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$15 million splash.

$15 Million Splash

Despite Critics, Carl Says New Apartment Will Float in Today's Market

David Carl is causing quite a stir with his proposed $15 million development called Woodhill Village Apartments. The upscale 21-acre project with its 386 units would be Little Rock's first major apartment complex in four years.

That's exciting news for construction folks and potential tenants. But the gregarious developer from New York (by way of Texas) isn't likely to win a popularity contest among some players in the local apartment market.

No one wants to criticize Carl publicly, but many believe now is not the time to build a new apartment complex despite his insistence to the contrary.

Those critics concede that occupancy rates are healthier now than at any time in the recent past. Rental rates, though, are still lagging behind after half a decade of keen competition and that makes any new construction ill-advised at best.

Such arguments fail to impress Carl, a stocky six-footer with strawberry blond hair. He points to current occupancy rates that are running above 90 percent across the market as a sign that now is the time to move forward.

"It's time to offer the public some new property," the bespectacled businessman states. "It's a good time to build. No, it's an excellent time to build."

What is Carl seeing that others aren't?

Interest rates are more favorable these days, which should help create a more attractive financial package. The lack of widespread construction activity has created a surplus of building capacity. That should translate into more competitive bids for the project.

Regarding rental rates, Carl plans to compete head-to-head with existing projects featuring monthly rents ranging from $375 to $650 at Woodhill. Raised eyebrows notwithstanding, he believes the rate structure will support the $15 million project.

"I always presume that rent rates will never go up while doing my projections," Carl points out. "If your rates don't bottom line at today's rates, then you probably should not do the project. I'll assure you that it works."

Critics are concerned that Woodhill will have a negative impact on an apartment market that is still recovering from a fierce shakeout period.

That viewpoint has little to do with the viability of Carl's project and is perhaps masking more selfish motives. Namely, that Woodhill will heighten competition and steal tenants away from apartment complexes that are just now breathing easy.

Neutral observers point out this is the free-market system, after all. Some folks would rather maintain the status quo for a couple more years, but no one owes anybody any favors.

When And If

According to Carl, construction on Woodhill could start as early as April if he's lucky. The complex could begin handling tenants four or five months after the concrete pavement is complete.

Carl isn't the only player who will have a cut of the action either. Local Realtor Dan Robinson II and the Mehlburger Firm have sweat equity invested in the project as well. Mehlburger's involvement in the ownership picture marks a departure for the local architectural-engineering-surveying firm.

"To be honest, David is the first person to offer us a deal like this," says Wes Lowder, Mehlburger's VP of engineering.

The Mehlburger Firm has drawn up site plans for the development that should go before the Little Rock Planning Commission for review.

The plans include 24 free-standing apartment buildings with 19 separate floor plans. The walled-complex will have a single entryway with a guardhouse.

The necessary zoning is already in place on the hilltop property, which overlooks the intersection of Rodney Parham and Kanis roads south of I-630.

Running the bureaucratic gauntlet is important, but finding permanent financing for Woodhill is the No. 1 priority. That's not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination.

"Depending on what happens with the war, it's going to affect our ability to get financing," Carl says. "Obviously, we wouldn't have gone this far if we didn't think we had an excellent chance at obtaining financing."

As the project progresses, other investors will be brought in to provide hard equity for the project. That nest egg could prove sizable, perhaps ranging between $1.5 million and $3 million.

"That's dependent on the capital market and what the lender will require," Carl adds. "I think I can build a better mouse trap at a better price. I can go broke without working. I'm very careful in putting these deals together. I'm not rich by any means."

"The essence is that David knows what he's doing," a local fan remarks. "He's a master marketer when it comes to the development business and apartments. He leases them up and keeps them full. He's been able to perform when other people didn't think he could."

Such favorable reviews aside, Carl critics remain.

PHOTO : POTENTIAL DEVELOPMENT SITE: If all goes according to plan, the Woodhill project will be Little Rock's first major apartment complex to come on line since 1987. Woodhill backers, like David Carl, claim the 386-unit complex will have the swankiest amenity package the market has ever seen.
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Title Annotation:David Carl's proposed development of Woodhill Village Apartments
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jan 21, 1991
Previous Article:Is the Maumelle Co.'s bubble bursting?
Next Article:Back in business.

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