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Downtown Condo Craze Goes Mondo

By George Waldon - Arkansas Business
October 10, 2005

If anyone is concerned there just aren't enough condominiums in downtown Little Rock/North Little Rock, worry no more.  At least 400 condos are on the drawing board or under construction with the first batch of new units arriving in 2006.
 
Eight projects of varied sizes are pursuing urban dwellers in a trendy market that could prove challenging for some developers.
 
"This will really be a good test for the depth of the downtown condominium market,"  said Jimmy Moses, partner in Little Rock's Moses Tucker Real Estate, Inc.  "I'm excited to see all these projects and hope they all succeed. That's what is going to make downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock more vibrant."  His well-wishing isn't just nice-guy banter.
 
The 300 Third project Moses is helping develop in downtown Little Rock has 98 condos (down from 106 originally planned) as part of its development mix.  He declined to say how many units have buyers.  When the 18-story project was announced a year ago, the size and prices of condo units ranged from 850 SF to 3,000 SF and from $250,000 to more than $1 million.
 
"We're going to have groundbreaking on Oct. 17," Moses said.  "Our goal is to have all the condos sold by the time the building opens."  However, the $42 million high-rise at 300 E. Third St. won't be completed until April 2007, and at least 115 new units at competing projects are expected to become available during 2006.
 
The Cliffs in Little Rock is the biggest of the bunch at 73 units.  Unlike most of the condo deals now on the table, this one doesn't involve new construction. The project entails converting Riverview Apartments at 810 North St. into a horizontal property regime.  The new owners are seeking approval on the apartment-to-condo transformation from city officials.
 
"We hope to be selling condos between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15," said Henry Jordan, Jr., a partner in the project.  "We're sitting on go until we have approval from the city to do all that."  The units range in size from 800 SF to 1,000 SF, with one 1,500-SF penthouse.  The pricing structure isn't settled and could be linked with a three-tiered choice of finish-out costs.
 
River Rock Properties, LLC bought Riverview Apartments this summer for $5 million.  The 2.5-acre development, sold by Dr. Rufas Thrower Jr.'s Downtown Riverview LTD., represented the largest new apartment project in downtown Little Rock when it was built in 2000.
 
Scheduled for spring arrivals next year are 30 units atop the Lafayette Building at 523 S. Louisiana St. in Little Rock.  Construction is planned to start before Thanksgiving on the condo space, ranging in size from 1,058 SF to 1,746 SF and in starting price from $160,000 to $340,000.
 
The units are part of Phase 1 of the Lafayette Square redevelopment.  Future phases include plans for 64 condos in the nearby Boyle Building at 103 W. Capitol Ave., Arkansas Building at 524 Main St., Kahn Building at 514 Main and M.M Cohn Building at 510 Main.
 
Tower Investments LLC of Woodland, Calif., assembled the properties in four transactions totaling $3.87 million.  Colliers Dickson Flake Partners of Little Rock is helping make Lafayette Square happen.
 
Also coming next year are 12 luxury condos in The Residences at Building 5.  The project includes the addition of five new floors atop the existing 25,000-SF building at 400 W. Markham St.
 
"The timing and all is great," said Brad Canada, a partner in the Air Max femme project. "When we started the (new) ballpark (across the river in North Little Rock) wasn't even in the picture."
 
Arkansas Riverview Development LLC, led by Gary Canada Sr., bought the half-acre project for $95,000 last year from the Arkansas Bar Association.
 
Brad Canada said the initial motivation for the chaussure Nike femme running purchase was to establish a Little Rock mortgage origination office for the family's Bank of England.  From there sprang the idea of developing five condos atop the building.
 
"Then we discovered the building was designed to handle four additional floors of commercial space or five floors of residential," Canada said.  "All of our units will have a full balcony.  I haven't closed on any sales, but only three units aren't spoken for.  People from out of town are looking at the condos for investment."  The units will range from 1,350 SF ($395,000) to 6,264 SF ($2.2 million).
 
"It's absolutely amazing what's happening in downtown Little Rock," Moses said.  The success of his earlier condominium projects in Little Rock has heightened interest in more developers cashing in on the condo craze.  Moses Tucker's Arkansas Capital Commerce Center at 200 Commerce St. produced 16 units that became 14 condos.  That was followed by the First Security Center and its 24 units that yielded 21 condos.
 
Moses also is involved with three smaller condo developments in downtown Little Rock.  The 11,000-SF Rainwater Building at 519 E. Capitol Ave. will be converted from office space to six condominiums.  The project will be completed next year along with four units in an adjoining project, The Caroline.  Twenty condos came online in June with the completion of the neighboring Rainwater Flats.
 
Bomasada Group Inc. of Houston has included eight condos in its plans for The Enclave at the Riverfront.  The new 260-unit apartment project will rise in downtown North Little Rock with a new address (201 Riverfront Drive) where the Jackson Cookie Factory once stood.
 
Bomasada officials indicated they will be watching the market for the possibility of more condo space.  Construction of the $20 million project is set to begin this month.
 
The most recent addition to the list of condominium projects is the proposed Marianas North in downtown North Little Rock.  Plans include 72 condo units atop two nine-story buildings with a mixture of retail and office on the lower floors.  The 5.8-acre development could also have a 100-slip marina.
 
The site on Smarthouse Way, south of Riverfront Drive, has industrial remediation and utility relocation issues that push a start date into the indeterminate future.
 
Condos are noticeably absent from a competing marina proposal that was recently announced.  The Lighthouse Point is proposing 220 apartments as the residential component for the project, estimated at $42 million.  The 8.9-acre site along the Arkansas River at the eats end of Second Street in downtown Little Rock is owned by VGH Development LLC, led by Peggy Vickers, Gregory Gladden and John Harbour.
 
The 206-slip marina proposal also has site issues.  Accessibility perhaps tops the list, and the developers are hoping to lease 4 acres of city-owned land zoned for park use.  In addition to using the public land, the developers are seeking public subsidy through the form of a tax increment financing district.  The use of park land and TIF already has drawn opposition to the project, promising a lively debate between boosters and naysayers.  The property also lies within an area the Little Rock National Airport wants to buy for expansion.
 

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