ROGERS – Johnelle Hunt brought her own shovel to break ground Monday on a new 10-story office building along Pinnacle Hills Parkway.She said it is the same shovel her late husband, J.B. Hunt, used to break ground a decade ago on the JB Hunt Parkway Tower.

“This was Johnnie’s dream, his plan,” Johnelle Hunt said of the growth in the Pinnacle Hills area. J.B. Hunt died in 2006. “I know he is smiling down on us today.”

Johnelle Hunt is chairwoman of Hunt Ventures, the group that owns and manages much of the area in west Rogers that includes Pinnacle Hills Promenade, The Shoppes at Pinnacle Hills, North Pinnacle Point and Pinnacle Hills.  She also donated the land for the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion.

Hunt Ventures opened a 60,000-square-foot, two-story office building late last year and it’s 100 percent occupied, said John George, Hunt Ventures executive vice president. He would not say how much either office building cost to build.

Hunt said she had to be persuaded to build a 10-story office building rather than several smaller buildings.

“This plan will allow us to grow even more,” she said. “We are always looking for new ventures to do in the area. We will keep building buildings.”

George said the Pinnacle area has more than 1.5 million square feet of retail, 100,000 square feet of restaurant and 600,000 square feet of office space. The new building, named Hunt Tower, will add another 225,000 square feet of office space.

Hunt Tower is slated to open Nov. 1, 2015, and George said leasing is already under way.

“This will help the area by bringing and keeping world-class companies here,” said Raymond Burns, president and CEO of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.

Northwest Arkansas has more than 10.37 million square feet of office space with a vacancy rate of 9.3 percent, according to a second quarter report by Xceligent, a commercial real estate data firm.

Hunt Tower will be Class A office space, the newest and most desirable locations. Benton and Washington counties had 3.19 million square feet of Class A office space in 63 buildings with a vacancy rate of 9.8 percent.

West Rogers claimed 45 percent of the area’s total Class A space with 1.43 million square feet and a vacancy rate of 13.3 percent.

Jordan Ligon, Xceligent regional director for Northwest Arkansas, said he often hears developers say they wish they would have built one or two more stories on new buildings.

“(Johnelle Hunt) has the power and cash to do it,” he said. “It makes sense to build bigger and get more efficiencies.”

Ligon said new offices will fill up as long as there is continued job growth.

Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, said preliminary numbers released Monday showed the area’s job growth between July 2013 and last month slowed to 1.4 percent. She said the area usually posts growth numbers of 2 percent or higher, but these are early numbers and are likely to change.

“A bright spot is in the professional business sector, the people who use these offices, grew by 2.5 percent and added 1,000 jobs,” she said.

Grady Matthews, director of leasing and marketing for Bentonville Plaza, said job growth also is prompting the owners of the nine-story office building across from the Walmart headquarters to explore expanding.

Bentonville Plaza is owned by FBE Ltd. in New York and is managed by Newmark Grubb.

“We hit 100 percent occupancy and I just don’t have any space left,” Matthews said. He said the size of a new building could range from 160,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet and all depends on how preleasing goes.

“We do compete with offices in the Pinnacle area, but it is really two different sectors of the market,” Matthews said, adding some people like to be close to the Walmart offices while others like to be more centrally located.

George agreed that the areas serve different clientele.

“It’s like saying if you like a Ford or a Nissan,” he said. “It gives people options.”

by Christi Swanson