Rivals team up to build CARTI center

Posted: July 6, 2014 at 2:25 a.m.

A construction worker (right) prepares a form last month at the site of the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute Cancer Center, set to open in fall 2015. Work at the site is being managed by Colliers International and Flake & Kelley Commercial.

At the center of property management at Arkansas' largest construction project is an unlikely paring: two longtime competitors.

When the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute began construction on its $90 million CARTI Cancer Center, company representatives were smitten with two different management proposals.

Colliers International and Flake & Kelley Commercial usually compete and have each managed some of the biggest construction projects in Little Rock and elsewhere in the state. Though the companies occasionally corresponded on business and brokerage matters, collaborating to manage a major building project was a new endeavor for Colliers principal Phyllis Glaze and Flake & Kelley chairman John Flake. But two years into their collaboration, Glaze and Flake said they have become close friends and call working together serendipitous.

Even as they juggle other projects, Glaze said she and Flake correspond about the CARTI project every day and regularly meet at the construction site just south of Interstate 630 to ensure the project is proceeding on time. They've developed a comfortable banter after spending so much time together, quickly adding to each other's ideas and insisting the other talk first.

"We spend so much of our time and great new friendship laughing," Glaze said.

Although the CARTI project made them friends, Glaze and Flake have a history going back to childhood. They grew up in Little Rock's Heights neighborhood and later spent four years as colleagues at Barnes, Quinn, Flake and Anderson. Glaze began working at Colliers in 1975, while Flake went on to found Flake & Kelley in 1979. The two still ran into each other, however. Flake was Glaze's instructor in a Principles of Real Estate class at University of Arkansas in Little Rock in 1976 and remembered her as his best student.

When asked to work together in early 2012, company executives didn't immediately say yes.

"It's fair to say both firms had to mull it over," said Flake & Kelley Chief Executive Officer Henry Kelley.

The two firms had to adjust their proposals and figure out where different project principals' skills fit. Glaze said even in the early days, the process "just flowed." Flake & Kelley principals, for example, ended up being instrumental acquiring land for the new site, an area that Glaze said was outside her management-focused expertise. The companies were officially working together by April 2012. As managers, the firms make sure the construction project stays on schedule and on budget.

The firms' goal is for CARTI to be virtually unable to distinguish between them. So far, the collaboration has been a success.

"I think if you asked CARTI today, they would see these two companies with one face," Kelley said.

Jan Burford, chief executive officer and president of CARTI, said the two firms have worked together well so far.

"Some people wondered if two competing companies could really partner and manage the project," Burford said. "For us, it's been really seamless."

Since the project's groundbreaking in December, Flake and Glaze spend Friday mornings at the construction site, getting progress updates from the project's many contractors. A color-coded whiteboard calendar in the construction trailer lays out plans for the next month and into fall. The project started smaller, with a completion date of late 2013 or early 2014 but the project grew in scope and budget. CARTI ended up extending the Colliers and Flake & Kelley contract through the project's new fall 2015 completion date. So far, the project is on schedule.

The center will combine CARTI's treatment programs and offer a number of oncology and radiology services under one roof. CARTI's services are currently spread out over several locations across Little Rock. The center will also serve as the hub for CARTI's satellite clinics across the state. About 350 of CARTI's 465 employees will work in the new facility.

Colliers and Flake & Kelley manage projects ranging in size from room remodelings to downtown office towers. Flake and Glaze are quick to call the CARTI project "major" for both companies.

Although the project still has more than a year to go, Flake and Glaze said they've enjoyed working together so much that they've begun to seek out opportunities to collaborate on new projects.

"This collaboration has been a model for not just our two firms, but for other commercial firms," Flake said.

And after more than 40 years in the development business, Glaze and Flake say working together has been a great opportunity to have as they approach the end of their careers.

"On a personal level, I'm just so thrilled that this happened," Glaze said. "It feels to me like the best moments of my very long career."

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