PINE BLUFF, Ark. — A deposit has been put down for the purchase of the Pines Mall in Pine Bluff. A contract from the potential buyer has been confirmed through the owner, Judy Vu, but the last place the buyer attempted to purchase in Arkansas is sharing concerns.

There is a lot of vision for how to transform the husk of Pines Mall into a thriving space once more. The same could be said last Winter for about 100 acres of land just across the White River in Elkins. The forest property would have been turned into a five-star tree house resort.

Elkins Planning Director and Fire Chief JD DeMotte worked with Tucker Bearden and his partner John Vernon, a contractor, to plan for the development advertised on Facebook similar to the Pines Mall.

Elkins would have needed a ladder truck, a $1.5M cost, to service the resort, and according to Demotte, Bearden said he’d cover the cost for that too.

“It would have been great for the city of Elkins, for our citizens,” DeMotte said. “It definitely would have been good for our tax base, for our local businesses, but you know I don’t believe it’s going to happen.”

Doubt in Elkins arose first from landowner Ken Sanders. The resort would have been built where he lived.

“We had a complete contract. We had a deal signed. They even went as far as ordering a survey,” Sanders stated. “They never paid for their half of the survey.”

According to Sanders, Bearden and Vernon flew over the property in a helicopter and provided an initial deposit, but when it came time to close, the financing was not there.

Both Bearden and Sanders are teaming up again for the Pines Mall purchase, and with a contract similarly on track, KARK 4 News asked what is different this time. Vernon shared a statement:

We are truly excited for the opportunity to bring The Pines Mall back to life. When doing real estate all deals are different and work in different ways. About a year ago we were under contract to buy land in Elkins. We had a group of investors that we were working with. We had never worked with them before but (they) were highly recommended. This was a raw land purchase. We had the deal almost done and days before closing they came back and let greed get the best of them. They almost doubled the equity they were requesting. A smart investor would of walked away and we did. I allowed my EMD (earnest money deposit) to be given to the owner for his waste of time. God had a different plan and now we are taking that project to Tennessee. At the Pines we have been blessed to learn from mistakes. We have a new group of people we are working with and a motivated seller. The seller is working with us to make this deal happen. Our goal here is to bring the community together. We have already put up the deposit,  set up title and started the process with both buyer and seller. We are confident in closing this deal. God has blessed us with an amazing team and an opportunity that we can build on for the community.  I have been saying that this will not be our mall… It will be the community’s mall. We are grateful for this and know that with great sellers and a good team. We will close this deal and many more.

To touch on why this is a different deal. The Pines is Real Estate.  We have past P (profit) and L (loss) statements, we have rent rolls, (and) we have proof the mall made money. It’s more of a secure investment and gives the investor something to maximize on. Raw land does not contain assets. That’s why we are very confident in this deal. It’s also in a great area for improvement.  So we predict a great cap rate and increase of value to all businesses around.”

John Vernon, business partner & contractor in Pines Mall purchase

Both Bearden and Vernon stated they learned a lot from the attempt to build in Elkins. Still, not everyone in the town is convinced.

“Maybe they’ve got funding now, but they’re just a couple of dreamers who basically just end up hurting everyone around them as far as I’m concerned,” Sanders said.

“We got very excited last time, and we fell short on our end when it comes to that, but that’s the biggest thing is just vetting the people that we are working with,” Bearden said. “We want to go back to Elkins and bless the people there in some way, shape, form, or fashion, and even build a resort there if they would allow that to happen, but we needed the resources and now we have them for the first time.”

Many have asked us how can the buyers afford this. Vernon said in the contract, the investors, Bearden, and he found a unique way of financing the deal. He stated the sellers are working with the buyers by leveraging some of the equity that is in the mall in order to build capital for the exchange of the deed.

The purchase of the Pines Mall will close on Nov. 20 unless there is an extension to the contract.