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Ownership Change Launches Midtown Commercial ProjectsLock Icon

5 min read

Dallas developers have provided a peek at their redevelopment plans for one of Little Rock’s most prominent commercial corners.

The $44 million purchase of the northwest corner of Interstate 630 and University Avenue by Provident Realty Advisors Inc. 18 months ago has already led to a shiny new medical office building that opened last month. More new construction is on the way.

Provident is calling its project the District in Midtown. It’s envisioned as an 11-building, 57,120-SF array of restaurant-dominated retailers plus two hotels sporting 197 rooms. No names for now on who will be setting up shop.

“The primary use is going to be restaurant heavy, and several we’re working with will be new to the market for Little Rock,” said Scott Morway of Provident Realty Advisors.

One of the hotels is planned to rise on undeveloped land between the 212,906-SF Doctors Building at 500 S. University Ave. and the 69,734-SF Midtown Medical Park Building at 6119 Midtown Ave.

Most of the transformation will take place to the south on 16.2 acres that will be accessed by a realigned Sixth Street from a proposed stoplight at University Avenue.

“The property is in such a prominent position,” Morway said. “We’re not going to go the cheap route. There’s going to be a massive amount of infrastructure work.

“There’s going to be some premier buildings in the middle, and we want to make sure those buildings stick out.”

A dozen new buildings on the drawing board will replace the 56,060-SF Doctors Plaza at 600 S. McKinley St., the 162,082-SF former Sears store at 600 S. University Ave. and the 14,137-SF former Sears Auto & Tire Center at 602 S. University Ave.

Nine proposed building sites are marked along the perimeter bordering the interstate right of way and University Avenue. Two more are planned to the north of a traffic circle at the heart of the site plan, where Sears now stands. A 107-room hotel is penciled in where Doctors Plaza now sits.

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Demolishing these buildings and the auto center will start the redevelopment ball rolling, followed by dumping and grading tons of fill material to raise the elevation and make the property more level.

The site work is expected to begin before year’s end after planning review and the necessary zoning approval at City Hall.

“There’s a bunch of site work to be done before we can begin building,” Morway said. “We hope to get zoning completed by midsummer. Hopefully by the fourth quarter, you will see the southern portion of the site undergoing change.”

Meanwhile, to the East
Provident Realty’s reimagined southern half of its five-building, 30-acre purchase in October 2016 has produced its first commercial fruit off-site, a mile to the east. The group’s redevelopment plans set in motion construction of a $16 million medical office building by a former tenant, Arkansas Specialty Orthopaedics.

The recent opening of the 80,000-SF project at 800 Fair Park Blvd. presages the pending merger of OrthoArkansas and Arkansas Specialty. The combination will result in the largest orthopedics group in the state.

Signage on the three-story building reflects the coming change.

“The OrthoArkansas name will remain after the merger, which we hope to be complete by June 1,” said Ken Beasley, CEO for now of two groups set to become one.

The 19 doctors in Arkansas Specialty will join OrthoArkansas to create a 40-physician group with two offices in Little Rock and one each in North Little Rock, Conway, Benton, Arkadelphia and Camden.

Two floors are finished out in the new building, which can accommodate nine-10 doctors. The physician capacity grows to 14 if the third floor is built out.

“We haven’t decided if we’re going to lease that out or not,” Beasley said.

Provident Realty’s redevelopment plans didn’t include Arkansas Specialty, which occupied the entire Doctors Plaza. The group was put on notice their lease wouldn’t be renewed and that put a landlord-mandated exodus in play.

Arkansas Specialty needed to vacate its space by March 31. The Arkansas Specialty staff is still getting settled in its new digs after hustling to make the deadline.

“We don’t have any pictures on the wall, but we’re open for business,” Beasley said. “Overall, it’s a much nicer building, and we’re congruent with the group’s reputation for patient care.”

The bigger building allowed the group to expand its physical and occupational therapy areas to more comfortably accommodate patients. New MRI equipment and a CT scanner are part of the new furnishings in the new location.

“It’s a beautiful building, and we’re certainly proud of it,” said Clay Gordon, vice president at Little Rock’s Kinco Constructors, which oversaw construction.

The fast-tracked project covered a year from when ground was broken until a temporary certificate of occupancy was granted last month.

“The biggest challenge was the schedule, making sure we got them in” by March 31, said Jack Wallace, project manager for Kinco.

“The schedule was the biggest hurdle, and we knew that on the front end. It helped our decision-making process.”

Doctors Slowly Took Over Southland Plaza Tenant Roster
Doctors Plaza opened in 1976 as Southland Plaza, a multi-tenant office building. Travelers Insurance and Southwestern Bell Telephone numbered among its early commercial residents.

Betty Donovan, longtime property manager for Little Rock Medical Associates, said Arkansas Specialty Orthopaedics started operating in the building as a three-physician practice that leased half a floor.

By 2008, the group had signed a 10-year lease for the entire building after LRMA invested $1.5 million to renovate it.

“They were a good tenant but high maintenance,” said Donovan, who continues management work for Provident Realty Advisors since the Dallas firm entered the ownership picture. “I hate to see them go.”

Betty Donovan, longtime property manager for the now-vacant Doctors Plaza Building, reminisces about the history of the Midtown development. (Karen E. Segrave)

Southland/Doctors Plaza was part of the Little Rock Medical Associates development that originally included Doctors Hospital, which stood on the west side of the Doctors Building until it was demolished in 2014.

The hospital went dark in the years following the 1997 acquisition of Columbia Doctors Hospital by St. Vincent Health System.

Donovan said the new owners don’t have any redevelopment plans for the Midtown Medical Park Building, a 2015 addition, or the Doctors Building.

“This building is 50 years old, but it doesn’t look it,” she said of the Doctors Building. “I’m proud of it.”

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