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Simmons Bank Shouting Name From Rooftops

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George Makris, CEO of Simmons First National Corp., stands atop the state's tallest building, the Simmons Tower, in 2015. ( Karen E. Segrave)

Verizon Arena in North Little Rock officially became Simmons Bank Arena on Oct. 3, marking the latest effort by the Pine Bluff bank to build brand visibility in central Arkansas.

The Simmons name first landed on the Little Rock skyline in 2014, after the acquisition of Metropolitan National Bank, which had naming rights to the tallest office building in the state.

Then in 2018, Simmons Bank bought the 12-story building and adjacent five-story parking deck that housed the former headquarters of Acxiom at 601 E. Third St. in Little Rock. Since then, Simmons has outgrown the 188,460-SF building.

The glass office building houses about 400 employees “and more are on the way,” said Stephen C. Massanelli, Simmons executive vice president and chief administrative officer, in an email response to questions from Arkansas Business. “With our growth, after one year in the building, we’re already at our three-year estimated occupancy level.”

He said there is space for only about 70 additional employees.

“We’re evaluating purchase and lease alternatives to accommodate the growth,” he said via email. But he declined to comment further on where Simmons was looking for sites or the timeline for when a decision will be made.

Meanwhile, the building is being used as a recruiting tool. “The amenities of a secured parking deck, wellness center, cafe providing multiple meal options for breakfast and lunch” and its park attract the attention of company recruits and improve relationships with the current employees, Massanelli said. “The building’s location is also convenient to entertainment and dining venues, nearby hotels and a short commute to the airport.”

Simmons First National Corp. also has operations in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

“We continue to increase our banking operations in new areas of the country,” he said. But many of the bank’s central services will remain in Arkansas. “Between the Simmons Tower, the River Market location and now Simmons Bank Arena, Simmons’ presence in central Arkansas is very visible,” Massanelli said. “We are committed to growing and investing in the state.”

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As of Sept. 30, the financial holding company had total assets of about $17.8 billion. Through the first nine months of 2019, Simmons had a net income of $185.1 million. For the same period in 2018, Simmons’ net income was $160.1 million.

Even though Simmons is growing in central Arkansas, it plans to keep its corporate headquarters in Pine Bluff, where it has about 300 employees, Massanelli said.

“We were founded in Pine Bluff and have a commitment to the community,” he said.

Lighting the Way

When Simmons bought the Acxiom building in March 2017 for $25 million, Simmons said it wanted to create the best billboard in central Arkansas. The building features an LED lighting scheme that typically highlights the property in red lights at night.

Massanelli said the goal of the LED lights was to create and maintain the Simmons brand. “We’re not aware of another building in central Arkansas and maybe the state that has a programmable LED light system” as advanced as the one Simmons has, Massanelli said. Simmons can display any color with the LED system.

Simmons has created displays for holidays and events, such as breast cancer awareness and prostate awareness.

“We continue to see mentions and posts on various social media platforms, and it’s almost weekly that I receive a text with a photo of the building from a friend or business acquaintance complimenting us on the LED lights,” said Massanelli.

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Though officially christened Simmons Bank Arena last October, signage on the facility's exterior is still in the midst of being installed. ( Tre Baker)

The acquisition of the Acxiom building also helped Simmons transition from tenant to owner. After the purchase of Metropolitan National Bank in 2013 and Deltic Trust & Bank in 2014, Simmons had 165 employees working in the 40-story Simmons Tower in downtown Little Rock.

Simmons has kept a bank branch inside the building, but the other employees have moved to the company’s River Market building.

Simmons spent $2.1 million on branch reorganization, “mainly related to the relocation of our Little Rock corporate offices,” George Makris, CEO of Simmons First National Corp., said in a July 23 investor conference call transcribed by Seeking Alpha.

Simmons has kept the naming rights to the tower. Massanelli said Simmons has a multiyear arrangement with the building’s owner for the tower signage. Massanelli declined to say when the contract ends.

The Arena

In November 2018, Simmons said it had acquired the naming rights of Verizon Arena in a $10.5 million deal.

“After discussing among our leadership, marketing and business development groups, we felt this was another wonderful opportunity for creating and increasing brand awareness,” Massanelli said. “The proximity of the River Market building and the Simmons Bank Arena is just an added bonus.”

Renovations to the 18,000-seat arena include exterior siding, stainless steel concession counters and HVAC upgrades. Simmons Bank Arena signage also is being installed, Caroline Makris, a spokeswoman for Simmons Bank, said via email.

She said the renovations cost around $2 million and the operator of the publicly owned building, the Multi-Purpose Civic Center Facility Board for Pulaski County, is paying for the improvements. Simmons’ purchase of the naming rights, however, helped pay for the renovations, Makris said.

The arena also has added the Simmons Bank customer entrance, Makris said. “With the flash of a Simmons Bank debit or credit card, customers who have concert tickets can now enter through an exclusive entrance at select events, saving them time.”

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Simmons Bank turns on the red lights on the former Acxiom Building the bank acquired in 2018. ( Tre Baker)
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