In The News

Main Street Reclamation Gains Momentum

Some structure resurrection work began along Little Rock’s Main Street in the first week of August.

The effort of local investors is a $20 million project to convert decades-vacant Blass store buildings into apartments and retail and office space at the corner of Fourth and Main streets. The project is slated to finish in June 2013.

The Blass Department Store was a major retailer in Little Rock for scores of years until Dillard’s bought it in 1964.

The project at Fourth and Main is one of several to spring up in that part of downtown Little Rock.

Sharon Priest, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, said Scott Reed and other investors with Reed Realty Advisors in Portland, Ore., were the first in recent years to buy and begin rehabbing an old building on Main Street. The building that currently houses Porter’s Jazz Cafe at 315 Main St. is Reed’s ongoing project.

(Reed has had trouble finishing residential work he’s started in Little Rock. The Arkansas Development Finance Authority took ownership from Reed’s company of most of 30 residential properties because of a lack of renovation progress and some unpaid bills.)

Stephens Inc. also is converting the former federal exchange bank building at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Main Street into state offices for the Department of Higher Education, Priest said. A Stephens spokesman declined to answer questions.

“We’re starting to see some action happening, sort of like a 10-year overnight success,” Priest said. “We’re starting to see people make investments.”

Only one vacant Main Street building — the Donaghey Building — between Capitol Avenue and Sixth Street isn’t under contract with a buyer who has renovation plans, she said. She declined to share details of other pending projects.

To read the full article from Arkansas Business.

Industrial Space Vacancy Drops

Congratulations to Buckley O’Mell, broker at Flake & Kelley Commercial, on being named an Arkansas Business 2012 40 under 40 Honoree! to view Buckley’s profile to see what makes him an outstanding leader:

Retail / Urban Development – West Little Rock

Hank Kelley was invited to present “Retail / Urban Development – West Little Rock” to the Leadership of Greater Little Rock Class XXVII at the Clinton Center. to view Hank’s full presentation.

Congratulations to Judy Shelley! She was featured in the 2012 Arkansas Green Guide. Judy is the CFO for Flake & Kelley Commercial. The coolest place Judy has ridden was a tour she did in Vermont, going from country inn to country inn. Her coolest plan for her bike in the future is when she and her husband, Michael Shelley, retire. “We are riding coast to coast, dipping a tire in both the Atlantic and Pacific. Our friends think we’re crazy.”

Go to read the full interview with Judy.

Retail Recovery? Private Equity Bets Big (Commentary)

Recent economic indicators paired with big private equity bets signal that the national retail real estate market is trending upward, a trend that is actually hitting home. National and local retail vacancy rates are down, due in large part to big bets by major private equity players.

However, one must wonder if such giant moves will be a catalyst for overall retail trickle-down economic recovery. Several national and local real estate investments and economic indicators point to a resounding yes.

The Blackstone Group LP is a self-proclaimed world leader in private equity real estate investment. Inside of 12 months, the private equity giant made an $11 billion bet on national retail centers. At the crux of this wager was the acquisition of 588 shopping centers across the country from [link Centro Property Group’s portfolio, 36 centered by grocery stores that were formerly owned by Equity One Inc. and 46 big-box centers bought from EPN Group’s holdings.

Blackstone did pay below market rates for these properties, but the most unsophisticated of investors realizes the magnified risk of a bet this big. A “cap rate” for commercial real estate is the ratio between the net operating income and the purchase price of an asset, with a higher cap rate reflecting a higher perceived risk. Nationally, top-quality centers have been trading at cap rates of 4 percent to 6 percent, while Blackstone has reportedly collected initial yields of 7.5 percent on the bulk of its bet.

So how do big bets like those seen from Blackstone impact the overall economic health of the retail sector? Well, if national and local absorption rates are any indicator, the writing on the wall is crystal clear. It was only a year ago that the retail real estate market saw vacancy rates at a high of 7.6 percent nationally and rising. Recent reports show a reverse in that trend. National retail vacancy rates in the top 80 markets today are standing at 6.8 percent and trending lower. Major moves from players like Blackstone are linked to such positive absorption.

But how does all of this big movement affect the average real estate investor on the smaller, local scale? The news here is positive as well. Reports indicate that from the fourth quarter of 2010 to the fourth quarter of 2011, retail vacancy in the Little Rock area fell from nearly 10.5 percent to 8 percent, positive absorption of almost 24 percent. This represents more than 419,000 SF of net absorption. The largest positive absorption was seen in the Midtown corridor, at the Riverdale Center, with Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market taking 63,000 SF.

The national media paint the grimmest of all economic pictures: scared investors, too much money sitting on the sidelines, Internet sales killing the big-box retailer. Perhaps shedding light on the slightest of positive indicators in such an environment creates false hope and optimism. So at the risk of sounding overly optimistic, the correlative nature of investor moves as large as those bets made recently by Blackstone paired with the positive absorption rates in the national and local retail real estate markets can only add to the upward trend and an overall retail trickle-down economic recovery.

J. Blake Smith is an attorney and real estate broker for Flake & Kelley Commercial. Email him at [email].