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  • As printed in The Daily Record

Benton/Bryant and Conway See Retail Growth

By the time you read this there will have been a ground breaking at 19960 I-30 in Bryant for a new McLarty Nissan automobile dealership. Not long ago this property was a mobile home dealership with six-10 units on the lot. Now it will be home to 100+ new cars and trucks. McLarty will be joining several Landers automobile dealers in the area and the high-volume Everett Buick GMC just up the highway. Some of the smart kids tell me that Everett is opening another dealership across the highway from the Buick GMC lot. Word is that it will be an Infinity dealership. A few years back the Everetts bought the Infinity store in Little Rock.They promptly turned on the high-volume-sales spigot and changed the number of Infinity sales from the tens to the hundreds. (By the way, tens and hundreds are some of that Common Core stuff. I know. I get to help with second grade homework.)

Almost next door to the aforementioned new Nissan store is a giant Tonka truck playground. Well, not really. It is actually another new shopping center. Yes, sir/ma’am, Saline County is getting another one of those sales tax-generating, retail sales-making and property tax-paying investments. They’ve got great big yellow trucks—bulldozers, graders and whatnot—all over the land next to Landers used cars. This new center, Benton Plaza, I think, is the name, will join the Hurricane Creek Village shopping center and Alcoa Exchange shopping center located along I-30 at Alcoa Road. City, county and state investments in public infrastructure have facilitated the opening of these merchants and helped keep traffic flowing.

I’m not in a position to have the data to measure the amount of new sales taxes that have been generated at these centers since they opened, or how much sales tax the latest shopping center will generate, let alone how much sales tax the automobile sales and service generate. And then there are the real estate taxes each of these properties pays to Saline County. Seems like maybe the tax base is broader with all this activity than without. And since Saline County is one of the most popular counties in Arkansas for new residents, maybe the most popular, that broader tax base is helpful in creating some new public infrastructure, investing in new public schools and keeping pesky potholes patched.

Also by the time you read this column, the new Academy Sports + Outdoors should be open in Conway. It is part of the Lewis Crossing shopping center. The whole center won’t be open until next year. Academy has a scheduled an opening date, though, of September 30. They’ll be up and running in time for gun deer season and for duck season. If you are one of the first 150 people in line on October 7, you’ll receive a mystery gift card. Each gift card will have a value of between $20 and $500.

Some of my friends in Maumelle suggested to me that they expect many Maumellians to start shopping the Academy Sports + Outdoors, and other shops, in Lewis Crossing, rather than drive to Little Rock to shop. The City of Maumelle stepped up and found a way to fund the extension of Counts Massie Road. Waiting on third-party development of the road hadn’t worked and didn’t appear to be a winning strategy. Next is the task of securing more money and finishing plans to bring an interchange to Interstate 40 via the closed rest stop area. The road extension and new interchange will make it easier for traffic to leave Maumelle and go in either direction on Interstate 40. Sam’s Club is another retailer opening at Lewis Crossing in Conway. That Sam’s Club might also save lots of people the trip into Little Rock to shop. Last news on an opening date for Sam’s Club was winter of 2016. If you know the actual planned date, shoot me an email and I’ll update this column.

How much sales tax has come to Little Rock thanks to the Bass Pro Shops and Outlets of Little Rock at Gateway Town Center? That’s not public information. A reasonable estimate can be made. It’s a lot. The new real estate taxes are public record and available by checking the assessments by the County Assessor. The TIF bet that then-Mayor Jim Dailey and others at the City of Little Rock made a few years back seems to have paid off. Word on the street is that current Mayor Mark Stodola and others on the City Board of Directors may have to decide between adhering to the much-lauded Midtown Design Overlay District, or make a rather large exception to that DOD to allow for the construction of a Costco. Many folks are of the opinion that a Costco would draw some shoppers, and their dollars, back to Little Rock.

The ultimate use of the Sears property (at least at this writing) has not been fully disclosed. And even if it is all decided, I’m not authorized to share any news yet. Any redevelopment of the now-closed Sears store is almost bound to be an improvement. To me this big flat site with a great big retail building already built on it makes a better site for a new big retail building than trying to build a big retail building on the side of a wooded hill like some amateur real estate developers have been speculating will happen. I invite you to read the Daily Record next month and see if there is news to share regarding the site of the closed Sears.

To the great disappointment of some, I guess not as many as there used to be, the only remaining Luby’s cafeteria in Arkansas closed last month. The location on West Markham Street is now vacant and awaiting a new occupant. I’ll bet we could figure out a contest to see who guesses the next business correctly.

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.

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