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10 Great Places to Live in 2013

10 Great Places to Live

We found ten small to midsize cities with good jobs, affordable homes and plenty to do indoors and out.

By the Editors of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, From Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, September 2013

What makes a city a great place to live? By our definition: good jobs, reasonably priced homes, decent schools, great health care and manageable size are all part of the mix. We started with metro areas that have a population of 1 million or less and came up with a list of cities that met those criteria. Then we whittled the list to ten cities and sent Kiplinger’s reporters to each one to find the ingredients that make them special: say, a gorgeous setting, a green sensibility, a brainiac population or a rah-rah sports culture. Want to see a moose on your daily walk? Live in Anchorage. Rub elbows with celebrities? Santa Fe’s the place. Billings has an Old West vibe; Dubuque, the Mississippi; and Little Rock, our number-one pick, has something for everyone.
See a Slide Show Version: 10 Great Places to Live, 2013

1. Little Rock, Arkansas

Set between the Ouachita Mountains and the Arkansas River and known for its rolling hills and ubiquitous trees, Little Rock offers far more than a lovely setting. It is the capital of Arkansas and its largest city, as well as the state center of business, health care and culture. With a population of nearly 200,000, it has the amenities of a larger city but is small enough that you can feel part of the community.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.

Courtesy of Cameron Huddleston

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.

That community includes people of all ages. Residents fill the streets of the eclectic Hillcrest neighborhood to mingle, shop and listen to street music on the first Thursday of each month. Young professionals meet with leaders of major companies as part of Create Little Rock, a networking program. Retirees stay active by volunteering, as 80-year-old Bob Gee does for the Clinton School of Public Service. “There is something here to catch the interest of almost anybody,” Gee says.

Thanks to its location, Little Rock provides plenty of opportunities for hiking, running, cycling, boating, fishing and hunting. Among the many cultural offerings: museums and fine art galleries, a repertory theater, a symphony orchestra, and a performing arts center. Downtown, you can roam the 33-acre Riverfront Park or enjoy eateries ranging from food trucks to fine dining. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library brings in speakers from around the world.

Little Rock employers include the state government, two major universities, Windstream Communications (a telecommunications company), Caterpillar and IT company Acxiom. At 6.6%, the unemployment rate is below the national average (currently 7.6%). Housing costs are below the national average as well. You can find a three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot house for as little as $169,900 in a family-friendly neighborhood in West Little Rock. And residents can get first-rate medical care at several hospitals and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, a world-class center for treating multiple myeloma.

Little Rock Central High School — the site of desegregation battles in 1957 — is now a top-ranked high school, but the city also has its share of underperforming public schools. Mayor Mark Stodola has introduced several initiatives to help improve those schools.

What the locals love: The annual Riverfest performing arts celebration, the paved trail system along the Arkansas River, the mild winters and the lack of traffic. You can get from one side of town to the other in less than 20 minutes. Follow #kipcities on Twitter to see what else there is to love about Little Rock.

2. Burlington, Vermont

On the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington boasts a cozy feel and stunning beauty, plus a vibrant and varied economy. Eds and meds are big — the city is home to the Uni­versity of Vermont and regional health care provider Fletcher Allen. IBM is near­by and other tech companies are growing, too. Champlain College’s programs in digital technology have led to start-ups, and, which provides software for auto dealers, plans to add 200 jobs annually for the next three years. Result? Plentiful jobs. Unemployment is just 3.5%.
Boats docked on Lake Champlain.

Courtesy of Jessica Anderson

Boats docked on Lake Champlain.

Green is important in the Green Mountain State: Burlington claims the first utility in the country to focus on energy efficiency in the community. Eco-friendly product maker Seventh Generation, solar companies Draker and AllEarth Renewables, and wind supplier NRG Systems round out the area’s green offerings. Mayor Miro Weinberger says the goal is to power the city fully with renewable energy — and Burlington isn’t that far off. Even local brewer Magic Hat converts by-products into methane gas to generate one-third of the brewery’s electricity.

The city has a penchant for creative problem-solving. In the 1970s, as downtowns across the nation were dying, Burlington created the Church Street Marketplace. One of the most successful pedestrian malls in the country, its mix of boutiques and eateries keeps locals coming downtown. Ten years ago, two inner-city schools were failing. The city turned both into magnet schools, one for the arts and the other concentrating on sustainability, and now both of them are highly sought-after.

Tucked between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains, Burlington boasts stellar vistas year-round. In warm weather, residents enjoy hiking and biking — an eight-mile bike path runs along the lake. As for the winter, yes, it’s cold (the average temperature in January is 19 degrees), but you’re just half an hour from the ski slopes. For $330,000, the average price of a single-family home, you can buy a spacious three-bedroom house with a big yard in the New North End or a more modest home in the South End.

What the locals love: Farm-to-table food at spots such as the Farmhouse Tap & Grill and Skinny Pancake creperie, easy access to ski slopes, and spectacular views. Follow #kipcities on Twitter to see what else there is to love about Burlington.

3. Bryan-College Station, Texas

College Station and the adjoining Bryan, together known as Aggieland, represent a cultural, economic and educational powerhouse in the bucolic southeastern part of the state.

Brimming with Texas hospitality and steeped in tradition, the cities attract and retain college students, young professionals, families and retirees with their highly educated workforce, exemplary public school systems, low crime, 1,800 acres of parks and golf courses, excellent hospitals and an affordable cost of living. The performing arts add to the region’s cultural landscape. And have we mentioned college sports? Suffice it to say, they’re big in Aggieland.
Texas A&M University’s Kyle Field.

Courtesy of Marc Wojno

Texas A&M University’s Kyle Field.

The main driver of all this energy is Texas A&M University, whose research facilities provide business opportunities to the region and jobs to graduates who stay in Aggieland. Big-tech firms have moved into the area: Motorola recently tapped A&M as one of eight universities (including Caltech, Harvard and MIT) for a research partnership. The federal government has made its presence known as well. Last year, the A&M System received a $286 million contract for a federal center that, in part, develops vaccines against influenza. The area expects to add 1,000 jobs in the next five years.

Bordering Bryan, the biomedical corridor has boosted the economy, allowing the city to renovate landmarks and add retail and restaurants. A three-bedroom home in Bryan runs $153,000, on average; in College Station, it’s $165,000.

Aggies young and old are passionate about their football. A $450 million renovation of the 86-year-old Kyle Field will bring the total number of seats to 102,500, making it the biggest stadium in the Southeastern Conference, which A&M joined last year. Conference membership is expected to add $120 million to the local economy each season.

The region has its challenges. Summers can be brutal. And game-day traffic can give even the most avid Aggies a Texas-size headache.

What the locals love: Guest lectures at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum; hiking, fishing, horseback riding and ranching; and, of course, college football. Follow #kipcities on Twitter to see what else there is to love about Bryan-College Station.

To read the full article by Kiplinger.

Gracie Mansion Construction Completion

Congratulations to Tim Heiple, Hank Kelley, Bo Briggs, Bryan Hosto & Maggie Hogan (not pictured) on the completion of construction for Gracie Mansion.

Located in the historic area of Little Rock known as the Quapaw Quarter, this apartment community is within walking distance of the central business area and Rivermarket District.

This three acre property was originally purchased by Absalom Fowler in 1837 and the mansion built as his residence in 1840. Fowler was a successful attorney and one of Arkansas’ leading political figures. Upon his death in 1859 the property was sold a couple of times. The last owner, who used the mansion as a residence, was the Gracie family. The Catholic Diocese purchased the mansion in 1923 from the Gracie’s and used it for St. Andrews Catholic School and Day Care Center until 1976.

In the late 1970’s it was purchased by a local developer who surrounded the antebellum mansion with apartment buildings designed to ensure compatibility with the mansion and a pool was added. The mansion was renovated into six apartment units.

In 2011 the property sold again to another local developer who renovated the entire property, modernizing and restoring the units to meet Little Rock’s demand for downtown housing.

Flake & Kelley Welcomes MISO

Flake & Kelley Commercial congratulates Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) for establishing a new operationgs center in Little Rock.

Office Space Vacancy Rate Stays Flat

The total vacancy rate for office real estate in the central Arkansas market remained flat during the first quarter of 2013, hovering at 12 percent, just a slight dip from 12.1 percent in the previous quarter.

“Office leasing activity has picked up some in recent months. I would anticipate additional absorption in the next quarter,” said Daryl Peeples, president, principal broker and partner at Flake & Kelley Commercial of Little Rock.

“We have not had a large number of expansions of existing tenants in the market or significant job growth regionally or nationally that would bring new tenants to the market. Tenant movement has been primarily from one building to another within the market,” said Peeples.
To view the full article written by Arkansas Business.

Raise the Roof

If you take a quick drive around Little Rock, you’ll notice there’s a lot going on. New construction and renovations are popping up all over Pulaski County. These new commercial properties and remodeled buildings are creating a buzz around the capital city and bringing in new jobs, new residents and tax dollars.

It seems like you can’t go anywhere downtown anymore without something new happening. Main Street has several projects under way that are taking historic buildings and getting them ready for urban lifestyles.

In the 500 block of Main street, construction is under way on the former Boyle Building, the MM Cohn Building, the Arkansas Building and the Annex Building. The project has already picked up two big tenants: The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and The Arkansas Repertory Theater. The symphony will move its offices and rehearsal space into the first floor of the MM Cohn building and the Annex Building. Not only will this double the orchestra’s rehearsal space, but the move will give pedestrians a chance to sneak a peek at rehearsal from the street. The building will also contain retail and residential spaces.

“Once they have one good tenant in there, it makes it easier to get other tenants signed up,” said Sharon Priest, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.

Just north, the Mann on Main, formerly the Blass building, is being renovated to create new office, retail and residential spaces. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will have 19 one- and two-bedroom lofts, a parking deck and a restaurant – Bruno’s Little Italy.

These new multi-use projects with residential and commercial spaces will help facilitate an urban lifestyle.

“If you look at cities nationally that have been successful with urban redevelopment, they’ve all had a mixed-use component,” said John Flake, a partner at Flake & Kelley Commercial, a real estate firm in Little Rock that works in commercial sales, leasing and property management. “We’re very enthusiastic about that.”
Flake & Kelley is also working to breathe new life into one of Little Rock’s biggest landmarks – the Metropolitan Tower. By offering six-month leases on the structure’s second floor, the company hopes to encourage local startups to occupy space in the tower. The leases will include access to common areas such as break rooms and conference rooms, and to services such as phones and Internet connections.

“We’re creating a business incubator of our own,” said Hank Kelley, a partner at Flake & Kelley Commercial. “We want to have more and more short-term-commitment space so that we can be part of that whole incubator atmosphere that we feel is coming and being more and more a part of downtown.”

In the River Market District, construction is under way for the Arcade Building at the corner of River Market and President Clinton avenues. This building will include a two-story, 325-seat theater; Cache, a restaurant run by Payne Harding; the Meadors Adams & Lee insurance agency; the Clinton School; and AMR Architects.

Big changes are also on the way in west Little Rock. Currently, construction workers are moving forward on construction of what’s been dubbed “the Big Rock Interchange” at the intersection of interstates 430 and 630 and Financial Centre Parkway, which becomes Chenal Boulevard.

The $125 million project is designed to relieve congestion among the roughly 200,000 vehicles that use the interchange daily and the anticipated 300,000 vehicles per day that highway department officials expect to use the interchange in 20 years.
A few miles south of the Big Rock Interchange, a new shopping center is being built on Col. Glenn Avenue. The new shopping center – The Village at Brodie Creek – is being developed by Flake & Kelly Commercial. The site will be the new home of auto dealer Crain Ford and have space for everything from restaurants and shops to office space. With proximity to I-430, numerous car dealerships, a hotel and a movie theater, the area has become a hotbed of development.

“[Automobile sales are] what’s attractive to that area,” Kelley said. “We’ll develop over the next five years a series of uses that include automotive, support to automotive, some restaurant uses, some office uses.”

Kelley added that the recent economic downturn has forced the commercial-development industry to get creative with new projects and adopt new strategies when planning future projects.
“When you’re developing land like that, you literally have to work it and work it and work it, and develop as the users are there,” he said. “What you see when you see a development like [Village at Brodie Creek] in stage 1, you see the difference today versus the “go go” years when people would say, “Build it, and they will come.”

“Now we say, ‘Come, and we will build it,'” Kelley said.
When businesses are looking for new office space or to expand, it can be difficult to find exactly what they’re looking for, but by using a real estate broker, the process can be a lot easier.
Colliers International is a full-service real estate company involved in sales, leasing and property management of commercial properties, including office space, retail, industrial and more. Colliers manages more than 13 million square feet of property in Arkansas.

“[Our clients] will direct us on what they’re looking for, and then we go and try to find the particular site that will match up with their goals and objectives,” said Mark Bentley, principal and managing director for Colliers International Central Arkansas.
Bentley said that currently, the office market is fairly stable and that the retail side of the business is steadily growing.

“There are a number of retailers looking to come into this market that have not been here before,” he said.

One big-box retailer coming soon will be Bass Pro Shops. The 120,000-squarefoot outdoor store is set to open this summer and expected to create 250 jobs. The store will be at the intersection of interstates 430 and 30.

Just a few miles west of the I-430/I-630 Interchange, Chenal Parkway is seeing new buildings and new business sprouting.
In 2011, Kroger opened its new Kroger Marketplace adjacent to its former building, which is now occupied by a Marshalls department store and Chenal Health and Fitness.

Because of the high volume of traffic a grocery store like a Kroger Marketplace creates, the area becomes very attractive to national chains. This summer, Starbucks will open a new location on the southeast corner of Chenal Parkway and Kirk Road. Chuy’s Mexican Food will also add a location at the corner of Chenal and Kanis Road, and Mellow Mushroom Pizza will move into a new shopping center that was built onto the former Kroger building.
“When you look at the residential [demographics] around Kroger, it’s pretty stellar,” said Johnny Kincaid, chief operating officer of Whisinvest Investment Group.

In addition to the restaurants, Kincaid said, each building will have additional retail space available.

These restaurants will not only serve the people who live in the area, but also those who work there. For example, Southwest Power Pool Electric Energy Network recently opened its new offices on Worthen Drive behind the Kroger Marketplace. With about 550 employees, the restaurants give them a place nearby to grab a hot meal in lieu of the facility’s cold-sandwich cafeteria.
Whisinvest is also planning new developments on a 28-acre tract west of Kirk Road and another 40 acres south of Rock Creek. Kincaid said plans are to put multifamily housing on the southern tract, and office, retail and restaurants on the tract on Kirk Road.
“[We’ll then] span the creek with pedestrian bridges that get over into [the Kirk Road area] where all the excitement will be,” he said.
Traffic counts at the Chenal Parkway and Kirk Road intersection in 2010 were 29,000 cars per day, and just west of the intersection at The Promenade at Chenal, traffic counts are at 22,000 cars per day, said Dave Meghreblian, vice president of real estate at Deltic Timber, the developer that provides the infrastructure for all of Chenal Valley. Deltic also sells commercial tracts in the Chenal Valley area.

One of Little Rock’s other major thoroughfares is Cantrell Avenue/Arkansas 10, which links the farthest reaches of west Little Rock to I-30 downtown.

Pleasant Ridge Town Center, at 1152 Cantrell Road, is an example of what a successful open-air shopping center can be with the right planning. The shopping center contains a variety of businesses ranging from national department stores like Belk to grocery stores like The Fresh Market and specialty shops like The Dog Bowl.

“We’re kind of unique as a shopping center,” said Lou Schickel, developer. “One hundred thousand-plus people a week come into the center.”

With such a variety of businesses, shoppers can easily spend an entire day at Pleasant Ridge, he said.

With more than 100,000 people in a five-mile radius of Pleasant Ridge, Schickel said, the shopping center is “in the middle of the money, with many homes in the nearby area selling for more than $250,000.

When recruiting new businesses to the center, Schickel said, he makes sure to show business owners that the area provides great amenities for their families, too. Just a short drive from Pleasant Ridge are the recently completed Two Rivers Park and The Big Dam Bridge. Just west is the Little Rock Athletic Club, which offers a variety of health and fitness services. The center also offers easy access to I-430.

“If you look here, there’s a tremendous number of things that create a lot of activity,” he said.