It’s been almost six months since a tornado ripped through Little Rock, leaving a trail of destruction that included hundreds of destroyed homes, businesses and broken trees.
For some of the worst-hit commercial real estate and apartments, it could still be months before business is back to normal. Reconstruction has been painstaking as owners continue to negotiate with insurance providers to cover rebuilding costs while trying to hire contractors that are struggling to find enough workers.
Inflation is making materials more expensive.
“It has been slow,” Billy Roehrenbeck, owner of Pulaski County Title on Cantrell Road, told Arkansas Business. “I get it. It’s complicated when you have something like this, but it’s more frustrating than I would have liked for it to have been.”
The March 31 tornado knocked down walls and destroyed the roof of the Pulaski County Title building, which includes several office spaces for other businesses. The roof is now being repaired but the replacement of the metal roof “is still a couple weeks out,” Roehrenbeck said.
After that, work can start on the interior.
Roehrenbeck said he’s hoping repairs will be complete sometime in January.
“It feels like you are the rope in a tug of war,” Roehrenbeck said. “On one end, the insurance company is balancing what they need to do with what they are obligated to do while still trying to mitigate their loss, and on the other end, you have contractors and suppliers trying to make sure they cover their expenses.”
Across the street from Pulaski County Title, five roofs still need to be replaced at Pavilion in the Park, an upscale commercial property that includes a restaurant, retail and office spaces and an event venue underneath its signature glass atrium, which was all but destroyed.
In May, a number of tenants, like B. Barnett, a luxury women’s boutique, moved back in.
Those occupying spaces on the building’s exterior have reopened. Others in spaces on the interior are still in temporary locations, said Jessica Flake Dearnley, a member of the management and ownership group for Pavilion in the Park.
“We still have a lot of work to do, and I wish it was faster,” Dearnley said, adding that there is no timeline for when repairs will be finished.
“It’s a glamorous property with a lot of unique features, and that is what makes it more complicated than most,” she said. “It’s not just a simple block of office buildings.”
It’s unclear what the fate of the nearby ReNew apartment complex, also on Cantrell, will be.
The complex was badly damaged with the interiors of apartments exposed to the elements for weeks underneath holes in roofs that looked like they’d been hit by mortar shells. Emails and calls to the property’s manager, Trinity Property Consultants of Irvine, California, were not returned.
Calais Forest Apartments, also badly damaged, will be demolished and rebuilt under a new name, said an employee who answered the phone in the Orchard Park, New York, headquarters of National Property Management Associates Inc., the complex’s manager. A regional manager for the company did not return Arkansas Business’ calls.
Calais Forest, located at 500 Napa Valley Drive, “has been deemed unsafe and is not accessible,” according to National Property Management Associates’ website.
City Smooths the Way
Delays have not been caused by a backlog of building permits. The city of Little Rock’s Building Codes Division, part of the Department of Planning & Development, eased some regulations related to code compliance for a smoother permitting process, Chuck Givens, building codes manager, said.
At the most, since the tornado, the department has had an increase of about a dozen or so permit approval requests a day. “Everyone expected there to be delays of up to a few days,” Terry Steele, a permit supervisor, said. “There have been none.”
More of a concern is the use of contractors and other technicians who are not licensed, Givens said.
“That’s more prevalent on the residential side,” Givens said. “We don’t have the staff to go out and check [licenses]. It’s hard to police all of it.”
Kroger to Reopen
Residents near the Colony West Shopping Center at 10300 N. Rodney Parham Road may be relieved to learn that the Kroger grocery store located there is slated to reopen this fall.
John Silverman, co-founder and managing principal of Midland Atlantic Properties, which owns Colony West, could not confirm a date for the Kroger reopening but said it should be within a couple of months. Kroger did not respond to interview requests.
“We are rebuilding everything,” Silverman said of the Colony West Shopping Center.
A Simmons Bank branch will be reopening soon there, Silverman said. So will the Señor Tequila Mexican restaurant.
The remaining stores should be back in business by March or April. Silverman said the strip of retail spaces adjacent to Kroger “had significant damage from the tornado.”
“It will take us a bit longer to finish reconstruction,” he said. “It will be brand new when it is done and ready for occupancy.”
Silverman said some of the tenants are returning to Colony West and some are not, but could not immediately identify them.
An Epicenter of Food
Breckenridge Village, located across Rodney Parham from Colony West, also experienced delays. Before the March twister, Breckenridge was undergoing major renovations after it was sold last year to KBK-Breck LLC, an investment group led by the Keet family.
A host of new restaurants are slated to open there, including a second location of Deluca’s Pizzeria of Hot Springs and another Waldo’s Chicken & Beer.
“We lost about three months’ worth of construction [from the tornado],” said Jake Keet of JTJ Restaurants of Little Rock.
As Arkansas Business’ Whispers column reported on Sept. 11, several restaurants are scheduled to open at Breckenridge starting in October, including the newly renovated Mt. Fuji Japanese Restaurant. Eat My Catfish could open by the end of the year, according to owner Travis Hester, who said construction “has not even started” at the restaurant.
“The tornado basically went right through it,” Hester said. “It blew all the glass out. Blew a whole wall out and sucked everything out the front of our building.”
Employees from the destroyed Breckenridge space were transferred to a second Eat My Catfish location in Riverdale that opened about two months after the twister.
“If we wanted to sweat the insurance stuff everyday for five months, I would literally have gone crazy,” Hester said. “Nothing is going to happen fast.”
Keet said Deluca’s could be open as soon as February, “but more likely March.”
A second location of The Root Café also should be in business by spring 2024.
“And then Flyaway Brewery should open within a few months of all of those [restaurants]. That is sort of the timeline we are looking at,” Keet said. “Breckenridge, when all is said and done, is going to be awesome.”