Sale of Heifer International building, where Lyon College plans to build new schools, falls through

Heifer International's headquarters is shown in downtown Little Rock in this Aug. 30, 2007 file photo. (AP/Danny Johnston)

A deal to sell the Heifer International building in Little Rock where Lyon College plans to establish veterinary and dental schools has fallen though.

As of Tuesday evening, it is unclear whether the dental and veterinary schools would be located at the Heifer International campus — or elsewhere.

In May 2022, Lyon College officials announced One-Health Education Group, a partner in the Institute of Health Sciences endeavor with the college, would purchase the Heifer International campus downtown to house the veterinary and dental schools.

In any real estate deal, there are “dates that need to be respected,” but One-Health informed Heifer last week they would not move forward with the sale for the approximately 94,000 square feet of office space that is situated on more than 24 acres, said Leo Salmeron, public relations officer for Heifer International.

Though Lyon College still intends to open both the dental and veterinary schools in Little Rock — to Salmeron’s knowledge — “for us, we are looking for other opportunities and possibilities” for the Heifer International campus.

“We will stay there,” with Heifer International occupying the top two floors and the Heifer Foundation a portion of the bottom floor, he added. Heifer International and the Heifer Foundation had planned to lease back portions of the office building following the sale, and Heifer International is currently completing a full renovation of the two floors it will occupy.

One-Health did not respond to request for comment.

Arkansas Business first reported the sale had fallen through Monday.

Late last year, the Higher Learning Commission Institutional Actions Council approved the college’s requests to offer the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Doctor of Medical Dentistry professional degrees, and the college has appointed Dr. Burke Soffe as the inaugural dean of the School of Oral Health and Dental Medicine, and Dr. Eleanor M. Green as the founding dean for the veterinary school.

“We are actively collaborating with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, the City of Little Rock, the Clinton Foundation, and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership on our planned dental and veterinary medicine schools, ensuring that the academic programs continue to progress with unwavering momentum,” Lyon College President Melissa Taverner said in a statement Tuesday.

“At this time, the Lyon College Institute of Health Sciences remains on track to open in 2025, (as Lyon) has hit all of its marks in terms of developing the veterinary medicine and dental academic programs.”

Last month, the Little Rock Board of Directors approved a revised planned office development allowing Lyon to establish dental and veterinary schools at the Heifer International complex.

The plan approved by the Little Rock Board of Directors entails construction of a handful of new buildings — one each for the dental and veterinary schools, as well as a pair of parking decks and a Student Center that will be an expansion of an existing building - along with renovation of two floors of the existing Heifer Headquarters Building. 

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The new education building, a dental/ shared facility, would be used for instruction of Dental Medicine and have a small treatment center — including a simulation laboratory, and three classrooms and student gathering spaces — according to the documents presented to the city.

The education veterinarian building would be used for instruction of veterinary medicine, with 10 classrooms, an anatomy lab, a clinical skills lab, and communication skills rooms for training the identification of ailments, as well as kennels for canine and felines as well as stations for surgery preparation and recovery, locker rooms for students, and spaces for student gathering and group learning.

The new west parking garage would provide spaces for about 400 cars, while a new east parking garage would accommodate 500 vehicles, including five ground floor retail spaces and a large mechanical room, the documents state. “The retail spaces are speculative and are approximately 2,500-2,900 square-feet each with front and rear access,” while a new auditorium would include a multi-functional conference and performance space with a stage, kitchen and supporting storage spaces.

The existing museum and multi-purpose conference center would be turned into a student center and cafe, under the proposed plan. The existing kitchen — a warmup facility — will be turned into a full-service kitchen so it can have the ability to support conferences and made-to-order food “with a limited menu.”

The existing Heifer Building would continue to be used as an office space, with the first and second floor housing Lyon faculty offices, while the third and fourth floors would still house Heifer International. No major programmatic, structural or mechanical changes were proposed for the building.