Two big deals in 2021 at Little Rock’s Village at the Gateway project capped off a series of transactions valued at a combined $70.2 million.
Big Rock Development LLC, led by Russ Huckaby and Bob Francis, launched the nearly 60-acre project dominated by townhome-style apartments in October 2016.
“We’ve basically sold everything we’ve built out there,” said Francis, chief financial officer of Big Rock Development.
Those 443 units, a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans, sold for an average of nearly $160,000 each based on the $70.2 million valuation reflected on the deeds filed with the Pulaski County Circuit Clerk.
The sales began in December 2020 with a transaction valued at more than $22.6 million. Last year, four more transactions carried values of almost $20.4 million in March, $4.2 million in May, $3.7 million in September and nearly $19.2 million in November.
That last transaction is tied to phase seven of the project, which is still under construction. Work on the buildings that will house 120 units is expected to finish before fall.
The Walden Group of Jackson, New Jersey, led by Shraga Schorr, put together a pool of investors divided among 14 limited liability companies to buy all seven phases of the Village at the Gateway. Three different groups of LLCs took ownership of pieces of the project.
“What attracted them, I think, is this product is unique to Arkansas,” Francis said. “When we started, it was even more unique. People have tried to replicate it: townhomes that are more like houses, attached garage parking, vaulted ceilings, huge clubhouse and amenities without the sacrifice of having to mow your own lawn and take care of your own repairs.”
The tricked-out amenity package, which includes a 9,740-SF clubhouse and dog park, is akin to the latest upscale apartments. But each building resembles a single-family residence with duplex and triplex layouts that remove upstairs or downstairs neighbors from the equation.
The look of the buildings has been described as Colorado Craftsman, an updated take on retro residential with a Western theme that carries over to the landscaping and the blue spruce plantings.
The design is geared to tap into the growing market of younger and older residents who aren’t interested in ownership but want something different in rental housing.
Francis said The Walden Group was one of several prospective buyers who contacted Big Rock out of the blue about acquiring Village at the Gateway.
“They just approached us,” Francis said. “We had a number of people who kept approaching us, and we just sold to them.”
Of the original 59.6-acre property, Big Rock has sold all but 9.3 acres envisioned for future commercial development.
This land is divided into four adjoining parcels that lie along a line that runs from the southwest corner of Vimy Ridge Road and Big Rock Avenue south to Pleasant Hill Road and extends west along the north side of Pleasant Hill Road.
Batesville’s First Community Bank has remained a constant with construction lending on the different phases of Village at the Gateway.
“Their occupancy has still been strong and is close to 100%, and that’s the reason this buyer that bought the other phases has bought this last phase before it’s completed,” said Dale Cole, CEO of First Community.
The bank also is funding construction of phase eight, which will encompass 114 triplexes on 42 acres.
Backed with a $25.5 million First Community loan, work has begun to cut roads and clear land for the 342 units.
The site is part of a 264-acre tract that will allow the Village at the Gateway to expand westward. VD2 LLC, led by Huckaby, acquired the property in November 2020 for $1.1 million.
First Community’s connection to the Vimy Ridge Road property where the Village at the Gateway began predates Big Rock Development’s ownership.
The 59.6-acre tract was going to be the home of The Ridge Estates, a project led by John S. Williams and Nick McDaniel. But their plans for the 204-lot, single-family subdivision fell apart in the face of financial miscalculation.
After clearing the site and wading into the early utility and infrastructure work in 2007, the project came to a halt followed by defaults on a loan and special improvement bonds that triggered dual foreclosures in 2009.
The failed project was linked with a February 2007 bond issue of $1 million and an August 2005 mortgage of $1.2 million held by One Bank & Trust of Little Rock.
First Community Bank, trustee of the ill-fated $1 million bond issue, was left as the caretaker of the property after recovering it in 2010.
Big Rock’s purchase of the property in October 2016 for $1.3 million extricated investors in The Ridge Estates special improvement bonds.
“The bondholders were all made whole,” Cole said. “They didn’t get all their interest, but they did get all of their principal.”
Williams and McDaniel blamed unforeseen costs associated with utilities and infrastructure requirements by the city of Little Rock for the budgeting shortfall that loomed over The Ridge Estates.
The timing of that realization heading into the 2008 financial meltdown proved to be fiscally fatal for the movers behind the would-be development.
The project’s failure contributed to Williams’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2009 and McDaniel’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy in March 2012.