Leader Blues

Monday, December 17, 2007

TOP STORY >>Growth in Cabot still not slowing

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The old Wal-Mart in Cabot that has sat empty for a year is being renovated to house several retail businesses. So far the only confirmed tenant is Goody’s, a national clothing store, but the owner of the building says he should be able to announce two more by early January.

Rodney Ghan, with BRG Development LLC in Fort Smith, which bought the 117,000-square-foot building from Wal-Mart, said this week that the remodeling his company is doing for Goody’s should be finished within two weeks, but it could take several months for Goody’s to complete the interior.

“We’re probably looking at a spring opening for Goody’s and then two more should move in shortly after that,” Ghan said.

Rent on the property is high enough to attract only desirable businesses, such as furniture and office supplies, he said. “We want it to be a nice building. We don’t want a lot of low-end businesses there,” he added.

To make room for a total of five tenants, Ghan said an addition will be built to the right of Goody’s. Since the parking lot is large, a 12,000-square-foot building is proposed to be built in front of the old Wal-Mart. That building will house a clothing store, he said.

BRG Development LLC owns shopping centers in three states, including another remodeled Wal-Mart building in Missouri.

The city of Cabot has struggled to provide services for its re-sidents since the growth boom started almost three but decades ago, when Pulaski County residents began moving to the area for the schools. From the 1990 census to a special census in 2006 Cabot has grown in population from 8,319 to 22,186.

To improve the police and fire departments, voters approved a 1-cent sales tax. Voters also approved a 1e-cent sales tax to pay for the wells that supply residents with water, the new sewer plant that went into operation this week and the community center with an indoor pool that opened last winter. And to improve the parks, the city council passed an additional one-and-a-half cent tax on prepared food that was later extended to hotel rooms.

The past two mayors have joked that because of the sales tax revenue it brings in, the city would have to close down if Wal-Mart burned.

But recently, developers have started giving area residents who work in Little Rock something they’ve never had in such abundance in Cabot: places to spend the money they once spent before they came home.

Billye Everett, director of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce, says the one thing that can be counted on in growing areas is that “commercial development follows the rooftops.”

Business moves to where the people are, Everett said, and that is happening in Cabot now.

According to records in the public works department, 106 commercial building permits have been issued in Cabot in the past two years. But even those numbers don’t give a true picture of the commercial growth, said Norma Naquin with public works, because one permit might be issued for a retail center that will eventually have five or more tenants.

The commercial development at Greystone will include a fitness center and Sonic.

Southfork Commercial development on Hwy. 367 toward the Hwy. 5 interchange includes a meat market and a business that either prepares dinner for you or provides the main ingredients and spices so you can cook it at home.

Developer Jim Green, who built Lakewood Center on Highway 321, said the 20,000 daily traffic count on that highway makes it one of the busiest in the area and a perfect location for businesses.

The bowling alley in Green’s development is open for business and a family recreation center with skating, batting cages and basketball is in the works, he said. There also will be a florist, cell phone store and Curves.

“Ultimately there will be 20- plus businesses there because it’s a 15-acre site,” Green said. “It will develop over the next couple of years. It’s just a matter of time till that whole corridor fills up.”