story by Ryan Saylor
MarketPlace Grill has closed its Fort Smith location, leaving more than 50 people without a job as the company works to actively expand its presence in central Arkansas.
According to Managing Partner Dave Godwin of Restaurant Management Group, the company has worked on an expansion in the central Arkansas market and said the closure of the Fort Smith location was a business decision as a part of the expansion efforts.
"The Fort Smith market has been good to us, but we had an opportunity in Little Rock," he said. "Everything lined up for us that it was in the best interest of the company for us to make the move. I can't really point to one specific thing necessarily. I'm not sure what to tell you there but that as a company, we're trying to grow and we had the opportunity to open in Little Rock to open the store. Things lined up in such a way that as a business, it was in our best interest to make the move."
Godwin noted that the closure of the Fort Smith location, open since 1995 at 8302 Phoenix Ave., had nothing to do with declining sales or patronage, declining to cite sales figures for the Fort Smith restaurant.
He said total employees at the Fort Smith location was "probably in the neighborhood of 50 or 60." Asked whether severance packages or employment at other MarketPlace locations were offered to Fort Smith employees, he said, "It's really kind of a mixed bag. Kind of all of the above." Godwin did not go into specifics regarding offers made to employees.
MarketPlace's new Little Rock location is 11600 Pleasant Ridge Road, with an opening planned for the early fall, Godwin said. He said the company was looking to add another two locations in addition to the new Little Rock locale.
The company still owns and operates MarketPlace Grills in Conway and Springdale, as well as a MarketPlace express at the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville. Godwin said the company was also looking to re-open Burger Life, a concept restaurant that had originally replaced MarketPlace at its former location on Joyce Boulevard in Fayetteville. He said lease negotiations were ongoing on a new location in Fayetteville.
The now-vacant building that had housed MarketPlace's Fort Smith location has been put up for sale by its owner Benefit Bank. In a statement, Benefit Bank President Joe Edwards said the company had decided against pursuing further leasing of the 8,216 square foot building.
"The property will not be leased again but is listed with Mr. Bob Cooper of R.H. Gahn & Cooper Commercial Properties for sale as a development property," he said, adding that the bank "appreciates the relationship with MarketPlace over the years and wishes them the best as they move to the Little Rock market."
Cooper said the property is listed for a purchase price of $1.475 million, which includes the building and 1.4 acres. Traffic counts along Phoenix Avenue in front of the restaurant total 18,000 vehicles per day, while Massard Road sees a 26,000 vehicles per day pass the restaurant.