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  • As printed in The Daily Record

Large-Scale Building Sites In Small Supply

After last month’s column with the question of where to find 50,000 or more square feet of office space, I received a call from, and subsequently had a chance to visit in person with, Larry Jacimore. Larry shared that his building at 610 President Clinton Avenue could be a close match to the 50,000 square foot question. What is now the Jacimore Building is approximately 48,000 square feet in total. It is mostly old growth solid timber construction in the center, with some later portions composed of cinder blocks and steel. The property began as a harness-making shop for D. R. Wing around 1832. Subsequently the Little Rock Foundry and Machine Shops opened on the site in 1866. The foundry manufactured steam engines, boilers, sawmills, cotton gins, steam pumps and pipe fittings. Several expansions over the decades brought what was once two buildings together with some additions to become one. For a good portion of the 20th Century, and before the River Market District, the resulting building was home to J.T. Lloyd Sporting Goods Company. The current Jacimore Building is home to Data File Storage.

The Jacimore Building is not move-in ready. The 19th-century-industrial feel of the building is cool, however, it lacks necessary features to meet current building codes to be occupied by people. Like many other buildings in downtown Little Rock, it is a candidate for redevelopment. If there is still some steam left in the apartment and hotel development downtown, perhaps this building is a better candidate for that, than for office space.

Some of the downtown Little Rock redevelopment that has been on-again-off-again is purported to be back on again. After out-of-state developer Scott Reed and some of his local partners stalled on redevelopment of Main Street and Capitol Avenue buildings, several Little Rock investors have come together with a substantial roster of experienced partners to give at least one building another go. Rock Capital Real Estate announced intentions to purchase the Hall-Davidson Building at 201 W. Capitol and develop a boutique hotel. This would be within a block of the planned-and-delayed Aloft Hotel at the corner of Capitol & Main.

The redevelopment of Main Street seems to have brought with it a resurgence in panhandling and petty crime. Thanks to a court decision last fall panhandling is legal, having been ruled as protected under the First Amendment. Last month the Downtown Little Rock Partnership hired ambassadors to, in part, help assist people in dealing with panhandlers. Little Rock is the latest of many cities around the nation, including North Little Rock, to enlist such a program.

Along the 400 block of Main Street the Tech Park is coming along nicely both in construction progress and in attracting tenants to the buildings. The Tech Park has also attracted some late-night visitors who’ve been taking TVs, tools and assorted items. This would be just another case of you-can’t-have-anything-nice …

As noted above, last month we touched on the question of finding 50,000 square feet of office space. Let’s pretend for a minute that a retailer wants a 50,000 square foot store, or even 20,000 square feet for that matter. Where could you put that? That question gets especially tough if, like most sizeable retailers, they want to be at an interstate interchange. There are no currently available buildings with 50,000 square feet and only a couple each in Little Rock and North Little Rock that are even 20,000 square feet. The answer is that a new development or a redevelopment is necessary in order to meet such a need. The closed Sears location at I-630 and University Ave. is a fairly obvious redevelopment location. K-Mart on Rodney Parham is another property that seems destined for change. The fact is, though, neither is large enough to accommodate the size and type of modern retail & mixed-use development that is of interest to both tenants and patrons. The popular formula today is being called “experiential.” Broad mixes of uses such as restaurants, entertainment, hospitality, retail, office or multi-unit-housing are popular. As more and more people want to do their shopping from their kitchen table, it becomes more important that retail centers be community centers. Activities, performances and recreation are elements of experiences bringing people out of their houses (hopefully not in their ‘jamas) and bringing them together; like projects with multiple uses that typically require large sites, often 50 acres or more. Potential locations of that size in Little Rock and located on one of the interstates are few.

Related to 50-acre mixed-use projects, since writing in last month’s column that I’d heard no word on construction at Bank of the Ozarks new campus, I have since seen the site plan that is proposed to the city for approval. That site plan has a hotel and other uses on it to complement the corporate campus and provide amenities. Construction may be underway before you know it.

The Broadway Bridge is supposed to open any day now; perhaps by the time you read this. On the topic of bridges, it has been mentioned before that a bridge across the Arkansas River somewhere west of the Interstate 430 Bridge might make some sense. The coming addition of the Bank of the Ozarks corporate campus, the continued growth along Chenal Parkway and the Highway Ten corridor, and no sign that people are shying away from commuting in from the next county, means more traffic on Highway Ten. Rather than widen the I-430 bridge (or the I-30 bridge for that matter) how about building a new bridge, or two? More connectivity makes for a more connected community. Self-driving cars aren’t going to reduce traffic volumes as long as there’s only one person in each self-driving car. All these people going on about how self-driving cars are just around the corner probably believed in that supposedly paperless-office that was supposed to be here 20 years ago.

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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