Tandem retail projects in Conway are poised to reshape the commercial landscape along Interstate 40.
The biggest on the drawing board is Central Landing, a mixed-use redevelopment of the 151-acre municipal airport with a 750,000-SF lifestyle center. The project, considered to be the largest ever in Conway, is envisioned as a $100 million endeavor that will also feature apartments and office buildings.
Less than a mile from Dennis F. Cantrell Field’s southernmost runway, a 60-acre site at the southeast corner of I-40 and Dave Ward Drive is undergoing planning review for a retail center dubbed, for now, Lewis Crossing.
“You’re going to see major, major retailing expansion in the market,” said Brad Lacy, president of Conway Development Corp. “When you come back in five years, you’re going to see a very different Conway.”
One preliminary site plan reflects a nearly 442,000-SF “power center” layout with about 414,000 SF devoted to nine large retailers and 28,000 SF designated for smaller shops.
A downsized, more detailed configuration of Lewis Crossing totals about 365,000 SF, including a 135,500-SF Sam’s Club, 62,000-SF Academy Sports, 25,000-SF Ross Dress for Less, 23,400-SF Bed Bath & Beyond and a 12,500-SF Petco.
Smaller tenants include a 10,000-SF Ulta beauty products store and five clothing boutiques: 7,000-SF Altar’d State, 4,500-SF Loft, 4,000-SF Jos. A. Banks, 3,500-SF Chico’s and 4,000-SF Carter’s.
If the smaller design materializes, the project represents about $36.5 million worth of construction. The estimate climbs to $41 million for the larger vision. Development of seven outparcels will push the dollar total higher still.
Adding to the development activity along a 2-mile stretch of I-40 in southern Conway is a 100-bed hospital. Little Rock’s Baptist Health intends to build the facility on 37.5 acres on the west side of I-40, less than a half-mile south of Lewis Crossing.
Construction of the 200,000-SF Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway is set to start this summer with completion scheduled for 2016. Baptist invested $10.6 million to assemble the site. Estimated constructions costs could add another $50 million.
Collett & Associates LLC of Charlotte, N.C., could also break ground this summer on Lewis Crossing if it pushes through the rezoning, site plan review, replatting and building code review process.
“After that, they can be off to the races with the building permit,” said Wes Craiglow, Conway’s deputy director of planning and development.
Collett officials couldn’t be reached for comment on Lewis Crossing, which represents the firm’s first Arkansas development.
The company has developed 95 projects encompassing 14 million SF of retail space since opening for business in 1987. Collett owns and manages about 6 million SF of retail space in eight states with the bulk of its portfolio in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Lewis Crossing and the Baptist project are near the southern end of a widened 8.2-mile stretch of I-40 that will open to six-lane traffic this year. The $44.6 million improvement is the first phase to expand I-40 to six lanes between Conway and Interstate 430 in North Little Rock.
The timetable of the Central Landing project is linked with the opening of the new $30 million Conway airport in five months.
The new and improved Cantrell Field is near the Arkansas River in the Lollie Bottoms area in southwest Conway, about 6 miles as the corporate jet flies from the original airport.
The rural 180-acre site facilitated construction of a 5,500-foot runway to better accommodate larger aircraft. That compares with the 4,875-SF main runway at the current location.
Plans call for the city to transfer ownership of the old airport property to Cantrell Field Joint Venture LLC 90 days after the scheduled completion of the new airport in mid-August.
The redevelopment of the airport site into Central Landing is a team effort between Conway Development Corp., a local nonprofit business booster, and Jim Wilson & Associates LLC of Montgomery, Ala.
“We’ve never had a joint venture like this,” CDC’s Lacy said. “It’s a big risk for us because we’re a 50-50 partner on this.”
In its heyday during the 1980s, Jim Wilson & Associates was considered one of the largest mall developers in the South. The development firm has more than 21 million SF of shopping center space on a resume that includes office projects, condominiums and master-planned residential neighborhoods.
Jim Wilson III, CEO and second generation namesake of the company, couldn’t be reached for comment.
“We’re working on the layout and retailer mix of the master plan we will submit to the city,” Lacy said. “We’ve had people ask us, ‘When can you start moving dirt?’ We have some retailers wanting to be open by Christmas 2016.”
An appraisal by Richard A. Stephens & Associates Inc. of Little Rock valued the future Central Landing site at between $8.39 million and $9.09 million. However, the city agreed to sell the old airport for $6.1 million to the high bidder: Cantrell Field Joint Venture LLC.
“There was no way to make that project viable if you pay $9 million or $10 million for it,” Lacy said. “It doesn’t work without some municipal investment in the streets. Without that, it won’t be the highest and best use, I can promise you that.”
Rush-Hal Development LLC made an unsuccessful $5.8 million bid for the property. The Conway development firm led by Rush Harding III and Hal Crafton does have a nearly 16-acre piece of the Lewis Crossing site.
Proceeds from the pending airport property sale have to be invested in the new airport project.
The Central Landing project could expand beyond its current boundaries. Conway Development Corp. has the first right of refusal on an adjoining 50 acres owned by the city. Of this property, 20 acres is tied up in a long-term lease with Acxiom Corp.
The city has agreed to fund up to $18 million in street construction around Central Landing that will improve the road network and relieve traffic congestion in other parts of Conway.
Building an overpass to connect the property with Elsinger Boulevard on the east side of I-40 will be an important piece of the roadwork puzzle.
The involvement of Conway Development Corp. was motivated by community business leaders wanting to have a local voice to help shape decisions that will affect not only the Central Landing project but Conway.
“That’s the big thing that we bring,” Lacy said regarding the desire to have a seat at the table. “This is where we live and do business.
“There’s really a bigger thing at stake with the [old] airport. How it is developed will have a huge impact on the city. Geographically, the property sits in a place that will redefine the city if it’s done properly.”