How developers transformed “uncherished” property in NLR

North Little Rock's Rockwater Village is far from the only development in central Arkansas selling itself as part of a walkable and bikeable community.

Rockwater's uniqueness comes from the fact that it's also boatable. 

Built as part of a 50-acre development on the Arkansas River, Rockwater is home to a marina with 130-plus boat slips. They're also built along bike and walking trails and easily accessible from both the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock.

"Our location is incredible. The amenities don't exist anywhere in the state," said Lisa Ferrell, who is developing the area with her husband, Jim Jackson. "There is truly nowhere else like it."

Ferrell and Jackson began the project in 2008. They envisioned what is referred to as a "traditional neighborhood development" similar to Lost Rabbit in Jackson, Miss.; I'On in Mount Pleasant, S.C., and Harbor Town in Memphis.

Traditional neighborhood developments are part of the New Urbanism movement, a philosophy of town and neighborhood design that call for walkability, a mix of housing types and public access to open space. Among the most recognizable communities is Seaside, a Florida planned community between Destin and Panama City Beach.

Ferrell and Jackson attended the Seaside Institute to learn how best to develop the project they had in their minds. Rockwater Village residents are required to have a front porch that is at least 8 feet deep.

Those porches, overlooking the Arkansas River, are intended to foster a sense of community in the neighborhood. Closer to home, Ferrell cites Hillcrest and Park Hill as examples of what Rockwater might one day become.

It is located within walking distance of both the Argenta District in North Little Rock and, though across the Arkansas River, within walking distance of Little Rock's River Market District.

North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Owens said the neighborhood is a good selling point for the city and its economic development efforts. Owens isn't just a cheerleader for Rockwater; he's about to become a resident.

"We'd always wanted to live downtown in either Little Rock or North Little Rock but wanted the convenience of a house instead of a condo," Owens said. "This is the best of both worlds. There are large groups of millennials who want to live closer to an urban environment. They don't want to be in the suburbs and want places near nightlife and recreation. This provides that."

Fresh-out-of-college millennials might be priced out of Rockwater currently. Lots in the first phase range between $80,000 and $200,000.

Homes in Phase 1 must be at least 2,500 square feet. A design committee approves architectural plans. A builder's guild of Richard Harp Homes, Bosley Construction, Jon Callahan Construction and Summerwood Homes have been approved for the neighborhood.

Building permits issued within the last year for the neighborhood price homes around $520,000. A lot in Phase 2 -- tentatively named the Porches at Rockwater -- recently sold for $175,000.

Eventually, Ferrell said townhouses are part of the plan. She wants a "diverse" neighborhood with "all sorts of people and housing types."

Ferrell and Jackson also recently purchased the old Superior Spring plant at 700 W. Broadway in North Little Rock, renaming it The Works at Rockwater. Oreba USA is moving its bicycle sales and shipping operation there in July.

Since the project began Ferrell estimates $46 million of investment has occurred in the area since she and Jackson began buying up land for their Rockwater Development. That total includes a $22 million apartment complex, Riverside at Rockwater, and a $1.6 million roundabout built near the entrance of Rockwater Village.

Grants from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, through the Arkansas Development and Finance Authority, helped fund new construction and renovations of homes in the nearby Baring Cross neighborhood.

North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith said Ferrell and Jackson recognized the possibility of the land nearly seven years ago. It used to be home to Vestal Nursery. A smokestack from the operation is still on the property and serves as a guide for the color used for the red cobble lane that runs behind homes in the neighborhood.

"This started in 2008. They've had the patience to get through the downturn in the economy," Smith said. "Their perseverance has led to a beautiful new neighborhood."

Ferrell grew up in North Little Rock and has for years viewed the property along the river as premium real estate. When it became available she and her husband were convinced it was worth developing.

"This was a special but uncherished piece of property," Ferrell said. "We saw it and thought we could really turn it into something outstanding."

By Chris Bahn

This article was originally published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on May 22, 2016

Photo credit: Melissa Gerrits, Arkansas Democrat Gazette

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