Grooming Little Rock

The Arkansas real estate attorney has been through his town’s bust and is working hard on its boom

Published in 2015 Mid-South Super Lawyers — December 2015

For real estate lawyer Timothy W. Grooms, few sights are more pleasing than downtown Little Rock.

“I like to drive down the road and see that I’ve been involved in this office tower, this condo tower, this sports arena, this office complex, this shopping center development,” says the founding member at Little Rock-based Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull. “I like to know that I’ve had at least a small part in causing those to happen for the benefit of the community.”

Grooms is pretty much a lifer. Born in Paragould but raised in North Little Rock, he became involved in his family’s real estate business at age 12, when he began putting up property-sale signs around town. He earned his real estate license at 17, and when it came time for him to go to college, he didn’t go far: He chose the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for both his undergraduate and law school studies.

Upon graduating in 1984, Grooms put his plans of becoming a tax lawyer on hold in order to work on real estate bankruptcies during the recession. When the economy improved, he shifted into a more traditional real estate practice. Today, Grooms represents mostly financial institutions in commercial lending matters, and a big part of his firm’s practice involves representing people who make loans to the developers and re-developers of local properties.

One of Grooms’ most memorable property-development cases involved the 18,000-seat Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, which he calls “a true public-private partnership.”

“The Pulaski County citizens voted to pass a one-year sales tax to fund an expansion of the convention center in Little Rock and the construction of the arena in North Little Rock,” he says. “It was quite a challenge for all the professionals involved, in that we only had a specific pot of money.”

The challenge involved acquiring the land, negotiating contracts and getting multiple professionals to work together—all while staying within that budget.

The vote came in 1995, construction broke ground two years later, and somehow, through the efforts of engineers, architects, construction personnel and Grooms’ client—the county and board that oversaw construction—the center opened in 1999 without a hitch.

“I’m aware of hardly any major construction project that there’s not some type of arbitration or litigation,” says Grooms. “Yet we built a $100 million arena without any lien ever being filed or any litigation ever coming about.”

While Grooms credits a number of the parties involved in the process, he also points to the power of a well-drafted agreement. “I have people that’ll hold up a contract and they’ll say, ‘We want to use this form, because it’s been to court 100 times and always wins,’” says Grooms. “And my response is, ‘That’s the very contract I don’t want to use. I’d like for us to come up with something a little more clear than that, so that we don’t end up in a court.’”

Outside of a courtroom is where Grooms likes to be. He prefers to remain on what he calls the “happy law side”—the side that finds his firm achieving financing for hospitals, hotels, restaurants, office buildings, and condo and apartment towers throughout the state, including those that inhabit Little Rock’s rapidly revitalizing downtown.

Noting that Little Rock’s Main Street was “virtually boarded up five years ago,” Grooms says what’s happened since in both Little Rock and North Little Rock has been “a pretty incredible renaissance,” a testament to the importance of public-private partnerships and a commitment to getting people back downtown.

“We’ve had an expansion of restaurants and entertainment venues in the last five years unlike anything that happened probably in the previous 25,” says Grooms. “When people live downtown, you begin to see your downtown community really revive, and we’re seeing that in a huge way right now.”

For the last 30 years, Grooms’ philosophy has been rooted in a lesson his father taught him back when his job was to put up those signs: The customer is always right. Having a happy client, he says, is “the best thing” about being involved in real estate law.

Seeing the city he has always called home revived in the process is the cherry on top.

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