Preparing for the future real estate and retail market were key topics at the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce meeting held Nov. 7. Speakers at the meeting said the soon-to-be-open interchange between Interstate 40 and Arkansas Highway 89 will change the face of Lonoke.

Executive director John Garner also remarked the new interchange is going to change the economy of the area. After several years of tantalizing interest by new businesses to the area, he had given up to wait for the completion of the new interchange.

Initial interest in Lonoke’s ideal location soon cooled by the limited access to I-40, and it became obvious that the new interchange is the key to growth, Garner said. But that is quickly changing, he said.

Speakers at the meeting were Roger Davenport of RPM Realty and Karen Dill, owner of Dill Real Estate.

The new interchange will bring opportunities in Lonoke’s industrial area, Davenport said. "It’s coming. It won’t be long."

The interchange will connect directly to Lonoke’s industrial area.

Davenport spoke about Lonoke’s rapidly developing real estate market and opportunities to build the community. "I have a vested interest. I live here, I shop here, and I want to see things grow and done right. Not have somebody … put the wrong things in the wrong places," he said.

The development will get started when wastewater service gets to the area. "The growth, commercially and residential, is going to be incredible," Davenport said.

The growth at Lonoke’s current interchange is the ideal example, Davenport said. That area is now the site of restaurants, service stations, four hotels, one new hotel being built another restaurant in the works, and Walmart, he said.

Davenport said that although he is licensed for both residential and commercial, he has taken on development of the industrial area as a personal project. Contacts are being developed worldwide to bring attention to the new area that is soon to open at Lonoke, he said.

Another goal will be to "bring the golf course back to life, somehow," Davenport said. That goal focuses on developing the residential market serving golf, he said.

Mallard Point Golf Course was closed after the recession struck, reducing the course’s clientele. It is also the site of Mallard Point Estates.

"We are working on three or four different pieces, industrial, commercial, residential, golf course. I have met with 40 or 50 companies already," Davenport said.

Karen Dill, owner of Dill Real Estate, said records show that residential sales in the area is changing for the better. "We are ahead of our sales from last year. In 2012, 46 houses sold in Lonoke; 58 houses have already been sold in Lonoke for 2013," and there are a number of houses under contract expected to close before the end of the year, Dill said.

"We are excited … about the development of the area of Highway 89," Dill said.

With the opening of the interchange will come more opportunities, Dill said. "The more that we have to offer in this town, the more retail sales are going to grow," she said.

The growing number of new homes is also exciting, Dill said. For too long all Lonoke had to offer were 40-year-old homes, she said.

She offered tips to people planning to sell an older home. "Treat it like a car you want to sell. Clean it up," she said

Garner repeated that the new interchange is the key for Lonoke.

While the interchange, proper, will not be open until later in 2014, the new bridge is expected to be open in January, 2014. Once traffic is routed on the bridge, the old bridge will be removed to open the way for the exit and entrance ramps, Garner said.

The new bridge could be open sometime in January, Garner said. The bridge will be in use long before the interchange is open because the old bridge has to be removed before the entrance and exit ramps can be put in, he said.