The Little Rock Technology Park Authority has announced that it has developed criteria for potential sites of the city taxpayer-financed building that is envisioned as a lure for private technology ventures.
Information for potential sites must be submitted by Aug. 31.
The Authority, a creation of a law developed by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and run administratively by the chamber, has been enmeshed in controversy since targeting three residential neighborhoods between UAMS and UALR for the project. The Little Rock City Board, which is providing the money ($22 million from a sales tax increase pushed in a campaign run by the chamber), urged a wider search for property that wouldn’t dislocate neighborhoods.
The full news release is on the jump. In it, the release from Authority Chair Mary Good said of the original sites:
Although the three sites are not now being considered, the reports’ recommendations for building placements, appropriate phase build out, utility utilization, etc., will be of use for whatever site is ultimately chosen. These issues and the environmental questions — both aesthetic and practical — will be the subject of the Board’s discussion at the August meeting.
The site submission criteria are listed here. They are general attributes for each site, rather than a set of requirements that sites meet certain rules, such as minimum acreage or, say, a minimum driving time from UALR and UAMS. That short drive previously had been a firm desire of the Authority Board, but it has been roundly criticized by the city board, residents and UAMS, which has withheld its payment to the tech park effort because of concerns over site selection. Clearly, however, location could end up influencing Authority members when they make a decision. Good has made it clear several times that she could envision a scenario in which the residential neighborhoods might yet be considered, though city officials, the latest being Mayor Mark Stodola, seemed to have ruled that out.
I have made an FOI request for the final engineering firm report on the three original sites. It has been completed and the news release said it would be posted on the Tech Park website, but it is not there currently.
A number of property owners have suggested alternate sites. Drawing high attention has been commercial acreage on the east side of Interstate 30 downtown near the Clinton Library, Heifer International and Acxiom headquarters.
UPDATE: This Tech Park can’t, or won’t, shoot straight.
I asked Jay Chesshir, the chamber boss who’s running the Tech Park show generally, about the seeming lack of specifics in the so-called criteria, such as minimums for acreage, distance from institutions and the like. He sent me this note:
As has been requested, all Little Rock sites will be considered. The document asks for all of those things you’ve mentioned.
I followed up and asked, just to be clear, that the criteria actually weren’t criteria at all, in a commonly understood sense, merely a request for information. He didn’t respond. But that’s all people with potential sites received in letters inviting them to provide the general information.
But then Chair Mary Good responded to a question from Leslie Peacock about criteria:
There is some confusion about the one page sheet that went out with the news release this morning. That sheet is the factual cover sheet for those folks recommending a Park site. The criteria for evaluating the sites are being finalized by the committee. I expect their final copy this week (maybe tomorrow) and it will be posted on the web site and I will send you a copy.
In short, the news release was in error, from the very first sentence. And misleading. And people with land to sell have already been sent letters about filling in the barebones “criteria” list without any mention that the real criteria are yet to come.