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Is the demand there for the new downtown market?

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FOR SALE: Susan Reynolds shows a condo she sold.
  • FOR SALE: Susan Reynolds shows a condo she sold.

As the old saying goes, there are three things to remember when buying real estate: Location, location, location.

In Little Rock, locations don’t get much hotter right now than downtown — and that kind of heat costs money. After a 30-year trend that saw the city limits creeping steadily west and many of our most well-to-do citizens skedaddling for megalomansions out near the horizon, the downtown revival has convinced many residents to start swimming in the opposite direction. For at least three years now, buyers have been snatching up high-rise condos downtown for prices approaching seven figures.

Before you envision downtown Little Rock circa 2025 as a retirement community with streetcars, however, real estate agents and developers say that rich empty nesters with money to burn aren’t the whole story. Though condo-buying Ambiance Chasers are sinking a fortune into downtown real estate, those in the know say that there will always be enough low-cost housing and rental property downtown to let artsy types and young professionals fulfill their loft-y dreams.

Susan Reynolds is a real estate agent with the Janet Jones Co. She has sold a lot of downtown properties — some of them more than once. She sees an extremely bright future for the downtown real estate market. Reynolds said that in many cases, condos sell as fast as they can be built or converted from existing space, with units often sold out before construction is even completed.

“That’s a wonderful thing, especially in something that is kind of new like this,” she said.

In mid-September, there were 107 downtown Little Rock condo properties on the Multiple Listing Service, an online list of properties for sale. Prices ranged from a $99,000 one-bedroom in Quapaw Tower to an $800,000 dream home in the sky in the 300 Third Tower, which will open next year. At the same time, Reynolds said that even more downtown spaces will soon be coming onto the market. “Apartment complexes — four-plexes, eight-plexes, twelve-plexes, even bigger — are being bought and turned into condos and sold,” she said. “I think there’s money to be made for investors, and there’s money to be made for developers. It’s a really exciting time.”

Reynolds said that she has sold downtown real estate to all kinds of buyers, from doctors to executives to families with young children.

“I think that’s interesting, and it’s one of the things that shows you it’s going to be sustainable — the variety of people buying downtown,” she said.

One of those people is Mary Neal Bridges. An executive with the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Arkansas, Bridges and her husband, Todd, sold their house in West Little Rock’s River Ridge neighborhood last year in favor of a condo in the River Market’s First Security Center. Looking for extra space, they bought two condominiums on the 13th floor while the building was still under construction. With the help of an architect and designer, they had the walls knocked out between the two spaces, creating a 4,000-square-foot residence with stunning panoramic views of the city.

Bridges said that she would have moved downtown three or four years ago, but wasn’t quite ready to “give up the house thing.” After seeing the space in the First Security Center, however, she said she knew she had found what she was looking for.

“Downtown really appeals to me; all the hustle and bustle, the excitement, all the things that are going on in downtown Little Rock,” Bridges said. “It’s exciting. I would love to live in a big city, and this is as close as I’m going to get.”

Bridges said that while their new home is “higher-dollar real estate” than where they lived before, she and her husband consider it a good investment.

With all this condo-fication, however, won’t the very people that make downtown vibrant — artists, writers, musicians and young people — be pushed out? Downtown real estate developer Jimmy Moses doesn’t think so. He said that while there are high-end condos in Little Rock, there is also room for those without a half-million dollars to spend on a home. “Yes, we’re building larger and more expensive condos,” Moses said. “But we’re also working on a couple of other projects where we’ve got units that start at $100,000. The variety of offerings is starting to get broader, and I think there will be something for everyone in the projects to come.”

Susan Reynolds knows from personal experience that there are deals to be had. “My husband owns an apartment building where you can rent an apartment for $300 a month,” she said. “He has artists, he has some writers, he has nurses and students, he has a guy that writes comic books. There’s still enough space downtown that hasn’t been redeveloped.”

And what about the future? Moses said that with projects like the conversion of the Lafayette building into residential property, revitalization is beginning to fan out from the original hot spot near the River Market. He said the eventual goal is to have “several thousand” residents living downtown — something his own company is working toward by way of new projects on Main Street, including discussions with a developer about the possibility of redeveloping the old Gazette building into condominiums, a project which Moses said was still in its “earliest stages.”

“One of the reasons we’re involved in larger projects right now is to create more density,” he said. “The more density we can create, the better the retail will work, and the more amenities that people living downtown will have close at hand.”

“I don’t see any end in the near future,” Reynolds said. “I think that it’s starting to get big enough that it’s kind of following the general Little Rock market. As long as the market in Little Rock stays strong, the downtown condo market will stay strong.”

— David Koon

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