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story.lead_photo.caption The North Little Rock City Services Building. - Photo by Josh Snyder

Being "aggressively progressive" is a term Mayor Joe Smith likes to use when talking about coming up with new development projects in North Little Rock, and in the city's downtown Argenta district, specifically.

It's that philosophy, Smith said last week, that is behind his latest idea to market two city buildings and three city employee parking lots for possible sale and redevelopment. If that occurs, it would mean relocating 83 city employees to yet-undetermined sites.

Smith will present a resolution for the City Council's consideration at its meeting at 6 p.m. today to authorize an executive listing agreement with Newmark Moses Tucker Partners to sell approximately 5 acres of city-owned property downtown. The resolution states that the proposal is for Newmark Moses Tucker to "plan, market and possibly develop" the city property.

Included are the City Services Building, 120 Main St. -- home to city Planning, Finance, Human Resources and Customer Services, among other departments -- and the City Attorney's offices, 116 Main St.

The listed price would be $16 per square foot, according to the resolution. For 5 acres, that would be a listing price of about $3.48 million. The city bought the City Services Building in 1998 for $2.5 million.

With the city-owned, $5.36 million Argenta Plaza under construction in the 500 block of Main Street, plus construction coming for the $10 million First Orion headquarters and the $6.97 million 600 Main building -- to house the North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau as one tenant -- North Little Rock's downtown is ripe for more development opportunities, Smith said.

"I really feel the energy going on in our downtown," Smith said last week from Florida, where he was on vacation. "I think as soon as steel starts going up on the First Orion building and the 600 Main building, the energy is only going to get bigger.

"The most developable piece of property downtown that we own is the City Services property," Smith said. "I met with Jimmy [Moses] and told him I would be willing to sell this property, if it is for the right project."

Smith said that if relocation became necessary, city Information Technology employees would likely move into the new $30 million police headquarters, which isn't yet under construction. Most other departments could move to current police detective offices on 29th Street, he said. Where all would end up, he said, isn't certain at this point.

Fletcher Hanson, a partner in Newmark Moses Tucker, and who has taken the lead for the North Little Rock project, said Friday that the process was only in the "early stages."

"What I'd say is we're going to list the property for sale and at the same time work in conjunction with the city in determining the best plan for the property and delivering a buyer with the experience and resources to execute on that plan," Hanson said.

Moses Tucker, a partnership between Jimmy Moses and Rett Tucker, merged with Newmark Grubb Arkansas a year ago after having developed many real estate projects in Little Rock's downtown. This will be the first development he's been involved with in North Little Rock's downtown, Moses said Friday.

"We're excited about the opportunity of working in North Little Rock's downtown," Moses said. "That's right up our alley. I'm excited about what I think will come out of this effort.

"I just love what the city has done over there," Moses said. "I think Argenta is underrated. It's deserving of some more significant investment and that's what's going to happen, I think."

Newmark Moses Tucker would be responsible for all costs for drawing up any plans and marketing of the property, according to the proposed agreement. The city wouldn't spend any upfront money, Smith said.

"If we develop it, I would pay you like any other Realtor," Smith said he has told Moses. "He agreed to do that and take the ball and run with it. So, that's where we are."

"Basically, this isn't going to cost us anything," Smith said. "If we can get a good development on our Main Street for it, I think it's worth it."

Council Member Charlie Hight said that he wasn't familiar with the proposal until he was able to talk with Smith on Friday. He said he became more comfortable with the idea after their conversation.

"This is a two- to five-year plan," Hight said. "He is giving Newmark Moses Tucker an exclusive agreement to bring us something we couldn't live without. Nothing's going to change in the meantime.

"It's not going to happen anytime soon," Hight said. "We're kind of throwing our hat out there in the ring and see what happens. We don't even have to agree to anything that Newmark Moses Tucker brings to us, unless it's something we can't live without."

The City Services building, built in the 1960s, has been a "one-stop shop" for customers to pay bills at its Utilities and Accounting Department for North Little Rock Electric Department, Central Arkansas Water and CenterPoint Energy accounts, plus the site for obtaining building permits and job applications. The city stopped accepting Central Arkansas Water and CenterPoint bill payments as of Jan. 1.

There has been past interest, as far back as 2005 according to newspaper articles, in selling the City Services building for redevelopment, and some master plans the city has commissioned since the early 2000s have involved that property.

"The master plans we did 10 or 12 years ago showed different ideas for there, like a promenade between the [Dickey-Stephens Park] ballpark and the [Verizon] arena," Smith said. "Those are always options. But, 2006 was right before 2008 when the economy went south [during the last recession].

"If you're not moving forward, you're backing up," Smith said. "I'm going to be, and our staff is going to be, aggressively progressive in development. That's always been my attitude and I will always continue to do it until the council tells me no."

The city has spent at least $845,772 on repairs and additions within the City Services building within the past 18 years, according to figures city officials were able to tally Friday. In addition, the city used in-house labor in 2007 at a cost estimated at that time to be $8,000-$10,000 to add fitness equipment, locker rooms and showers for employees to exercise during breaks.

The city attorney's office moved out of City Hall into the former Community Development building, across from City Services, in June 2017 at a cost of $99,536.99, according to city financial records. The renovation of the building was to replace the roof, replace carpeting with new flooring and add a more secure entrance, among other work.

The three parking lots would include a lot near Verizon Arena and also parking behind the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, 100 Main St., used for chamber functions as well as city employee parking.

Metro on 01/28/2019

Print Headline: North Little Rock open to selling buildings in Argenta district as mayor seeks redevelopment options

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