Local Malls Still Going Strong
If you own commercial & investment real estate, or any real estate for that matter, note this in your calendar—the Pulaski County Board of Equalization will begin meeting on August 1, 2016 to hear value appeals. To schedule an appointment with the board, call the Assessor’s Office (501.340.6170) between July 18, 2016 and August 15, 2016.
The proposed redevelopment of the Iberia Bank branch at the corner of Monroe Street into a Jimmy John’s restaurant failed. Planning and Development Department staff recommended denial and the Planning Commission also recommended denial. The Little Rock Board of Directors voted to confirm the recommendations of denial.
The Little Rock Board of Directors is planning August 16 as the date to reconsider Little Rock Planning Commission’s unanimously recommended denial of the rezoning to C-1 of the northwest corner of Cantrell Road and University Avenue. This corner is adjacent to the new Regions bank. Adjacent as in right next door. Little Rock Code of Ordinances states purpose and intent for all zoning uses. The code includes the statement that “the C-1neighborhood commercial district shall generally be located at arterial or collector street intersections and within walking district of residential areas.” This particular arterial street intersection did not have support from city staff or the Little Rock Planning Commission for C-1 zoning. One can observe that a Bank of America branch is located at the southwest corner of University and Kavanaugh and the aforementioned Regions Bank is smack between Bank of America & the corner where the C-1 zoning was requested. To me, this begs the question of what bank needs a location in the Heights.
For years now a variety of pundits and experts have been sounding clarion calls of the certain demise of malls. Much like the majority of the touts and claims of politicians during election season, this alleged demise is only partially true. Like any industry or business segment, there are some malls that are obsolete. Sometimes that obsolescence is physical, sometimes it is economic. Some can be resolved, some can’t. Some malls will fail. Others, market leaders, reinvest and change with the times. Little Rock saw University Mall fail, fall and vanish amidst bulldozers and dump trucks. Park Avenue, a mixed-use project of retail, restaurants and apartments emerged from the rubble. Other malls around the country are adapting in other ways. Fitness centers, f/k/a gyms, used to be anathema to merchants and malls. Gyms, offices and even apartments are being recruited for spaces that once may have sold furniture or apparel.
Little Rock and North Little Rock are fortunate to have two vibrant malls that continue to be relevant and are making intelligent and essential changes. McCain Mall Manager, Lisa Meyer, recently gave me a tour of her pride and joy. She, her team and Simon Property Group have made thoughtful investments. Adding more experiential business to the mix of businesses located at McCain Mall is helping bring more customer visits to the merchants selling wares. Regal Cinemas, Bar Louie and Taziki’s are some of the additions that are visible to the exterior of the mall and that draw non-shopping visitors who may decide to make a purchase while at the mall. Despite zombie-merchant Sears hulking over the west end, changes by Lisa’s team have patron visits to the mall up nearly 20% recently. Years of attention to detail, reinvestment, and changes such as these have helped McCain Mall remain near fully occupancy and be a performance leader among Simon Malls, in fact among all domestic malls. In Little Rock, Park Plaza Mall has demonstrated similar resilience. Occupancy has remained high. Local flavor has been increased in the food court with restaurants such as David’s Burgers. And Park Plaza has recently gone inside-out a little with the addition of Zoës Kitchen on the front of the mall.
There are several things malls do for a community that Internet shopping never will. A couple of those are that they create gathering places and employ our neighbors. In Forbes on July 21, Bryan Pearson wrote “as long as humans are hard-wired to connect and congregate, the core purpose of retail will not change. From the days of early civilization, people came to market not merely to buy bread and spices, but to socialize.” Also, malls are needed by mall walkers.
Often the occupancy of commercial real estate, especially office buildings, has elements of “musical chairs.” Back when Verizon ceased use of and then sold the former Alltel buildings a glut of office space came on the market. The owners and leasing team of Riverfront Plaza, as the five buildings are called, have done exceptional work in refilling the empty offices in the four buildings sold by Verizon. Some of those offices have been filled by new businesses. Some have been filled by the growth of businesses. Some of those offices have been filled by businesses changing addresses. Often when businesses move and leave their “chairs” opportunities are created for other businesses. One such move to Riverfront Plaza gave Bernhard TME Engineering some much needed elbow room. In turn, TME’s former digs on Evergreen have sold and are undergoing renovations. When work is finished, Harbor Environmental is to be the new occupant. Harbor’s move is connected to the sale earlier this year of the building at 8114 Cantrell. The buyer of that building will be moving from The Centre at Ten. I’ve learned recently that the entire 4th floor of The Centre at Ten is coming available. So, for now, there is an available chair on Highway 10. It probably won’t be available long. The music starts as quickly as it stops.
Tips and suggestions, well most of them anyway, are appreciated. Hope you found something interesting in the column this month. Check back again next month for the things that didn’t get included here this time and that pop up between now and then.