Alan Cole is Excited for the Future of Real Estate in NWA


Alan Cole is Excited for the Future of Real Estate in NWA
Cole was working at his family’s men’s store when a customer compared selling men’s apparel to selling real estate, suggesting Cole enter real estate. (Sarah Bentham)

Alan Cole, 43, a lifelong resident of Fayetteville, will be the first to tell you selling real estate is a little bit more challenging than selling socks, even in the red-hot northwest Arkansas market. Cole started his working career in his family’s men’s store, but joined Colliers International after graduating from college. Nineteen years later, Cole is now a principal and executive vice president at Colliers.

Cole graduated from the University of Arkansas with degrees in finance and marketing.

Where is the bulk of the commercial growth happening in northwest Arkansas?

The bulk of the commercial development is focused on a few areas: Bentonville, Pinnacle Hills/southwest Rogers and along Interstate 49. In Bentonville, there are billions — yes, billions — of dollars of construction taking place, focused primarily on the massive new Walmart Home Office and also the expansion of Crystal Bridges, the Whole Health Institute and Alice Walton Medical School, and new large mixed-use buildings around the Bentonville square and downtown. The scale and scope of these projects are remarkable, all within a mile radius of each other. The Pinnacle Hills submarket in Rogers, which some have called “downtown northwest Arkansas,” is home to the largest concentration of Class A office buildings, retail shopping and restaurants and is also home to Mercy Hospital. 

You represent a lot of national clients who want to get into northwest Arkansas. What makes the region so attractive?

There is a huge buzz about northwest Arkansas across the country. The explosive job growth, population growth and income growth put our market on the list for our national clients. That’s one part of the story. The quality-of-life initiatives from the major stakeholders in the market also attract them here. Layer on the beauty of the area, the lower cost of living, lack of crime, great schools and just the general positivity that permeates the area, and it becomes an easy sell. Today’s way of working, where people can choose where to work, anywhere in the country, has been a huge benefit for northwest Arkansas. We interface with people daily who have made the decision to leave a large metro area, evaluated their options and settled on northwest Arkansas. They are opening businesses, creating jobs, spending money eating and shopping and investing in the market. It becomes a snowball effect. The energy in the market is undeniable, and I still feel like we are at the tip of the iceberg for what northwest Arkansas will become.  

How are office clients thinking about space post-COVID?

COVID most certainly created an upheaval with office tenants. Our clients have primarily adopted a hybrid work schedule with employees having the option to work from the office or work from home on certain days. The traditional 9-5, Monday-to-Friday office schedule for most is a thing of the past. The previous trends of open and dense space, where employees may be working side by side, have pivoted to single workspaces and small collaboration areas. Employers want their people to gather and share ideas but want to give space to maintain comfortable distances.

What’s the future of office space?

Office space will always be needed. How it is used, and how often, has forever changed. But our clients have been consistent that to maintain company culture, having an office is a critical piece of their strategy. With the current tightness in the job market, a great office space is used as a recruiting tool. There is a clear flight to quality among tenants now, and there is consistent demand for new Class A buildings. With this flight to quality, the Class B properties are seeing an increase in vacancy rates and landlords are being forced to reduce rates or offer more concessions.

The Future of Malls

Alan Cole, a principal and executive vice president at Colliers International in Fayetteville, had some observations about the future of malls in an e-commerce world:

“The mall of the past is no longer a sustainable concept. There will always be the ‘A’ malls — think Northpark in Dallas — that will be incredibly successful. But the mid-market malls, the ‘B’ malls if you will, must be totally rethought with alternative tenant types like entertainment, office and fitness. The edges of the parking lots should be parceled to allow for development of apartments, restaurants, offices and other uses. 

“Traditional retail may make up less than 50% of the total offerings. 

“The small market and ‘C’ malls will become extinct.”