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Mr. Moses’ neighborhood (and Tucker’s too) 

Their faith in downtown is 18 stories high.

click to enlarge LOOKING UP: Jimmy Moses (left) and Rett Tucker.
  • LOOKING UP: Jimmy Moses (left) and Rett Tucker.

Maybe they're sentimental souls whose warm memories of the bustling downtown of their youth drives their work today. Maybe they're just well-connected homeys who saw a niche and capitalized on it. Or maybe they're savvy civic-minded businessmen who saw a way to keep Little Rock on the map, give it an identity and some red-blooded, cosmopolitan airs, even if the path there was a tough one. Possibly all of that is true.

Whatever the reasons, Jimmy Moses and Rett Tucker — and their silent partners, both financial and political — deserve credit for a reoxygenated part of downtown Little Rock whose centerpiece architecture is not offices, but places to live.

The real estate firm has just announced its latest change in the downtown skyline: River Market Place, which will include an 18-story condo tower with retail on the ground floor, new retail spaces in Tuf-Nut Condos and a 120-room, eight-story business hotel. They will be given what they call the “River Market treatment,” with brick paved sidewalks, ornamental lighting and a brick façade on the hotel and brick accents on the high-rise. (See sidebar.) When the River Market Tower opens in January 2009, it will be Moses Tucker's sixth residential project in an area whose doornails were definitely dead.

There's a Mutt and Jeff cartoon from the 1920s that shows the shortish, wacky Jeff asking the tall and skinny Mutt for an umbrella. “Sure!” says Mutt. “But there's no sign of rain!” “I know,” Jeff says, “but it will rain someday!”

Like Mutt and Jeff (with the Energizer Bunny thrown in), the skinny and tall Tucker and the merrier Moses knew they could create an urban residential area just off the River Market entertainment district even if the need for it wasn't crystal clear. It would someday, they knew, rain condo-seekers.

When they got the idea to build — rather than restore — a condo/business/residential project, the Arkansas Capital Commerce Center, they went to their banker, John Lopez, then at Regions Bank. “Where are your comps?” he asked. What are other condos in new mixed-use buildings downtown selling for?

There weren't any, of course. Tucker and Moses had been leasing their Tuf-Nut Lofts for apartments since 1999, but condos were still uncommon. The two got busy, selling the yet-to-be-built condos in the yet-to-be-built building at Commerce and Third themselves. In six weeks, they'd sold five of the eight they had planned to build and went back to the bank — this time with plans to cap off their new building with two floors and 16 condos, double the original number.

“These were very hard deals,” Tucker said. The River Market district didn't lend itself to easy deals and quick investment. Moses Tucker took risks — like buying and redoing the Tuf-Nut building for $2 million in the days when “it was a cold walk to Clinton Avenue,” as Moses put it. “It was not a savvy purchase.”

The seven-story, $14 million Capital Commerce blend of business and residence opened in July 2002, and in an interview that year, Moses said, “Who would have dreamed people would spend a quarter of a million dollars to live on top of a building in downtown Little Rock?” Having the city build a parking garage next to the building — a somewhat controversial decision that some thought was too costly an investment for the city — didn't hurt any.

As it turns out, people are spending a lot more than that, and again, they're buying in a building that's not even complete. Moses Tucker's $45 million, 18-story 300 Third Tower is well on the way to its scheduled opening in 2007. By October, the building was 73 percent sold. Still available was a 2,100-square-foot condo (finished out) on the 14th floor — for $727,000.

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