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Aging LR Commercial Centers Get a Refresh with New DevelopmentLock Icon

5 min read

The successive sales of three prominent Little Rock shopping destinations — Breckenridge Village, the Riverdale Center and Pavilion in the Park — share some of the same players and a new vision for how aging commercial properties can bring back customers.

Hank Kelley, a Breckenridge investor, helped broker the acquisition of the Riverdale ground lease in 2019 that set the stage for the project’s $16.1 million sale in May. The $11.3 million Breckenridge transaction helped put in motion the $8.8 million purchase of Pavilion in the Park by the John and Karen Flake family in Little Rock. Travis Hester of Eat My Catfish fame is part of the new ownership groups at Breckenridge and Riverdale. 

The three properties, all founded as retail centers more than 30 years ago, share the nostalgic appeal of past popularity and youthful visits in days gone by. The new owners all hope to recapture some of the past glory, too.

In the case of Breckenridge Village and the Riverdale Center, significant reimaginings are part of the equation to bring back the crowds.

“We reconnoitered the market and identified [Breckenridge Village] as a top site,” said Kelley, CEO of Kelley Commercial Partners of Little Rock. “Yes, it’s an infill project, and it’s on a great property, if you just do it right. We were told to make it a fun place to go, and ‘I’ll be there.’”

The recipe for rekindling the magic at Breckenridge Village is a healthy helping of food, libations and entertainment served with some fitness and professional services.

“People ask us, ‘Are you not going to do any retail there?’” Kelley said. “We’re going to look at bringing in retail when we identify the right retailers. But we’re not knocking on doors looking for the next women’s store to set up shop there.”

With the Jim Keet family as part of the investment group, a 6,285-SF Waldo’s Chicken & Beer is part of the changes coming to Breckenridge.

If paper plans materialize, the project could host a 9,632-SF Flyway Brewing Co., a 5,500-SF Deluca’s Pizza, a 4,464-SF Root Cafe and a relocated 3,400-SF Mt. Fuji Japanese Restaurant.

“It won’t be overnight,” Kelley said. “It will be over the next year to 18 months. We want to bring the fun factor to that location.”

Xcited Group

Revamping and repositioning the Riverdale Center is still taking shape, too.

“We want to make it an eclectic destination center, with a little bit of everything,” said T.J. Lefler, part of the center’s new ownership group. “We think that this has been in the making for years, and we’re going to do it right. The project is a little tired now, but we’re going to update it.”

The Xcited Riverdale group is investing more than $2.5 million to upgrade the property by installing new lighting and signage, resurfacing the parking lot and more. A facelift is in the works for the project’s main structure, anchored by Ace Hardware, the Riverdale 10 VIP Cinema, Whole Hog Cafe and Tuesday Morning.

“We’ve ordered a ton of stuff,” Lefler said. “We’re going to paint the whole building, and we’re installing a whole new roof. We’re redoing all the landscaping, adding and replacing trees and plants. It’s a whole new layout.

“We hope to have it all done by the end of the year. That’s the goal.”

While the 133,451-SF strip center piece of the project will be updated, the future of three outparcel buildings is uncertain.

“All the others are up for discussion and on the table,” Lefler said. “We’re still evaluating and talking with tenants about replacing multiple buildings.”

The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts is expected to vacate its temporary quarters in the 64,962-SF former Walmart Neighborhood Market by the end of the year. The Xcited group is considering tearing down that building along with the vacant 4,380-SF bank branch and 11,010-SF Dollar Tree store.

Recruiting a grocery store to the property is among the possibilities. “We’re looking at all options,” Lefler said.

He was showing Riverdale Center to Travis Hester as a potential location to lease for Hester’s Eat My Catfish restaurant when they discovered the opportunity to acquire the project.

“That’s where we learned the previous owner had acquired the land lease,” Lefler said. “We thought, ‘Maybe we can buy it,’ and we just started discussions.”

Earlier this year, Lefler and Hester formed a group of 11 Arkansas investors that pooled $3.7 million in an equity raise with a $50,000 minimum buy-in.

The group’s Xcited name is a nod to the X-Site entertainment center that operated at the Riverdale project in the mid-1990s. The name still evokes sweet recollections of laser tag and arcade action from Lefler and other investors.

“I have heard from so many people before and after buying the project,” he said. “So many people in the Riverdale, Hillcrest and Heights area care about the property.”

Pavilion Purchase

After selling their sizable stake in Breckenridge Village, the Flake family looked to reinvest profits in another commercial project and struck an $8.8 million deal for Pavilion in the Park. They were drawn to the landmark project’s solid rent roll built with a strong dose of medical offices anchored by Legacy Spine & Neurological Specialists.

“We loved the tenant mix,” said Jessica Flake Dearnley, CEO of the Little Rock commercial realty firm of Flake & Co.

Positioned as an 82,000-SF upscale retail center when construction began in 1984, Pavilion in the Park evolved into a mixed-use project.

These days, the biggest retail components are two local upscale clothiers: Baumans Fine Men’s Clothing and B. Barnett women’s boutique. A third retailer on the rent roll is Yarn Kandy, which has developed a robust online business thanks to a pandemic-induced resurgence among knitting hobbyists.

Trio’s Restaurant, a dining fixture at Pavilion in the Park, holds a long-standing presence dating back to 1986 and its incarnation as Trio’s Good Food To-Go. 

“The tenants love having Trio’s there for lunch and being able to stroll around the atrium to stretch their legs,” she said.

Having grown up in Little Rock during the 1980s, Dearnley has fond memories of attending open houses and fashion shows at Pavilion in the Park. She hopes to stage similar gatherings in its atrium, which can accommodate a crowd of 350.

“Once we get our arms around it, we’d love to be able to do events like that,” Dearnley said.

The new owners plan to repurpose a vacant 810-SF Centennial Bank branch supported by drive-through lanes as a coffee shop.

Dearnley has worked with tenants through quarterly merchants association meetings at past projects and hopes to collaborate with the businesses at Pavilion in the Park.

“We want to get to know them and what they want,” she said. “We’re all stakeholders, and we want them to be successful.”

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