Group of companies buys Shackleford Corporate Center in LR for $9.4M

A consortium of six companies recently paid about $9.4 million for the Shackleford Corporate Center, a five-building office and warehouse complex near Shackleford and Colonel Glenn roads.

A group of six limited liability companies paid almost $9.4 million last month for the Shackleford Corporate Center, a five-building office and warehouse complex near Shackleford and Colonel Glenn roads in Little Rock.

The 177,550-square-foot complex, at 4201-4217 S. Shackleford Road, is about 83 percent occupied. The tenants include Goodman Distribution, DirecTV, Sherwin Williams and Exide Technologies.

The property appraised at $8 million this year.

The sellers were SCC Properties LLC, ELAD LLC and Salcor LLC.

The buyers were RSH Investments LLC, Beaverdale Investments LLC, Oakdale Holdings LLC, DNG Real Estate LLC, Grandview Holdings LLC and 4201 Shackleford Investment LLC.

The buying companies are all Oklahoma businesses except for 4201 Shackleford Investment, which is an Arkansas firm. Andrew Holbert is manager of 4201 Shackleford Investment and also a principal with Colliers International Arkansas.

The group borrowed $6.8 million from Relyance Bank of Pine Bluff. The mortgage matures in 2028.

Colliers International Arkansas, led by Holbert, Brandon Rogers, Kevin Huchingson and Dickson Flake, represented the buyer and the seller.

"Shackleford Corporate Center was attractive to the buyer because it filled a perfect niche for them in this market," Rogers said. "The center features a great mix of both national and local tenants and represents a good value for the office-warehouse market segment."

Colliers International will continue to manage the property.

RESTAURANT CHANGE

Anchor Realty Investments LLC, an affiliate of the David’s Burgers restaurant chain, paid $1.6 million last month to purchase the Mexico Chiquito building and property on Cantrell Road, also known as Arkansas 10, in west Little Rock.

The building and property appraised at $2.3 million this year.

Anchor Realty Investments, a Maumelle firm led by David Alan Bubbus, who is president of David’s Burgers, borrowed $1.2 million from Relyance Bank of Pine Bluff "for the purpose of acquiring the project and for working capital and $350,000 to renovate, equip and improve the project," the mortgage said.

The former Mexican restaurant at 13924 Cantrell Road sits on 1.7 acres and includes almost 3,300 square feet. It was built in 2008.

Johnny Mitchum with Keller Williams Realty represented the buyer and the seller.

A call seeking information from a David’s Burger’s spokesman was not returned.

E-Z MARTS

Two more Little Rock E-Z Mart convenience stores were sold in May in connection with the sale of E-Z Mart Stores Inc. of Texarkana, Texas, to GPM Investments of Richmond, Va.

GPM bought the E-Z Mart chain of 273 stores in December. Then in April, Getty Realty Corp., a real estate investment trust in Jericho, N.Y., acquired an interest in 30 E-Z Mart stores and leased those E-Z Marts to a subsidiary of GPM Investments, according to Convenience Store News.

One of the Little Rock E-Z Marts sold last month is at 11911 Mara Lynn Drive. It sold for $1.4 million to GTY-GPM/EZ Leasing LLC of Jericho.

The building, which opened in 1986, and land were appraised at $1.3 million last year.

The other Little Rock E-Z Mart sold is at 11701 W. Markham St. and was purchased by GPM Southeast LLC of Richmond for about $840,000.

The store and about a half-acre were appraised for about $500,000 this year. The store was built in 1974.

In April, at least one other E-Z Mart in west Little Rock was sold to National Retail Properties Limited Properties.

E-Z Mart’s chain of stores is in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

RESIDENTIAL LOTS

Homebuilder ARG Little Rock LLC bought lots last month from Rausch Coleman Mid Ark LLC and Sherwood 2015 LLC in Jacksonville’s Graham Woods Phase II and Sherwood’s Bear Paw Addition Phase II.

ARG, an affiliate of Rausch Coleman, paid almost $683,000 for the property.

ARG and Rausch Coleman are affiliated companies.

ARG Little Rock took out two mortgages for about $706,000 each with Chambers Bank of Danville, one for at least seven lots in the two subdivisions and the other for at least two lots in the Sherwood subdivision.

Rausch Coleman Homes is the largest homebuilder in Arkansas, with homes in Northwest Arkansas, Sherwood, North Little Rock, Cabot, Beebe, Bryant, Alexander, Conway and Jacksonville. It opened a branch in Jonesboro last year.

David Frye, an executive with Rausch Coleman, is also manager of ARG.

Rausch Coleman, which starts about 400 houses a year, has been in business for 60 years and built more than 20,000 houses. It also builds houses in the Kansas City, Mo., area; Oklahoma City; Tulsa; the Birmingham, Ala., area; and in Texas.

CHENAL LAND SOLD

Chi Hotel Group, which already owns at least two Little Rock hotels, paid $675,000 for 3 acres of undeveloped land at 15000 Chenal Parkway last month.

The property, near Chenal and Wellington Hills Boulevard, was appraised this year at about $624,000.

The seller was Chenal Commercial Partnership. James Hathaway Jr. is managing agent of the firm.

The Capital Bank loaned Chi Hotel Group, Jacob Chi and Jasen Chi $675,000 with a maturity of only four months.

In addition to the Ramada Inn and Candlewood Suites in Little Rock, Chi Hotel Group also bought the Boyle Building in downtown Little Rock four years ago.

The Chi family paid $4.6 million for the building with early expectations to renovate the 12-story, 108-year-old building into an Aloft Hotel at an estimated cost of $22 million to $24 million.

The Little Rock Board of Ddirectors agreed to a zoning change last year that allowed the Chis’ firm to build apartments in the Boyle Building.

Attempts to contact the Chis for comment were unsuccessful.

SundayMonday Business on 06/08/2018

Print Headline: Group of companies buys Shackleford Corporate Center in LR for $9.4M

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Conway: Heads will roll after latest White House leak

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Monday she expects to see a staff shakeup in the wake of the furor over leaked comments made during an internal meeting last week.

“I had several discussions with the president on this very topic today,” Conway said on Fox News.

Asked by “The Story’s” Martha MacCallum if she expects personnel changes as a result, Conway said “I do, actually. Yes, I do.”

Conway’s warning came hours after President Trump condemned White House leakers as “traitors and cowards,” and vowed to discover the source of the problem.

The White House has been an uproar in recent days after The Hill first reported that communications staffer Kelly Sadler mocked Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) brain cancer diagnosis.

Sadler said during an internal meeting that McCain’s opposition to Trump’s pick for CIA director, Gina Haspel, “doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway.”

Lawmakers and former government officials have sharply criticized the comments and called for a public apology from Sadler and the White House.

The White House has not offered one, instead doubling down on its argument that the issue is the leak in the first place.

Deputy press secretary Raj Shah said during Monday’s press briefing that the matter was handled “internally,” but would not elaborate.

On Fox News, Conway defended Trump’s diatribe against leakers. Those who work at the White House should be loyal to the president and his agenda, she said.

“It’s not so much leaking as using the media to shiv each other, and that was going on quite a bit at the beginning of this administration and it’s less so now,” Conway said.

“But I think the president is on solid ground here,” she added.

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Conway pushes CNN’s Stelter to say who he voted for in tense exchange

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway demanded that CNN media reporter Brian Stelter say who he backed in the 2016 presidential election during a tense exchange on “Reliable Sources” on Sunday.

Stelter was pressing Conway on how President Trump knows there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, as he as stated in his attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, when Conway asked the question.

“If you want to talk about the 2016 election, let’s talk about it,” she said. “I think everything should come out.”

Conway asked what evidence Stelter “or anyone at CNN” had that Russian election interference influenced the 2016 presidential election results.

“You’re trying to conflate it to make America think that somehow Donald Trump didn’t win this election fairly and squarely and you know he did,” she said.

She then insisted that Stelter cite evidence that Russian election interference influence the election. The CNN reporter brought up the hacking of emails from a Democratic National Committee (DNC) server that were then shared by WikiLeaks when Conway interrupted him.

“Did you just say something that a lot of people are your side of the aisle are not willing to admit?” she asked.

Stelter said that he wasn’t “on a side of an aisle,” adding that it was “an offensive remark.”

“I did not vote for president,” Stelter replied. “I left that spot blank on the ballot that day. But it’s not appropriate for you to go around asking people who they voted for.”

“You probably didn’t think she needed your help,” Conway said.

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Viola Elizabeth (nee Stewart) Conway obituary

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COSWAT Of 212 Glenrork Drive, Bethel Park. Pa . on Julv lfi. 1937, Viola, wife ot ‘he le’t Thomas J. Conwav; daughter of Mrs. Efla Stewart of Butler, Pa : ulster of Frank Stewart of A’lan’l. Ga. and Dorothy t’wart ot Svracuse, N’. Y. Friends received at the Hamet Mortuarv. MrMurrav Road in’ar Bethel Church Road i. South Hllla. where services will be held on Frt-dav, Frt-dav, Frt-dav, at 2 p m. Interment In Sun-act Sun-act Sun-act Memorial Park,

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Restaurant transitions: Chili’s new location in west Little Rock; Wayback Burgers opening date; North Little Rock Chinese eatery closes

The Luby’s Cafeteria on West Markham Street near Chenal Parkway was demolished last week to make room for a new west Little Rock location for Chili’s.

Business section reporter David Smith’s Sunday “Real Estate Transactions” column detailing an ownership shift at the Village at Pleasant Valley shopping center, North Rodney Parham Road at Interstate 430 in west Little Rock, noted that the center has two major spaces vacant and another opening up this fall. One used to be a grocery store — the former location of Whole Foods (24,000 square feet, originally the second site of Beans, Grains & Things) and the ex-Dixie Cafe (7,500 square feet). Hank Kelley, chief executive officer of Flake & Kelley Commercial Real Estate, which now holds a bigger majority of the center’s ownership pie, is looking toward a greater emphasis on food and entertainment, mixed with retail. So, he says, he’s knocking on doors “seeking a restaurant for the Dixie space,” he said, and, “I’ve also had some discussions with some people in the brewery business, as well.” Meanwhile, he’s also in “active negotiations with a replacement tenant” for Chili’s Grill & Bar, which is set to move in October to a spot on which formerly sat a Luby’s Cafeteria, in strip center near the confluence of West Markham Street and Chenal Parkway, the razing of which was completed last week. And Venture Construction Co. has filed for a $1 million building permit for a “ground up restaurant” at that address, 12505 W. Markham. Kelley declined to identify the potential replacement, which he described as “a similar venue to what Chili’s does.”

Roxane Tackett, co-owner of the now-defunct Morningside Bagels, 10848 Maumelle Blvd., North Little Rock, over the weekend on Facebook posted thanks to friends and customers for “the lovely words of support and encouragement,” that “our family is moving forward and healing” and that “thankfully, many parties interested in purchasing the shop have contacted me. It is our goal to sell it as a bagel bakery so that we too can stop in and enjoy a good bagel and visit with friends.” You’ll recall the shop closed for Easter weekend but failed to reopen after police said Tackett’s husband, David, allegedly vandalized it and was subsequently arrested for the alleged attempted arson of a Maumelle residence. Roxane Tackett’s email, if you’re interested in putting in a bid on the store or expressing support, is morningsidebagels@sbcglobal.net.

Casey’s Bar-B-Q, on the cusp at 7410 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, is awaiting a Health Department inspection on Friday, says managing member David Henry, after which they are considering a couple of soft openings “before next Thursday, but that is when we will be ready.” So stand by. Casey’s operated for a couple of decades on Reservoir Road but closed more than a dozen years ago; the original family is resurrecting it in the former Arkansas Burger Company building. Hours are still expected to be 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. We continually get only the voicemail at the listed phone number — (501) 615-8522.

Wayback Burgers owner/franchisee Chris Hunter says he’s planning to start training his employees Monday and expecting now to open the chain/franchise operation’s first Little Rock outlet April 27 in the Chenal Curve Shopping Center, 16900 Chenal Parkway. Hours will be 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Hunter says it won’t serve alcohol at this point, but it’s an option he might do later on. The phone number is (501) 404-5858; the Facebook page: facebook.com/WaybackLittleRock.

New China Restaurant, in the North Park Mall, 4617 John F. Kennedy Blvd, North Little Rock, has closed and a call to the phone number, (501) 753-8988, returned a recording that the number has changed, and the new number is unknown.

Operating Manager Leslie Case now says to look for the opening “maybe the second week of May” of Sauce(d) Bar and Oven, a bar and upscale pizzeria that will serve wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas plus gourmet burgers, sandwiches, a few entrees, soups, salads and charcuterie in the former Casa Real/Cici’s Pizza space in the Market Place Shopping Center, 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock. Initially, Chase says, they’ll open just for dinner, with plans for subsequent lunch and weekend brunch hours. Follow their progress at the Facebook page, facebook.com/saucedlr.

The fifth annual Bernice Garden Farmers Market opens 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday in and around the garden, 1401 Main St., Little Rock, in the midst of the South Main community’s celebration of Earth Day and the ringing in of spring. All the vendors are Arkansas growers selling “fresh, local produce,” according to a news release; marketgoers will also encounter fresh flowers, music and food trucks. “Special visitors” will include LRecycles, Urban Food Loop and “others that lend their services to healthy body, mind and environment,” according to a news release. Co-host for the season opener is SparkFit, a gym and movement studio across the street from the garden. The market will open Sundays until October. Visit the Facebook page, tinyurl.com/ybgubz3a.

Peppermill Cafe and Grill, now open at 2798 S. Second St., Cabot, is, according to the Facebook page (tinyurl.com/papermillcafe) and menu, “the inspiration and masterpiece of business partners Tim Smith and Bryan Williamson [who] bring years of restaurant expertise to serve the greater Cabot area. The breakfast menu includes standards (eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches, omelets and French toast) and deluxe items (grilled pork chop, grilled chicken, steak and eggs). Lunch options include burgers, sandwiches (including paninis), steaks, salmon and salads. Hours are 7 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. The phone number is (501) 286-6129.

Spa City-based Stubby’s BBQ is opening a location April 28 at Magic Springs Theme and Water Park, East Grand Avenue (U.S. 70 East) Hot Springs, on Saturday. It joins Trejo’s Mexican Restaurant in offering food to parkgoers. The restaurant hours are still uncertain but should mirror normal park hours, which through May 25 are weekends only, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; after that, hours will extend to weekdays and vary from week to week. The park phone number is (501) 624-0100; visit MagicSprings.com.

Also in Hot Springs, a Schlotzsky’s outlet is under construction in the 4100 block of Central Avenue, where its neighbors include a Mapco gas station/convenience store, a branch of First Security Bank and a Car Wash USA Express.

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe outlets in Little Rock and Conway, which have established a “Year of Giving” campaign to donate to area nonprofits, will give a portion of the proceeds, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday at the location at 12800 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock, to The Call, which links local churches to active involvement in Arkansas foster care. Visit facebook.com/events/1975845522733153. And Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, 5-9 p.m. April 30, at the Conway location, 724 W. Oak St., benefits the Humane Society of Faulkner County. Visit facebook.com/events/180075605964805.

Has a restaurant opened — or closed — near you in the last week or so? Does your favorite eatery have a new menu? Is there a new chef in charge? Drop us a line. Call (501) 399-3667 or (501) 378-3513, or send a note to Restaurants, Weekend Section, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, Ark. 72203. Send email to:

eharrison@arkansasonline.com

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Minneapolis hopes to grind out a new tunnel deep below downtown

An underground web of tunnels beneath downtown Minneapolis channels stormwater to the Mississippi River. But with more concrete surfaces and bigger ra

Tunnels deep below downtown Minneapolis that deliver torrents of rain from the streets to the Mississippi River are bursting at the seams, and the cost of adding a new one to ease the pressure could show up in residents’ monthly water bills.

The $38 million project to dig a new passage 70 to 100 feet beneath Washington Avenue, beside an existing one, would be the largest of its kind downtown since the system was built about 80 years ago. The city has been fixing up its tunnels for about a decade to head off mishaps like a 2010 sewage spill into the river, caused by surging rainwater beneath 2nd Avenue that burst through a liner into a nearby sewer.

The urban center of the Twin Cities is crisscrossed by subterranean passages that make day-to-day life possible above ground. Carved through the softer material below a layer of limestone, in places as deep as 11 stories, these tunnels use gravity to deliver water to the river or to a sewage treatment plant.

The city has been giving underground tours to City Council members and legislators to make the case for fixing an unseen problem. Minneapolis is seeking $19 million from the Legislature to defray the cost of its Washington Avenue project, which could begin construction in 2020.

“The tunnels were built to handle much less water, so even when it’s raining moderately it means they’re full,” said Katrina Kessler, the city’s director of surface water and sewers, on a tour of a tunnel in southeast Minneapolis.

On a recent afternoon, Kessler sloshed through rushing water and used a headlamp to point out cracks in the tunnel wall. “Right here you can see that there was a big hole and we filled it with grout,” she said.

Sewer engineer Joe Klejwa spoke with Katrina Kessler, director of Surface Water and Sewers for the Minneapolis Public Works Department, during a tour

Sewer engineer Joe Klejwa spoke with Katrina Kessler, director of Surface Water and Sewers for the Minneapolis Public Works Department, during a tour underground in the northeast.] ANTHONY SOUFFLE ï anthony.souffle@startribune.com Deep below the streets of downtown Minneapolis, a tunnel built more than a century ago to move stormwater to the river is bursting at the seams each time it rains. Minneapolis wants $20 million to construct another one beside it. We will tour a similar tunnel and graphically show the web of pipes, utilities and tunnels beneath our feet walking around downtown.

Council Member Steve Fletcher, who took the tour, said he wishes more city residents who wonder where their tax dollars go could pay a visit to the tunnels.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work and technical expertise and effort that goes into things that we never see, happening 80 feet below us,” Fletcher said.

Without the state aid, public works officials say city residents could see a 20 percent spike over four years in their stormwater fees — which are normally stable. That could mean an extra $2.40 per month for a typical single family home, or about $70 more each month for the owner of an apartment building.

“We are hopeful the Legislature can recognize the value that this project brings not only to the city but the region and the state,” Kessler said.

The project wasn’t included in Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding bill, and neither the House nor the Senate has released its bonding proposal. It is third on the city’s list of bonding priorities, behind an overhaul of the Upper Harbor Terminal property and an expansion of the city’s emergency operations and training facility.

Kessler said the city intends to move forward regardless of whether the Legislature funds the project.

The tunnels are significantly deeper than the other essential conduits beneath the sidewalks. Most gas, electric and communications lines on Nicollet Mall are 3 to 5 feet below ground, just above water mains and sewer pipes.

Once stormwater drops to the tunnels, it flows by gravity toward Washington Avenue, where it follows the street’s path underground for several blocks before being spit out into the river beside the Stone Arch Bridge. The tentative plan is to build another tunnel beside the existing one to reduce pressure across the downtown system.

“We find credit cards, driver’s licenses, money, all the time when we’re down there because of the restaurants and everything around,” said Kevin Danen, the city’s sewer operations engineer.

It’s not the only deep tunnel work happening in the city. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has spent nearly four years burrowing 120 feet below Interstate 35W in south Minneapolis and repairing its stormwater tunnels there. And the Metropolitan Council is preparing to repair a wastewater tunnel near Minnehaha Park that’s as deep as 74 feet underground.

Including tunnels outside downtown, the city’s system spans nearly 16 miles, ushering rainwater from about a fifth of the city to the river. St. Paul has 20 miles of tunnels that perform a similar task.

Workers carved many of them into the sandstone using pick axes and high-pressure water hoses, then sealed them with concrete. It was dangerous work, and remains so. Two contractors working on a St. Paul stormwater tunnel died in 2007 when it was flooded by a sudden downpour.

There were also unusual discoveries. In a 1931 Minneapolis Star article, city engineer Carl Illstrup recalled crawling through “narrow fissures and crevices” — packed with toxic gas — deep below today’s Old Republic Title building on 2nd Avenue.

He emerged in a domed cavern featuring a lake and a 30-foot-wide curtain of water spilling into it. “It was a beautiful sight,” he told a reporter. “But we had to drain it.”

When the downtown tunnels were built, the city’s core still had some unpaved surfaces left to absorb stormwater. Now nearly everything that falls on downtown flows into the tunnels.

“We certainly have more concrete in downtown than we used to,” Kessler said, combined with “more intense, frequent rain events.”

Katrina Kessler, center, director of surface water and sewers for Minneapolis Public Works, talked with engineers Kevin Danen, left, and Joe Klejwa on

Since 2009, Minneapolis has spent $2 million to $5 million a year largely on repairing breaks in the lining. Pressurized water over time fractures the concrete, creating voids in the surrounding sandstone that further compromise the tunnels’ strength.

St. Paul has spent about $3.5 million to $4 million per year since 2006 on rehab work, said Bruce Elder, the city’s sewer utility manager. It is now working on a Phalen Creek tunnel northeast of downtown.

“We’re more or less working within the existing tunnel and making repairs,” Elder said. “We don’t really have a great need for additional capacity.”

An underground web of tunnels beneath downtown Minneapolis channels stormwater to the Mississippi River. But with more concrete surfaces and bigger ra
After a long trip from Turkey, George rested comfortably in the back seat of a vehicle that will deliver him to his foster home.

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Prestige Buildings Groups to build apartments on former Action Town Florida warehouse in Hialeah – South Florida Business Journal

The redevelopment of a Hialeah warehouse into apartments will soon begin after the developer secured an $18.3 million construction loan.

Conway, Arkansas-based Centennial Bank awarded the mortgage to Amelia Hialeah Holdings, led by Alexander Ruiz of Miami Lakes-based Prestige Builders Group. The 4.8-acre site at 7925 West 2nd Court previously had a warehouse building with indoor amusement center Action Town Florida, but it was demolished in 2017.

The project was approved for 150 two-bedroom apartments in nine three-story buildings.

The property is just west of Amelia Earhart Park and south of Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport. The developer acquired the site for $5 million in 2016.

This is part of a wave of redevelopment in Hialeah, where older warehouses are becoming multifamily.

General Contractors

Ranked by 2016 S. Fla. gross billings

Rank Company 2016 S. Fla. gross billings 1 Suffolk Construction Co. $805.31 million 2 Moss & Associates LLC $714.47 million 3 Coastal Construction Group $702.22 million View This List

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Japanese outreach coordinator shares culture with Arkansas | Miami Herald

Aya Murata is more partial to Southern fried catfish than sushi with raw fish, but learning about another culture and teaching others about her native Japan are exactly why she’s in Conway.

Murata, 26, is the Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator at Hendrix College, a two-year position she started in August 2016.

She has shared her culture with public schools and the community — showing the ritual of making tea and the art of origami, demonstrating how to wear a kimono and answering questions from curious kids and adults, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported .

“Every time I visit schools, there are kids who never met anyone from other countries, especially Asian countries. I’m so happy to be part of their international, intercultural education at those schools,” she said. “By meeting me, they can expand their horizons.”

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She is from Saitama, an area north of Tokyo.

“It’s a really big city, just like New York City, with tall buildings, but we also have lots of nature,” she said.

Murata has a degree in intercultural communications, and she worked for three and a half years at an international hotel in Tokyo.

She worked in the traditional Japanese restaurant in the hotel. Each day, dressed in a kimono, she served meals and also worked at the front desk to talk about tourism in Tokyo.

Murata has been to 13 countries on her own, and she loves the United States, she said, because people are friendly and welcoming.

“Since I was little, I was very fortunate to visit different countries and meet people of different cultures, different religions, different backgrounds,” she said.

The Japan Outreach Initiative is administered by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and The Laurasian Institution. The goal is to bring about a deeper understanding of Japan by sending coordinators like Murata to do community outreach and cultural activities.

Murata said building “human-to-human” relationships is the best way to understand each other and to dispel stereotypes.

“Politically, Japan and the United States have a very strong relationship, and I think we have to continue to keep this relationship. In terms of human-to-human relationships, I think it’s still developing,” she said.

Before being matched to Hendrix, Murata had never heard of Arkansas. Her grandparents live in a rural area of Japan, though, so Arkansas was not a huge shock.

“This is my first time to come to the United States. I was very excited. Through this job, I knew I would be able to meet many local people,” she said.

The language and Southern slang weren’t hard to understand, she said, “but the y’all, I didn’t know about it.”

Murata’s biggest learning curve — she had to get a driver’s license.

“One thing that surprised me — you have to drive a car,” she said, adding that she was used to public transportation.

Murata said she started taking driving lessons three months before she came to Arkansas.

“I’m still new to driving,” she said.

She took a deep breath when asked what she thinks about Conway’s many roundabouts: “Now I like them,” she said, laughing. “They’re very convenient, but I’ve seen accidents, too.”

Murata travels to public schools, including Conway, Cabot and Vilonia, as well as nonprofit organizations, to share her culture. In addition to making presentations, one of her favorite activities is to dress the teacher in a casual kimono, called a yukata.

“Kids love to see their teachers wear the clothes from different countries,” she said.

Claudia Courtway, assistant director of international programs at Hendrix College, said Murata has been “a whirlwind of energy since she arrived in August 2016.”

“She has such a passion for what she does and has such a humble and gracious way of sharing about her culture,” Courtway said.

Murata’s most recent and largest project is organizing the first Central Arkansas Omatsuri Japanese Festival, scheduled for April 7 at the brick pit at Hendrix. The free event, sponsored by Hendrix in collaboration with the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, will include Japanese food, games, entertainment and more.

It’s no accident that Murata was placed by the Japan Outreach Initiative program at Hendrix, where the president, Bill Tsutsui, is Japanese-American.

Tsutsui said he met the president of the organization’s foundation at a conference in Portland, Oregon, and the woman had heard of Hendrix and suggested to Tsutsui that he host a Japanese Outreach Initiative coordinator.

“I said, ‘That sounds like a great idea,'” Tsutsui said.

“What has really made the program is Aya as a person. She’s the best ambassador for Japan, and she’s perfect for Arkansas — she is so friendly. She is so open; she just wants to share all the great things about Japanese culture, especially with the kids in Conway.”

Tsutsui said it is “hugely important in the world that we live in to understand people from around the world.”

“You realize there are not that many opportunities in Arkansas to learn about Japan,” he said. People may experience Japanese culture through movies or food, but “there’s something special about having someone who is Japanese.”

Since Murata has been in the United States, she visited the Rohwer Internment Camp Museum in Arkansas. During World War II, thousands of Japanese-Americans, the majority of whom were U.S. citizens, were forced from their homes and housed in internment camps. Two were in southeast Arkansas, Rohwer and Jerome.

“I was very ashamed that I did not know about the Japanese internment camps,” she said.

She lives in the Japanese Language House, which Hendrix didn’t have until she came. About 10 students lived with her last semester, she said. She also started a Japanese Conversation Club at Hendrix, and a Japanese exchange student helps her teach other students.

In the language house, they cook Japanese meals and speak Japanese almost exclusively. Students also give presentations each month on a facet of Japanese culture or society.

“Everyone has a different interest in Japanese culture,” she said. “I would say many students first got interested in Japanese culture through anime or manga (Japanese comics). They may be interested in origami, Japanese art or, of course, food.”

Murata said she has given many sushi workshops, and she uses rice, teriyaki chicken, crab meat, cucumbers, “ingredients that people can get here.”

She also started the origami paper-crane project, in which the goal is to make 1,000 paper cranes.

“In Japan, we believe if we fold 1,000 origami cranes, your dream will come true. It’s also a symbol of peace.”

After an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II, a little girl affected by the radiation started to fold 1,000 cranes while she was in the hospital.

In Conway, nearly 300 volunteers — faculty, staff and students of Hendrix and UCA, and middle school students and teachers — are helping Murata make the cranes.

“For Japanese people, it’s not that hard, but there are about 20 steps (to make the cranes),” she said.

The cranes will be displayed in the Student Learning and Technology Center at Hendrix until April, then be moved to the Mills Center to be near the painting Arrival at Camp Jerome, created by Henry Sugimoto. He painted the piece when he was at the Jerome relocation center.

Murata will return to Japan in August, but her hope is that she has helped deepen the connection between two vastly different cultures.

“One of my hopes is this will continue even after I leave,” she said of the outreach initiative. “When I got here, there was not much opportunity for relationships to Japanese culture. So many people helped me here. I hope the students will continue what I started.

“I want to be like a bridge to connect Japan with other countries in the world; that is my dream,” she said. “I know it is big. I like to have big dreams or goals.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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