JONESBORO, Ark. – In 2011, Southwest Drive appeared to be a struggling Jonesboro thoroughfare.
From empty stores to abandoned gas stations and a closed grocery store, the road which is the gateway to Downtown Jonesboro and the Highland Drive strip was evidently not in it’s best time. But like Frank Sinatra sang, the best was yet to come. Only, no one at the time knew it.
Where the Changes Began
A major catalyst behind the work would be the Haag Brown Commercial Real Estate and Development group. Principal Josh Brown said it all started with a project to transform the old Crisp Exxon Service Station near Jonesboro High School, at the Highland Drive intersection.
“We did the Southern Bank project where they purchased the old Crisp Exxon station in 2012,” Brown said. “The bank was opened in ’13. Then, you had a complicated situation next door to where you had the nursery on a ground lease situation with an underlying ground owner, and beyond that, you had a street real close to the back and you had a shut down grocery store. You had all of that mess.”
The old Wallace and Owen’s Supermarket had gone out of business and struggled to attract another grocery tenant. Few businesses which could utilize the space in non-grocery senses were able to afford the property. It would also require substantial renovations.
Also, Bennett’s Landscape and Design Center, which occupied the corner lot for many years, was not anxious to lose the prime real estate location.
That’s where CVS Pharmacy came into play.
“CVS was really the catalyst for all the new stuff that happened,” Brown said. “So CVS came in and they were the only group who would pay enough money to clean up everything.”
Brown said they were able to pay the nursery enough money to relocate into a dream location – currently at 6009 Highway 1 South in Jonesboro. They were able to pay enough money for the value of the underlying land from Bennett’s. They were able to buy the old Wallace and Owen’s and in doing all of that, they assembled all of the corner acreage and rerouted the street to where it flowed better, Brown said.
That made way for the Dairy Queen Grill and Chill to fall in and develop that project behind it.
It was just the beginning.
“At the same time you had these announcements,” Brown said. “McDonald’s had been, for a period of 9 months to a year, trying to create a plan to scrape that store. I don’t think the parking or drive thru was up to their modern traffic specs.”
A new McDonald’s would receive some company in the form of a new Starbucks next door, between the yellow arch and KFC/Taco Bell.
“We had received an assignment to do a new project either north of town or south of town,” Brown said. “As we got Starbucks in and we were talking about all of the things about to happen on Southwest Drive, that pushed them to want to do this Southwest Drive location before the north of town location.”
Brown said his group was able to buy a lot from the Fowler family and add some existing parking to their KFC/Taco Bell location next door.
“All of those projects kind of came together and happened at the same time,” Brown said.
With the exception of McDonald’s, all of the projects had the Haag Brown fingerprint on them. It is hard not to conclude that McDonald’s also considered the changes made possible with the other projects in their own.
Further down on Southwest Drive, at the South Culberhouse intersection, the work and transformation would continue. A vacant movie rental store had occupied the visible location for years. With the video rental business becoming a kiosk at entrance to a convenience or grocery store, someone would need to completely transform the store.
Once again, a bank would come to the rescue.
“You had IberiaBank put a lot of money into that end cap of the shopping center there,” Brown said. “It was a huge investment, right there.”
Then, at the same intersection, the Kum and Go did a major renovation and updated their store to a modern location.
Nearby, an aging Bank of America building was purchased by First Community Bank. A major construction project soon followed, being completed in 2016.
Once again, the entire intersection had a proverbial facelift.
“Three corners of this intersection just got developed, and three corners of that intersection just got developed,” Brown said. “What it’ll do, it will raise the quality of the buildings and the tenants – because we’ve also got the Jones and Company building accounting two-story building between the two. Instead of that becoming a vacant building, it was purchased by Strategi Insurance Company.”
The Value of Southwest Drive
Southwest Drive is a gateway to Highland Drive and also to Downtown Jonesboro. One side is the “going to work” side, as perceived by businesses, while the other is the “going home” side, Brown described.
“You’ve got this very specific pattern of traffic where (toward Main Street) is going to work, and (away) is clearly going home,” Brown said. “So, CVS, very clearly, they have to be on the going-home side of the road. We do the CVS work on a bigger scale than just Jonesboro, but that’s a deal killer. You have to be on the side of the road going home so you can turn right in, and turn right out. On the opposite side, Starbucks has to be on the going to work side of the road because they’re often in tight, confined spots that are hard to get out of so they want you to turn right into them and right out of them. It’s very defined.”
The history of businesses which have succeeded on Southwest have also made it more attractive to outside clients.
“McDonald’s had a history of success there. That was easy,” Brown said. “Kum & Go had a history of success. That was easy. The banks – same exact thing. Theirs are different philosophies on what side of the road they want to be on but they either want to be on the way to work or on the way home so they can put their money in on the way to work or on the way home.”
This has made Southwest Drive the largest stretch of banks in such a short distance in the area. Between Bear State Bank on Southwest Drive, across Interstate-555, and Southern Bank at the Highland Drive intersection, 11 banks stretch across Southwest Drive.
“You’ve got all the players there,” Brown said. “You’ve got all of them. Every one of the major banks has a presence there.”
What is Next for Southwest Drive
The current surge of development has peaked, Brown believed when speaking to NEA Report, but he also sees more to come.
With many new businesses just opening on the stretch, their success will be monitored and considered as other businesses explore opportunities in south Jonesboro.
“I think you’ve got to fill in the gaps, so a lot of the stuff maybe waiting to go to Southwest Drive, there will have to be a catalyst – like a bigger track of land that will have to be developed before,” Brown said. “Everybody asks about a Chick-Fil-A on that side of town, or an “X” on that side, but a lot of these people are picky about their real estate. You can’t buy CVS, Walgreens, McDonald’s, so they’ll wait for another significant event to happen – whether that’s on the old mall site – or something. There will be something – some catalyst on the south side of town that will open up some outparcels where you’ll do some more stuff. It’s probably done until then. ”
“Everybody asks about a Chick-Fil-A on that side of town…” – Josh Brown, Principal, Haag Brown Commercial Real Estate and Development
But the new landscape on the drive now makes future development much more likely.
“That small stretch of Southwest Drive there, for us, has been like the north side of town was for us three years ago,” Brown said. “All of those events required challenges. It wasn’t as easy as just buying a lot and constructing a building.”