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The earth moves under retailers' feet But details still lacking on LR work.


Long-discussed retail developments in Little Rock are beginning to take shape, but details remain elusive on whether shoppers can expect new merchants and high-profile national names when centers from midtown to western Little Rock take shape. One problem: Everyone would like to land a "lifestyle" store from the Williams Sonoma stable - Pottery Barn, Hold Everything, etc. But everyone can't. The major developments: o UNIVERSITY AVENUE: Local developer Ron Tabor, acting on behalf of Dallas developer James Strode, filed a revised site plan for a shopping center on the east side of University Avenue across from Park Plaza Mall. Named University Plaza, the open-air "lifestyle center" will house 107,000 square feet of retail and almost 22,000 square feet of restaurant space. The 10.5 acre site, once a residential area, is bordered by C Street to the north; West Markham to the south; University to the west and Pierce Street to the east. Demolition has started on most of the houses, but Strode has been unable to purchase two houses on A Street. One is owned by developer Lou Schickel, the other is owned by an Orlando, Fla., resident. The current site plan shows the properties surrounded by parking lots and listed as "proposed future parking." Schickel, who also owns a chain of dry cleaners, has offered to swap his land for a parcel at the corner of West Markham and Pierce streets for a cleaners, but the site plan shows a 28,000 square foot retail building there. Schickel said he didn't want to hold up the development and was still willing to negotiate. The site plan is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission April 22. City planner Donna James said, that if the plan were approved, the city would require Strode to build landscaping buffers around the houses if they aren't acquired. Nobody wants two houses stuck in the middle of a high-end shopping development. That has prompted speculation that the developers might ask the city to exercise imminent domain and condemn the properties. But that's not a legal option unless the land is declared part of a tax increment finance district, in which property taxes may be diverted from governments to project improvements. So far, no one has asked for a TIF district for the project. Nobody will talk on the record about tenants for University Plaza. Local scuttlebutt identifies the popular P.F. Chang's China Bistro as a likely tenant. The same sources believe talks with Williams Sonoma aren't so far along. Another wrinkle in University Avenue's future is a change of control in the ownership of First Union Real Estate, the holding company that owns Park Plaza. The change in January, put new people in charge. New CEO Michael Ashner told the Times a week ago that the new ownership would spend $2 million to improve Park Plaza and redevelop up to 40,000 square feet at the center, much of it vacant space from closed restaurants and theaters. Ashner also said First Union, which owns no other shopping malls, would be willing to sell the center for the right price. In the interview, Ashner said he hoped to establish a cordial relationship with his prime tenant, Dillard's. The previous owners of First Union sued to stop Dillard's and Simon Property Group from building the Summit Mall at Interstates 430 and 630. Most believe that enclosed Summit Mall plan is dead. Would Ashner fight a new Summit proposal, such as a reconfigured open shopping center, rather than an enclosed mall that a First Union-backed petition campaign opposed? He chose his words diplomatically. "This is America. You can't stop all competition. The way to deal with competition is to produce a better product." Some in the real estate community speculate that Simon could be a buyer of Park Plaza. It could then turn its attention to a redevelopment plan for its ailing University Mall a block south. o INTERSTATE 430/COL. GLENN: In this hot spot, developer Rick Ashley has filed a site plan for Village at Brodie Creek, an 81-acre development at Bowman and Col. Glenn roads that would house almost 485,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Two department stores, each over 90,000 square feet, are planned to anchor the site. Ashley won't comment, but others have speculated that Belk, a department store chain that recently opened stores in Hot Springs and Conway, would be one of the anchors. J.C. Penney also is looking to relocate from the dying University Mall, but only to a center with another traffic-producing anchor. Belk's arrival would mean the first upper-end department competition for Dillard's in Little Rock. o HIGHWAY 10: Lou Schickel has just signed an option with lifestyle center developer Cousins Properties to develop a 100,000 square foot center on Schickel's property at Cantrell and Pleasant Ridge roads, which may give Tabor and Strode pause. Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn stores are anchors at several Cousins' properties in the Southeast. A Cousins center announced a few years back in Chenal Valley evaporated, you might recall. o BOWMAN AND KANIS: Developer Dickson Flake is trying again to develop the corner of Bowman and Kanis roads. Despite protests from neighbors, he received Planning Commission approval for a Lowe's home center at that location, but withdrew the application after Lowe's refused to foot the bill for offsite street improvements required by the city. Flake received commission approval for another planned commercial development for the property in November. The first lot developed will house a USA Drug. But Flake has recently revised the application to add three gas pumps to the drugstore site and to ask for a variance that will allow him to clear the entire 8-acre site without further pending development. He also asked for a variance to allow a 50-foot vertical cut along the backside of one of the lots. The maximum height allowed by city ordinance is 30 feet. City staff recommended denial of the revised application, citing concern for the heavier traffic caused by the gas pumps and because the city's land alteration ordinance prohibits property clearing when no development is planned. The Planning Commission deferred action until March 25.

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