After reaching a concensus that Building 5 on Allied Drive was poorly configured for wet labs and clusters of tech businesses, the Little Rock Technology Park Authority board tonight eliminated it from consideration as a site for the park. Still on the table: The downtown site at 7th and Collins, the southeast corner of Asher and University and wooded acres on John Barrow Road, all of which the board discussed openly at the Bailey Center at UALR.
The board voted to ask member Dickson Flake to talk to consultant Charles Dilks about what steps the board should do next and whether he would assess the three sites from a business perspective, to see which would be the most attractive to companies. Flake was also authorized to ask engineers what it would cost to get “limited review” of what construction problems might exist on the sites. (Flake said it bothered him that the Authority paid Crafton Tull Engineers $35,000 for its work studying three sites that the city board of directors later said should be off the table and he was not eager to get into another costly contract if possible.) The board also asked member Dr. Michael Douglas to ask companies that have started at or are now housed in UAMS’ Bioventures incubator — where Douglas is director — to come to the next meeting to talk about their needs to grow their companies, an idea that seems past due. The board would like to hear from Safe Foods and CTEH Toxicology Consultants, now located in a business park on Northshore Drive in North Little Rock.
None of the sites got a resounding hoorah from the board, though the John Barrow site drew less criticism than the others. Board members were concerned about the possibility of expanding the 10-acre Collins street site; the park board wants at least 30 acres site.The realtors representing the site — Jimmy Moses and Rett Tucker — have not nailed down agreements from adjoining property owners on their willingness to sell, and board member Bob Johnson criticized the 10 acres assembled as “choppy,” since there’s a slice of private property mid-site. Flake advised his colleagues that they shouldn’t let worries about “assemblage” of property stand in the way of site selection, but Johnson said he wouldn’t like the site “if there were 30 acres” already there.
Concerns about the 83-acre Asher and University property, which the University District Partnership supports, involved the fact that about half the property is wetlands, though the non-wetland area for sale — the shopping center on the southeast corner — is more than sufficient for the tech park’s needs and the Coleman family, which owns part of the property, has said it would sell a smaller parcel if that’s what the board wants, according to partnership head Ron Copeland said. The shopping center is half empty, but member C.J. Duvall expressed concern about kicking out businesses that are still leasing storefronts. Duvall said the site’s strong point was its proximity to UALR; Johnson said the site offered “lots of possibilities” because of its frontage on two major roads.
The John Barrow road property could present topography problems, board members said, since it is below grade and has a small lake in the middle, suggesting a bowl-shape. But the board liked the fact that it’s a clean slate — only woods and no structures to be removed and on a major thoroughfare. Chairman Mary Good noted the neighborhood’s “enormous support” for the site and Duvall said he was happy about the neighborhood’s development.
The John Barrow site is the most distant from UALR, prompting members to again raise the issue of proximity to researchers at UAMS, UALR and Children’s Hospital was again raised. Chairman Good stressed that she thinks locating the park near the researchers is “extraordinarily important,” making it convenient for post-docs for travel between sites and have easy access to university equipment.
The board also thanked Douglas for his service. Douglas, 68, is retiring from Bioventures in February and moving to Texas. UAMS will appoint his successor to the board.