SF banking center across the street at 17820 Chenal Parkway. The $5.2 million project at the southeast corner of Chenal and Rahling Road is rolling toward an expected opening in April.

“We did a study of all of Little Rock and found that it was a premier location,” said Dale Cole, chairman and CEO of First Community.

Officials at Citizens Bank of Batesville plan to break ground in November on a branch at 17520 Chenal Parkway to replace leased quarters at 17300 Chenal Parkway. The hope is to have the office open by summer, barring any extended disruptions in the construction supply chain.

The 2021 Chenal surge is expanding the competitive field to a dozen lenders representing a cross-section of national, regional and state banks.

The string of financial institutions runs from First Security Bank’s full-service branch at 15420 Chenal Parkway to the relocated Encore Bank headquarters at 1801 Rahling Road.

Beginning in February with Encore opening its new office in leased quarters, a half dozen banks have entered the neighborhood or elevated their presence.

The combination of businesses, retailing and affluent households in the area proved so enticing that the largest bank in America is developing a new branch only 2.1 miles west of its first Arkansas branch at 12900 Chenal Parkway.

The $2.3 million JPMorgan Chase office on a leased 1.2-acre site at 16400 Chenal Parkway joined the financial giant’s initial rollout of five branches in the Little Rock-North Little Rock area.

“We started construction there several weeks ago,” said Lee Mahan, JPMorgan Chase Bank’s executive director of market expansion in Arkansas and Mississippi. “Our branch locations are about where people live, where people work and where people shop.”

The nearby $37 million Costco Wholesale development adds shopping zest to the traffic patterns of the market. The 165,000-SF warehouse store at 16901 Chenal Parkway opened in July.

Before entering the state via Little Rock, JPMorgan had about 350,000 Arkansas clients through credit cards, home loans and auto loans plus an additional 14,000 business customers.

“The demand, we knew it was going to be high,” Mahan said about the July opening of its first Chenal Parkway office. “The branch has far exceeded our expectations. Our deposit and investment growth is 153% of where we projected it after month two.”

JPMorgan’s second Chenal Parkway branch is projected for completion by March.

Ramping Up

Pine Bluff’s Simmons Bank broadened its stake in the Chenal Valley market in a big way with the $23.2 million purchase of the former Bank OZK headquarters last month.

With capacity of 325, the office tower at 17901 Chenal Parkway will provide elbow room to house Simmons’ growing Little Rock headcount and provide relief for the bank’s 188,460-SF River Market Corporate Office downtown.

“For us, it was an opportunity to get a second hub to put existing personnel in,” said Matt Lukas, Simmons’ senior vice president of real estate. “We’re pretty much full here at the River Market. This is an opportunity to bring some groups together. We’re still working through that.”

Plans call for moving 200 people into the 90,000-SF west Little Rock building initially. Bank OZK will continue operating its full-service branch there until the end of the year. The move will complete Bank OZK’s transition from its old HQ to its new 248,000-SF home at 18000 Cantrell Road and open the branch space for Simmons in 2022.

Will Simmons close its leased 16600 Chenal Parkway location, opening the property for a new lender or redevelopment?

“We’re making those decisions now on what that looks like,” Lukas said.

The branch, opened a decade ago by Delta Trust & Bank, was among the first to open in the western Chenal Parkway corridor. Simmons took it over after buying Delta Trust in 2014.

Two other leased locations, opened in 1999, predate the Simmons branch: the Arvest Bank branch at 16107 Chenal Parkway developed by Fort Smith’s Superior Federal Bank; and the U.S. Bank branch at 17200 Chenal Parkway developed by North Little Rock’s Mercantile Bank of Arkansas.

Land costs in the area have climbed since the Delta Trust-Simmons branch site was purchased a decade ago for $479,000 (about $14.80 per SF).

BancorpSouth paid more than $3.5 million, or $22 per SF, for its 3.69-acre site. First Community paid a dollar more per SF, buying its 2.32-acre site for $2.3 million. The bank’s top executive is convinced it will be worth every penny.

“We looked all up and down Chenal at different locations,” said First Community’s Dale Cole. “I genuinely believe it’s one of the best locations in Little Rock.”