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Largest Construction Projects Top $1.3 Billion

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The dollar value of large construction projects in Arkansas totaled nearly $1.4 billion, a one-year decline of 4.3 percent. It marks the fourth consecutive year the total has waned.

Despite the decline, the census of projects valued at $3 million-plus grew: 130 compared with 104 a year ago.

(Download the list of Largest Commercial Projects as a PDF for free or click here to purchase a spreadsheet version.)

Bob Shell, CEO of Little Rock’s Baldwin & Shell Construction Co., wonders if the declining trend will continue. Shell said the volume of new commercial building permits around the state was down.

“We’re not seeing a lot of activity here in central Arkansas,” he said. “Northwest is some better, but it’s slow all over the state. There’s a lack of retail and lack of office.

“The school building has dropped off some from where it was. It’s just pretty slow, especially in private development. People are afraid of the economy and the uncertainty of tax changes. I’m expecting everyone to sit tight and not do a whole lot.”

Education-related construction was the dominant category in this year’s list, with 53 projects split between college and K-12 jobs. Two high school projects made the top five in 2012.

The second phase of the Fayetteville High School (No. 3 at $46.1 million) is the largest active job in Arkansas by Nabholz Construction Corp. of Conway. The $41 million up-grade and expansion of Greene County Tech in Paragould (No. 4) is the largest undertaking on the list by Baldwin & Shell.

Nabholz CEO Bill Hannah expects the K-12 market will become much slower as the wave of state-mandated facilities upgrades recedes.

“So much of the construction that has been funded to improve schools has been spent,” Hannah said. “We’ll probably never see what it was over the past six years.”

College-related construction accounted for 28 entries totaling more than $312 million, while K-12 tallied 25 projects valued at more than $305 million.

Apartments made a strong showing with 13 projects totaling $207 million. A dozen health care-related jobs added up to $354 million. That includes the No. 1 project, NEA Baptist Health System’s medical complex in Jonesboro. (See related story here.)

William Clark, president of Clark Contractors LLC of Little Rock, said his firm priced a number of hospitality projects last year and hasn’t seen any new ones during the last 120 to 180 days.

Only two hotel projects made the 2012 list: The $10.8 million Little Rock Residence Inn by Clark Contractors and the $5 million remodel of the Hot Springs Ramada Inn by Wade Abernathy Inc. of Mount Ida.

“It seems like it has slowed down the last few months as far as projects coming up for bid,” Clark said.

“I don’t know if that’s a reflection of people waiting for the elections to get over or if it is just a lull. I haven’t heard any indications of people thinking the economy is slowing down.”

“There’s more corporate work than there has been. There wasn’t any corporate work two years ago. I take that as a good sign.”

Little Rock was home to 27 commercial projects valued at $3 million-plus, the most of any city on this year’s list.

Supported by collegiate construction, Fayetteville (18 projects) and Jonesboro (11 projects) were the only other cities to post double-digit entries.

The $30 million expansion and renovation of Vol Walker Hall (No. 5) by Baldwin & Shell topped the list for projects at the University of Arkansas and colleges around the state.

Bob Shell expects the job to be completed in time for fall classes in 2013 despite running into some geological surprises: more rock than sample drilling indicated.

“It’s going to be beautiful when we get through,” he said.

Vol Walker is among a dozen projects totaling nearly $175 million on the Fayetteville campus.

Three private-sector student housing projects under con-struction near the UA campus add up to $75 million: Sterling Frisco, No. 6 at $28.5 million; The Vue, No. 11 at $25 million; and The Domain, No. 16 at $22 million.

The $25 million Humanities-Social Sciences project (No. 11) is the biggest project under construction on the Arkansas State University campus. (See related story, Page 16.)

Four cities each had five projects in the list: Conway, Jacksonville, North Little Rock and Searcy. Two others, Hot Springs and Batesville, have four entries.

A trio of cities, Bentonville, Rogers and Paragould, accounted for three $3 million-plus projects.

“We think there is a little bit of an air of optimism,” said Bill Hannah of Nabholz. “We support that even though our backlog isn’t as substantial as it was going into 2012.

“Our backlog is comprised of more small and medium-sized work, not large projects. There aren’t as many mega-projects out there.”

Nabholz led this year’s list with 25 entries, followed by Clark Contractors and CDI Contractors LLC of Little Rock with nine projects each.

Baldwin & Shell had eight projects while East-Harding Inc. of Little Rock registered seven.

Three companies posted six entries each: Crossland Construction Co. of Columbus, Kan., Kinco Constructors LLC of Little Rock and Tate General Contractors Inc. of Jonesboro.

With political uncertainties somewhat resolved from the Nov. 6 elections, Hannah believes some of the wait-and-see investors sitting on the sidelines will make moves to launch projects.

“We’re optimistic going into 2013 but not overzealous,” Hannah said. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”

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