Commercial site developer, asset management arm join

This article was published July 31, 2016 at 1:51 a.m.

Growth of commercial real estate firms Hunt Ventures and Sage Partners have largely mirrored that of Northwest Arkansas over the last decade.

Both firms crafted niches in the market that executives at each company said led to a mutual respect and, ultimately, a business partnership. Hunt Ventures’ asset management department, responsible for leasing and managing properties built by billionaire Johnelle Hunt’s Hunt Ventures, has merged with Sage Partners.

The newly formed Sage Partners is made up of 10 principals from Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock. Approximately 3 million square feet of office and retail space across the state will be under management by the company, with approximately 2 million of those square feet in Northwest Arkansas.

Financial terms of the merger, official today, were not disclosed.

Hunt said Sage Partners’ success and willingness to pitch the partnership piqued her interest despite relationships with other firms in the region that were “instrumental in making the properties owned by Hunt Ventures a success.”

“In addition, I was very impressed with the dedication of the Sage partners to professionalism in the commercial real estate industry and their corporate creed,” Hunt said in a statement provided through JPJ Consulting of Little Rock. “Each one of the Sage partners is special and we believe that we have found the perfect partner to work with us to provide our current and future real estate clients with the best property management and leasing team.”

Hunt, who ranked No. 307 on the most recent Forbes list of billionaires with $2.2 billion in net worth, began contemplating the merger of her company’s asset management department with Sage Partners in 2015. Hunt, 84, who co-founded J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. with her late husband, J.B. Hunt, was approached by Sage’s youngest executive, Alex Blass.

Blass, 28, said he had been working with Hunt on a real estate project that didn’t come to fruition. They formed a strong relationship over the course of that interaction and Blass said he felt comfortable approaching Hunt with his idea despite a considerable difference in years and business experience.

“There were some people who thought I was crazy because Hunt Ventures was already a great organization,” Blass said. “In real estate you run a lot of traps and if some of them work, great. If they don’t, you move on. With someone like [Johnelle Hunt], the worst thing she’d say is ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ and we’d be in the same spot as before. But if anything came of it, it would be a huge win. As more people came on board as part of the discussions it became clear there was a real opportunity there.”

The firm’s partners will include Chief Executive Officer Brian Shaw, President Marshall Saviers, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Scott Audrain, Executive Vice President Tom Allen, Blass, Gus Blass, Hunt, T.J. Lefler, Mark Saviers, and Tommy Van Zandt. Also as part of the newly formed Sage Partners is Capital Properties of Little Rock.

Hunt Ventures and Sage Partners have had a hand in the changing skyline of Northwest Arkansas. Hunt Ventures’ real estate development arm, which will continue to be owned by Hunt and run independently of Sage Partners, has built millions of square feet of properties in the region.

Most recently Hunt Ventures completed the 230,000-square-foot, 10-story Hunt Tower in Rogers. That building, popular among suppliers to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., will now be leased and managed by Sage Partners.

Bentonville Plaza, a nine-story office building with more than 250,000 square feet located directly across from the Wal-Mart headquarters, has been under management by Sage for about a year. Approximately 15 Hunt employees will be under the Sage Partners umbrella and the company will continue to operate offices in Fayetteville, Bentonville, Rogers and Little Rock.

“This wasn’t part of some grand plan,” Marshall said Saviers of Sage Partners. “We’ve both been doing well in our own regard and it just evolved over time. Like a lot of good partnerships do.”

Allen, who headed the Hunt Ventures asset management department, will be joining Sage. He said his familiarity with Saviers and others within Sage Partners was a selling point.

“Putting the resources together, and what it does for our size in the marketplace, makes it very attractive,” Allen said. “We have the same work ethic and the same motivations. It seems like a natural fit.”

Blass, who first approached Hunt with the idea for a partnership, said the newly configured company will continue to expand in Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock. This partnership, Blass said, is not an ending point for the firm.

“It’s exciting for us to acknowledge the new organization being formed, but we’re not going to settle for what we have come Monday,” Blass said. “We fully intend to use the new platform we have with new partners coming on board and opportunities that will present to us to continue to aggressively grow throughout the state of Arkansas.”

SundayMonday Business on 07/31/2016

By Chris Bahn, ArkansasOnline