By the middle of this month, Jonesboro residents should start seeing activity on a large tract of land in southwest Jonesboro that has long been envisioned as a site for a major shopping center but was never developed.
This month an earth-moving contractor will begin moving the first of an anticipated 800,000 cubic yards of dirt for the Southern Hills planned development.
Partners Carroll Caldwell, Prateek Gera and Matt Millerd have received Jonesboro City Council approval for the mixed-used project on nearly 140 acres of land east of U.S. 49 (Southwest Drive) near its intersection with Interstate 555.
The project is planned to contain what Caldwell termed “all kinds” of commercial, retail and dining locations and a mix of multifamily housing options, which could include townhouses, condominiums and apartments. A single family subdivision containing about 80 units backing up to the Twin Oaks subdivision off South Culberhouse Road is planned as well. The development as planned will include nearly 12,000 linear feet (2.2 miles) of sidewalks and 8,525 linear feet (1.6 miles of 10-foot wide trails and approximately 26 acres of common open space.
The Warmack family of Texarkana, who owned Indian Mall on Caraway Road, planned to develop the Southern Hills Mall — a much larger and newer shopping center than the Indian Mall they opened in 1968 — on the land in 2002, but a competing developer brought The Mall at Turtle Creek to fruition in 2006. The Southern Hills property sat vacant until now.
Until about six months ago, Caldwell said, the Warmacks still owned the property and had planned to develop it. The family approached the Valley View School District, which supported the Warmacks’ plan, but the family instead ended up selling it to Southern Hills Real Estate LLC, Gera said.
When the Warmacks and the LLC partners began to talk about a potential sale of the property, members of the Warmack family “were very easy and fair to do business with. It was very pleasant,” Gera said. “All parties were satisfied when it was over,” Caldwell said.
“We went to Valley View [School District] about two months ago,” Gera said, and the partners were assured that the school district had no objection to the current development plan.
With the approval from the city council and the nearby school district, “all we’ve got to do is do it — all at one time,” Gera said.
Caldwell said that when fully built out, the development could be a $300 million to $400 million project. That he said “would be like [putting] $60 million a year into Jonesboro’s economy.” The project will generate a significant number of construction jobs and permanent employment opportunities, he said.
While drainage and traffic concerns are often expressed by nearby property owners when a major project is announced, Caldwell said the partners have addressed those in their development plan.
The city of Jonesboro’s master street plan calls for a connector street to connect South Culberhouse with Southwest Drive, and the project plan calls for the construction of such a street with an 80-foot right-of-way through the project. That connector street should take some pressure off the intersections of Culberhouse and Parker Road and Parker Road and Southwest Drive, Caldwell said. At the proper time, Millerd said, the developers will work with the Arkansas Department of Transportation on traffic signal improvements.
“We will do upgrades on the lights and intersection [of Southwest Drive and Kellers Chapel Road],” Millerd said.
The developers also will appear before the Jonesboro Metropolitan Area Planning Commission two more times. It is uncertain now where the developers will ask for permanent curb cuts but will be seeking some temporary cuts while the buildout is in progress.
In addition, the development will contain a lake that will take water from neighboring property as well as from the development, easing any drainage concerns. The lake is a retention pond that will be 25% larger than required.
“We want the water … to keep the lake full,” Caldwell said, adding “there will be a property owners’ association to maintain the lake.”
Asked if he thinks the project and timetable are overly ambitious, particularly given the current economic climate due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, Caldwell said he doesn’t believe so, for several reasons.
First he said, the partners were able to buy the property for cash. Also, the Warmacks had already run utilities to the site so work could begin almost immediately. Caldwell said that in the 12 to 18 months it will take for the developers to put in the infrastructure, the changes in retail and restaurant businesses — many forced to change by the pandemic — will be incorporated into those sectors’ new business models.
“So the time is perfect,” he said.
The traffic count along Southwest Drive in the project area is about 22,000 vehicles per day, Millerd noted, with residential development continuing at a fast pace. A big factor in the decision to launch the project now is the success of the Valley View School District and what that has done for the real estate market, Caldwell said. He sees the mixed use planned development as a viable one for the future.
“Out with the old and in with the new. If you don’t change, you die,” he said. “This is a big deal.”