Central Arkansas businessmen and government officials gathered Thursday in a dusty field on the outskirts of Little Rock to mark the start of construction on an industrial warehouse space covering nearly 1 million square feet.
The South Port Commerce Center project, headed by the Kansas-based commercial real estate firm Bluestem Partners, includes a pair of industrial warehouses adjacent to the Port of Little Rock.
For city and state officials, the future warehouses are a sign Little Rock is growing as a logistics hub, touting its large port on the Arkansas River, nearby access to interstate highways and the state's busiest airport.
"Little Rock has become a hub for distribution and logistics and manufacturing," said Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.
Starting next week, workers will begin construction of the two industrial warehouses on the 64-acre plot with the first building set to be completed by the second quarter of 2023.
While no tenants are lined up yet, James Isom, founder and partner at Bluestem said in a news release the firm will find a tenant to "compliment the local community while enhancing the economic growth already prevalent at the Port."
Bryan Day, executive director of the Port of Little Rock, said the port was facing a rising demand from companies that needed more storage space.
While Bluestem hasn't leased the property yet, Day said he expects there will be a tenant before workers complete construction. According to Day, the project will lead to the creation of "at least 200 new jobs."
"I think it will be leased before it's built and so probably right after the lights turn on someone will start moving in," Day said. "That's how strong activity is in Central Arkansas."
The site is close to Amazon's huge new fulfillment center warehouse. Day said the growth around the Port of Little Rock is being driven by the supply-chain disruption as some manufacturers try to move parts of their logistics chain back to the United States.
In the past few years, Day said he's been getting around three calls a month from businesses asking for land to build storage space around the port.
Scott said the Thursday's ceremony was an indication of things to come if voters approve a referendum on Aug. 9 to extend three mills of the city's property tax. If approved, revenue from the tax would mean more city investment in the port, Scott said.