Mall tenants scattered to the winds by a devastating March 2020 tornado have been slowly reopening in other retail centers in Jonesboro, many near the area’s historic but long defunct Indian Mall site.
Other commercial developments are going up, including a 175-acre project called Southern Hills in southwest Jonesboro and at Greensborough Village northeast of the Arkansas State University campus.
But many retailers are finding it far more economical to revamp existing buildings rather than building new sites after years of inflation.
“Existing assets are more attractive because of what’s happened with inflation over the last three or four years,” Joshua Brown of Haag Brown Commercial Real Estate & Development told Arkansas Business last week. “It may cost 50% more money to build a building today than it would have three to four years ago. But rental rates on existing buildings haven’t really gone up.
“The same building that we were asking $20 a square foot to rent three years ago we’re still asking $20 a foot to rent,” Brown said.
Haag Brown has worked with many tenants from the Mall at Turtle Creek, which was heavily damaged by the tornado. Several have settled in The Uptown, the former Indian Mall site at Highland Drive and Caraway Road in Jonesboro.
Brown called Highland and Caraway the most valuable retail intersection in the Jonesboro market. “Back in the 1970s that’s where Sears was located, and Dillard’s, and JC Penney,” he said. “We’re bringing retailers that we’ve been accustomed to having for years back into the area. Some of them we’ve had to do without since the tornado. We’ve got 13 businesses back, and we’re actively working with another three or four.”
Barnes & Noble is taking over the former Pier 1 space at 2300 E. Highland Drive. The new outlet hopes to open this summer, according to Jeremy Gamble, who owns the building. Other projects nearby are the Buckle, Maurice’s and Finish Line. “There are still major voids in our market and stores we miss really bad such as Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, H&M and several others.”
Haag Brown worked with Marty Belz of the Memphis Belz family to redevelop the old Indian Mall. Belz sold a site for a Kroger Marketplace, the largest supermarket in the area, and it became an anchor. Chris Gamble of Gamble Home Furnishings and Ted Herget of Gearhead Outfitters bought the existing Sears building nearby. Dr. Cade Wilson, an optometrist, purchased and developed an outparcel.
Gearhead and Gamble Home Furnishings opened in the remade 82,000-SF Sears building, and in November Jeremy Gamble purchased two shopping centers previously owned by New York investors.
Gamble spent $17 million for Bernard Court and Crossroads Shopping Center, which has been rebranded as Crossroads at The Uptown. The 100,000-SF Bernard Court, at 1847 E. Highland Drive, is anchored by Hobby Lobby, next to the Walmart Supercenter. Crossroads, just up the road, is the site of OfficeMax and the former Pier 1 being taken over by Barnes & Noble.
Gamble said the properties were bought “a little bit on a whim, but we took a chance and feel real good about them.” He said Crossroads was rebranded to coordinate with the Sears site redevelopment.
The Bernard Court transaction ranked third on Arkansas Business’ list of largest Craighead County commercial real estate deals of 2022 at $11.5 million; Crossroads was eighth at $5.5 million.
All of the tenants are expected to stay, Gamble said. “We have one restaurant outpad there that’s getting good traction from some national restaurants.”
There is a vacancy next to Shoe Carnival in Bernard Court, but “we’re pretty sure we have that filled,” he said. Construction is expected to begin soon on an unfilled 12,000-SF space in the center. Construction documents are being gathered for Barnes & Noble’s new space at The Uptown, Gamble said.
He said the two shopping centers amount to a massive project. “That’s 155,000 SF of retail there, but we’re redeveloping and getting leases renewed all over. I just feel that the energy of commercial real estate is good. I have people calling looking for spaces that I just don’t have now.”
Haag Brown specializes in bringing properties and investors together, Brown said.
“As a brokerage company, we have properties listed for lease for other owners, and we recruit businesses in an effort to lease space in these shopping centers,” he said. “It takes a year to put one of these deals together, even if everything works right. Some of these companies are so big, with so many stores, just getting their attention to take a look is difficult. I’m just glad that Jonesboro and the region will have a chance to shop at some of these places from Turtle Creek.”
Brown is also proud of his firm’s UrbanTech project, over 60,000 SF at the former TeleTech site on a widely developed stretch of Caraway Road. The tech and office facility is being refurbished, and is equipped with the fastest 5G network and fiber cable, not to mention meeting rooms, a full cafeteria, a coffee bar and a gym.
A long-running multiuse commercial project northeast of Arkansas State University is also making news. Greensborough Village, home to a major apartment complex and a Malco movie theater, has bank branch projects on the horizon. Batesville’s First Community Bank will open a full-service branch on a 1.2-acre site at 910 Chancery Lane in the development. The building will house the bank’s home-lending team in Jonesboro.
Greensborough Village developer Halsey Thrasher Harpole Real Estate Group of Jonesboro also says a shopping center, The Village Shoppes, will soon rise nearby.
Project leader Gary Harpole didn’t return a phone message seeking comment, but he told KAIT-TV in January that the strip retail development and many other additions are coming to the area.
The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission has granted building permits to a related developer with big plans, Brandon Holmes of Hammerhead Contracting & Development. Holmes has designs on former Arkansas Human Services Center property on McClellan Drive north of Interstate 555.
Holmes and Hammerhead, based in Batesville, received permits last month for two upscale 139-unit condominium complexes, each valued at $8.2 million. The Jonesboro Sun reported that Holmes sees the condo projects as the first phase of a $100 million development. The permits were issued with a stipulation that the units will be for sale, not leased as apartments.
Holmes told the newspaper that the price of the condominiums will range from $200,000 to $440,000. Repeated phone calls to Hammerhead Contracting went unanswered, but Holmes is also the owner of a 13.5-acre commercial parcel he bought in a foreclosure auction after a planned hotel and convention center project in Jonesboro fell through.
Holmes also once owned the 256-unit Landing at Greensborough Village, which he sold in 2021 for $46.5 million, the Sun reported. He said he still owns 15 acres nearby, available for development.