Icon (Close Menu)

Logout

Reverential Renovation: Griffin Crafts $35M Deal for Treasured Boyle BuildingLock Icon

6 min read

Arkansas constitutional officers have the legal authority to strike their own deals for workplace accommodations. Attorney General Tim Griffin flexed that power in historic fashion with a lease-purchase agreement for Little Rock’s Boyle Building.

Described as a $35 million development, the public-private venture Griffin struck with Moses Tucker Partners represents a momentous intervention for a neglected 12-story landmark.

“All of us involved share a reverence for George Mann [who designed it, the state Capitol and other notable projects] and recognition that this is one of the most beautiful buildings in the state of Arkansas and deserves to be treated as such,” Griffin said. “We all agree it’s a treasure.”

The effort now underway will restore offices to the upper 11 floors and retail to the ground floor. That traditional layout could be augmented with a new twist, a reimagined basement accessible from the sidewalk.

 

 

Boyle Building, 501 Main Street
Boyle Building, 501 Main Street (Michael Pirnique)

 

“We have to have a place where people want to hang out,” Griffin said of creating a below ground destination for dining and drink. He envisions coffee and food among the retail options for the ground floor supported by outdoor seating.

Beginning as early as next year, 160 AG staffers could begin moving from 10 floors in the Tower Building at 323 Center St. into 10 floors at the southwest corner of Main Street and Capitol Avenue.

“When you’re doing office design for a lot of people, there’s nothing better than designing from a blank space,” Griffin said of the open, collaborative floor plan.

The building’s fifth floor will be marketed for lease, ideally to law enforcement or court-related tenants.

The attorney general’s office will lease its space for a minimum of five years to allow Moses Tucker Partners to deploy historic tax credits to help fund the long-envisioned, never fulfilled rehab project.

The annual lease begins at more than $1.6 million and escalates to $1.8 million in year five. The attorney general’s office will pay $1.4 million in its final year at the Tower Building in 2024.

After five years, the state will have the option to acquire the property for between $35 million to $39 million.

The AG’s office quantifies the option price as the projected fair market value determined using a 5% capitalization rate.

“The budget from the state’s perspective is set,” Griffin said. “We know what we are going to pay for rent and what we are going to pay for the building.”

 

The attorney general’s office has operated off the Capitol grounds since it was elbowed out of the Justice Building nearly 40 years ago by office expansions for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

 

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin has aspirations for the Boyle Building beyond renovating the 12-story landmark for his office’s use. He wants the multimillion-dollar makeover to create a vibrant destination for downtown Little Rock.
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin has aspirations for the Boyle Building beyond renovating the 12-story landmark for his office’s use. He wants the multimillion-dollar makeover to create a vibrant destination for downtown Little Rock. (Karen E. Segrave)

 

Then-Attorney General Steve Clark moved the office into private-sector space in the Heritage West Building at 201 E. Markham St in 1986. A couple of years later, the office moved six blocks away to the Tower Building.

An initial lease of three floors grew to 10 floors over the years. The Tower Building lease expires in August 2024.

“We’ll be nimble” in terms of moving to the Boyle Building, Griffin said. “It depends on how construction unfolds.”

During a walking interview on a recent visit to the first and second floors, Griffin sounded like an excited developer wading into a labor of love.

“The inside is going to be a marriage of the grandeur of the past with modern office space,” he said. “I’m going to be involved in as many details as the architect will let me. I think we have an obligation, a responsibility to take care of what is there, the design and history.”

Griffin has plans to bring an “X” factor to the property akin to the iconic bull statue on Wall Street, but he’s keeping it under wraps for now.

“I know what the X is, but I’m not telling you,” Griffin said.

The same goes for a name change for the building. “Stay tuned,” he said.

 

The office tower was originally known as the State National Bank Building when it opened more than 110 years ago with 11 stories: the tallest building in Arkansas at the time. The 12th floor was added in 1949.

 

The historic Boyle Building features terra-cotta flourishes on its glazed brick exterior.
The historic Boyle Building features terra-cotta flourishes on its glazed brick exterior. (Karen E. Segrave)

 

The bank went into receivership during World War I, which resulted in a December 1916 sale to the Boyle Building Co., led by Johnny Boyle.

The legendary Little Rock cotton commodities trader and a savvy real estate investor  took ownership of the building for $142,000 cash and the assumption of a $133,000 mortgage.

That $275,000 investment is the equivalent of $7.9 million in 2023. More recent sales have fallen short of that figure as proposed redevelopments of condos, apartments and a hotel failed to materialize.

The Boyle Building was earmarked for redevelopment as a 64-unit condominium tower after it was purchased for $600,000 in December 2004 by Tower Investments of Woodland, California.

Main Street Lofts LLC, an investment group led by Scott Reed, bought the property as part of a $1.5 million deal in August 2012 with an eye toward an apartment redevelopment.

Next up was Chi Hotel Group LLC, led by Jacob and Jasen Chi, which paid $4.6 million for the vacant building in March 2014.

“They paid too much,” said Jimmy Moses, chairman of Moses Tucker Partners. “We agreed to pay what we did for it only because that’s what it was going to take to get the building moving forward. Quite honestly, it’s way overpriced for what we paid for it.

“There was at least one other serious run made at the building, and I know because we made it. That was pre-COVID. But it was for a lot less money and that ultimately didn’t work out.”

 

Moses Tucker purchased the building for $5.3 million in August, three months after Griffin rang up Moses to inquire about the disposition of the property.

 

The interior of the 91,000-SF office tower is in need of some much needed TLC to overcome years of neglect and restore some of its former glory.
The interior of the 91,000-SF office tower is in need of some much needed TLC to overcome years of neglect and restore some of its former glory. (Karen E. Segrave)

 

“That’s when Tim called me and asked if we had bought the building,” Moses said. “That triggered this deal. We had it under contract. We didn’t have any specific tenant in mind when we put it under contract.”

Griffin also gave thought to striking a lease-purchase deal for the adjoining 63,000-SF M.M. Cohn Building and melding its five floors with the Boyle Building. The configuration would have allowed the attorney general’s office to spread across the second through fifth floors of the two buildings.

But the expense of joining the buildings and constructing an atrium to funnel more natural light into the M.M. Cohn Building made the twin development cost-prohibitive.

“Tim deserves a lot of credit,” Moses said. “A lot of people wouldn’t take this on, with the condition of the building and historic makeup of the building.

“The biggest factor in all of this was the damage to the interior. The building wasn’t properly secured, so water intrusion was a real problem. The elements over many years of vacancy and neglect put it in bad shape.”

Griffin is embracing the challenge of returning the historic building to its former glory and breathing new life into a long-dormant piece of downtown Little Rock.

“This is the beauty of a public-private partnership,” he said of the lease-purchase deal. “We’ve got the money, and Jimmy has the expertise.”

Send this to a friend