UPDATE: No full report yet, but it appears our earlier prediction was correct. A downtown site is the choice for location of the Little Rock Technology Park.
The vote was 4-3 for downtown, a spectator e-mails me. Chair Mary Good and Board member Dickson Flake continued their pitched opposition and expressed pessimism about whether the site would work. Good continued to endorse the Sears building on University. An observer at the meeting said Good had said UALR students could easily ride bicycles from campus to the building, some 15 to 20 blocks north. Careful on University Ave. with those bikes!
The downtown lobby sweetened the pot before the meeting. The sweeteners included an offer of six months free rent in a downtown building from Moses Tucker and staff support from the mayor’s office and Clinton School and Law School interns. Also, a fund-raising commitment came from the Downtown Little Rock Partnership. Sharon Priest of the Downtown Partnership also sent a letter committing Acxiom and Merkle to provide internships to students working on research and development in the new project.
Mayor Mark Stodola spoke for the downtown choice at the meeting.
Leslie Peacock will be back soon with the details.
Max stole my best line, reporting about Dr. Good’s response to board member Kevin Zaffaroni’s question, which was, Once you get in your car what’s the difference between driving to Sears and driving downtown?
Members Jay Chesshir, Tom Butler, C.J. Duvall and Zaffaroni cast the four votes for the park. Flake, Good and Bob Johnson voted for the Sears site. UALR was second on everyone’s list except UAMS representative Butler’s.
Not unlike arguing over what the definition of “is” is, after choosing downtown the board discussed what was meant by “site.” Flake said it meant physically connected, as in a campus, with the first building as nucleus. He does not like the idea of locating the park in dispersed buildings, as he believes would happen downtown. “We need to see if a true site can be developed” downtown, Flake said.
Zaffaroni responded that that could be accomplished downtown, and Stodola, who stood to speak as the board was about to adjourn, provided the board a map of downtown that showed an area on Main Street where five buildings located next door and across from each other offer 900,000 square feet of developable space. “I want that in the public record,” he said.
UAMS is on record as supporting the downtown site, and has even gone so far as to say it it could use, for its BioVentures spinoffs over the next five to 10 years, an estimated 42,000 to 45,000 square feet for 20 to 25 companies, wet labs and IT workspace. The estimates — which are not commitments — were provided to Good by BioVentures Director Marie Chow. UAMS is the only entity to say it would occupy space in the tech park building.
On a motion by Flake, the board voted to write up a request for proposal for an “investigator/negotiator” to study the downtown area. Chesshir, though he voted for downtown, raised several complications. He said he did not want to “marginalize” the “first-rate research” in nanotechnology and analytics at UALR, with its multi-million investment in equipment that some companies will need to travel to the university to use. He said answering that need might require two buildings, one downtown and one closer to UALR. Chesshir also proposed that the board get consultant Charles Dilks to weigh in. It was an odd suggestion coming from downtown supporter Chesshir, in that Dilks’ opinion, since the park feasibility study was issued in 2009, has been that proximity is key, and downtown ain’t proximate to UAMS or UALR.
Chesshir also suggested the board discuss at its next meeting leasing space downtown by next March for an accelerator to take advantage of what he sees as growing momentum in the information technology community. The board agreed, and Flake commented that the board will have to figure out how to pay for leasing the space. Chessir said after the meeting that he believes city tax money being set aside for the park can be used for leasing as well as site preparation and construction.
So is the deal done? Not really.
What follows was written earlier today:
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority meets at 4 p.m. today at UAMS amid growing signs that a decision will be made on a location to begin developing the endeavor, should anybody ever figure out exactly what it is going to be. $22 million in promised city sales tax receipts are burning a hole in the pockets of several anxious to spend it, however.
The board has three plans under consideration: a UALR site mixing university property with some residential property that’s eventually planned for university growth; the Sears building on University Avenue (occupied for some time to come), and the variety of vacant structures downtown that Mayor Mark Stodola and the Downtown Partnership and a growing force of advocates envision as perfect to encourage technology-based enterprises. UAMS has also made a critical offer to locate biosciences efforts there. That means rent. Until that offer emerged, the plan had city tax money but nothing else — either private commitment of supporting capital or guaranteed tenants — to provide contributions toward operating costs.
If I had to guess, I’d guess downtown now has a working coalition on the seven-member board. Leslie Peacock will be on hand.
Meanwhile, a number of residents of the Fair Park neighborhood near UALR have signed a statement again urging the board to keep its hands off their property.
The citizens of Little Rock agree that the Little Rock Technology Park has the potential to be an economic benefit to the city, but many residents – especially those, like us, who live in the area slated for future use as the Tech Park – have concerns.
Many people feel that the Sears site selection would be a better way to spend the money than by going into the neighborhoods adjacent to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Other citizens have been excited at the prospect of a downtown location, although this would likely be a more expensive option. Either way the Tech Park Board votes, we want to see the Tech Park be a successful venture without it being the end of the Oak Forest Neighborhood.
The Oak Forest Neighborhood is a pleasant place to live, and many of us do not want to move. We support our neighbors in eliminating the Oak Forest Neighborhood as the foundation site for the Little Rock Technology Park.