Arkansas Commercial Real Estate Pioneer Dickson Flake Dies at 81

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L. Dickson Flake, the commercial real estate developer whose major projects include the 33-story Regions Center in Little Rock and J.B. Hunt Transport Services headquarters in Lowell, died Tuesday in Little Rock. He was 81.

Over a 55-year career, Flake played a role in several major commercial projects in Arkansas, including Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield’s downtown Little Rock headquarters, the USAble Corporate Center, the Breckenridge Village shopping center, the Arkansas Department of Human Services downtown Little Rock headquarters, the Jones Eye Institute at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock.

“For such a small man of stature, he looms large in so many, many ways, from his business leadership, obviously in the real estate community — not only in Little Rock but in Arkansas, in the Mid-South for that matter — to his work helping so many different organizations, especially in Little Rock,” said Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber. 

A 2011 inductee into the University of Arkansas’ Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, Flake pioneered the concept of development management in Arkansas. Throughout his career, he developed more than 2 million SF of real estate.

In 1971, Flake co-founded Barnes Quinn Flake & Anderson Inc. — now Colliers International Arkansas — and was a managing partner and shareholder until 2002. 

He continued to work as an advisor and consultant with the firm until his death, the firm said in a statement late Tuesday.

“Dickson was an Arkansas business legend, a service-oriented leader who gave his time to family, our firm and our community,” Kevin Huchingson, chairman and CEO of Colliers International Arkansas, said in a statement.

He told Arkansas Businesss by email late Wednesday morning, “Dickson will easily be recognized as a legend in the real estate world, and I have heard from friends and colleagues across the country this morning. He was also a personal hero. He was humble and selfless, and instilled in our firm the culture to put others above yourself: client above firm, firm above self.  

“He was quiet and an exceptional listener and judge of character. He carefully chose his words, and, when he spoke, it was meaningful and full of wisdom. His knowledge, professionally and personally, was powerful. He did so much for others behind the scene, including our city and state, and would never seek nor want recognition. He set the bar for integrity and character.”  

Flake’s younger brother, John Flake, is another leader in Arkansas’ commercial real estate industry, serving as chief real estate advisor of Flake & Co. of Little Rock, a firm co-founded by his daughter Jessica Flake Dearnley. 

Reached for comment via email Wednesday morning, John Flake wrote, “I just lost my mentor and best friend.”

Flake was born in Little Rock on Aug. 10, 1938. He joined the Air National Guard in 1956, and that same year moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to attend the University of Michigan. 

Flake graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1960. Early that year, he married Linda Blaine Clement. The two would be married for 59 years, until her death last year — June 30 — at age 81. 

Flake went to work for the Burroughs Corp. of St. Louis at its offices in Detroit while continuing his education, earning an MBA from University of Michigan in 1963.

Flake returned to Little Rock in 1965 to work in commercial real estate as head of the Walthour-Flake Co. Inc. In 1971, he co-founded Barnes Quinn Flake & Anderson Inc., which became the state’s largest commercial real estate firm, with C.V. “Cotton” Barnes, Luke W. Quinn  and Samuel Anderson. 

Among the firm’s first projects was the 33-story First National Bank building. At the time, it was the state’s tallest. But it was the lengthy development of the Systematics campus in west Little Rock that Flake said he enjoyed the most. The campus is now owned by publicly traded FIS of Jacksonville, Florida.

“I would say the most interesting — from, probably because of the breadth of it, and also the duration — was the one for Systematics and their corporate campus, which began with a site search, evaluation, negotiation, acquisition of their site, planning of their site and then the development over a decade of multiple buildings, on a campus for them,” Flake said in his Hall of Fame interview. “It was an enriching experience and a great relationship with the management.”

Flake led the development of other majors projects, including the headquarters for two of the state’s biggest publicly traded transportation companies, Arkansas Best Corp. of Fort Smith (now ArcBest Corp.) and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell.

Hank Kelley Jr., CEO of Kelley Commercial Partners, said he started his central Arkansas career in 1980 at Barnes Quinn Flake & Anderson, though he had worked in the real estate appraisal industry in Fayetteville previously. Flake mentored him then and throughout his career. 

“Anytime you worked with Dickson, you learned something new based upon his knowledge and dedication to the industry.  Respect and trust were at the center of those conversations from my view of him,” Kelley said. “Dickson was always respectful of your point of view, even if he didn’t agree or his client didn’t agree with your point of view.”

He added, “Dickson continued to support my effort to obtain professional designations in the real estate industry, even though we worked for different companies that competed.”

In 2002, Barnes Quinn Flake & Anderson announced that it would merge with what was then the state’s seventh-largest firm, IBR Real Estate, to create Dickson Flake Partners. The stock-swap deal took effect on Jan. 1, 2003.

The deal put 6 million SF of real estate under the combined firm’s management. But Flake said the deal wasn’t about being the biggest. 

“We’ve never had our focus on how big we can be or how fast we can grow,” Flake told Arkansas Business at the time. “This gives us a lot more depth to take on more assignments that would’ve stretched us before.”

In 2005, the firm became a member of Colliers International, a global partnership of independently owned commercial real estate firms, and changed its name to Colliers Dickson Flake Partners. Flake said his firm had been seeking the affiliation for about five years. While Colliers didn’t usually partner with firms in markets as small as Little Rock, Dickson Flake Partners’ reputation caused Colliers to make an exception, he said.

“We believe the Colliers affiliation will allow us to serve clients with an even deeper base of investment and tenant relationships, industry expertise and other industry resources,” Flake said at the time.

By 2008, it had changed its name to Colliers International Arkansas, at the time managing more than 10 million SF of commercial space through offices in Little Rock and Bentonville.

Dickson Flake also served on the Little Rock Technology Park Board Authority, leading the multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort to establish the downtown Tech Park. 

“Dickson did more than serve on the tech park’s board. He’s the main reason it even exists,” Tech Park Director Brent Birch said Wednesday. “I can’t tell you how many hours he dedicated to this project, and his dogged determination to get it done is truly the biggest factor in standing up the project. All without making a single cent.”

He called Flake an “incredible mentor” to numerous people, including himself. 

“He was a tireless, humble, professional gentleman in every sense of the word. He’s a business and civic icon that Arkansas will sorely miss,” Birch said.

Chesshir called the tech park a “living monument” to Flake though “he never wanted the credit for anything.”

“The due diligence and research done to determine whether or not [the tech park] would be feasible, I think, epitomizes Dickson and his amazing business acumen. He was very meticulous in everything that he did,” Chesshir said. “And, while he had a huge heart, he also held himself and everyone around him accountable for getting work done, but work not necessarily for the benefit of himself, or any specific individual or entity, but work on behalf of the community.”

Chesshir said Flake was able to take on complex situations and get the best out of the people around him.

“I used to sit and stand in awe at how he could take difficult situations and break them down very quickly into manageable decisions that, while they might have been difficult to make, he created an atmosphere where people felt comfortable in disagreeing and stating a different point of view, and in coming together for a final decision and then collectively supporting that final decision,” he said.

“He was truly uniquely qualified to lead not only his peers, but even the generations which came after him, who had deep respect for him as I do.”

In a statement, U.S Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., said his family “lost a good friend.”

“Like many in central Arkansas, I lost a wise counselor,” Hill said. “Our region lost one of its most tireless workers and builders for a better community. In this time of thanks and reflection, Martha and I extend our condolences and prayers to the Flake family.”

Flake was named the Arkansas Real Estate Association Realtor of the Year in 1971, was invited in 1974 to membership in the exclusive, 1,000-member American Society of Real Estate Counselors — the youngest person to be invited at that time — and was awarded the Clinton B. Snyder trophy from the Marketing Institute of the National Association of Realtors in 1982 for a complex exchange transaction involving a series of four parcels of land, 13 deeds and 10 parties. 

He was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2011 and was honored last month by Little Rock Rotary Club 99 as the 2020 Business & Professional Leader of the Year.

Flake also prized the value of education.

“I think education is just the most critical element in advancing not only our economy but society,” he said. “And I’ve concentrated most of my volunteer work with higher education. My father was absolutely insistent on the higher education of his sons, even though he had no college whatsoever.”