Jeff Yates, the “investigator/negotiator” hired in January by the Little Rock Technology Park Authority, told the authority board today that he sees “a lot of opportunity” in the “technology corridor” along Main Street where the board is looking for property for the park, and negotiations on property could be brought to the board as soon as June.
Yates compared his research of vacant land and buildings downtown to March Madness, saying he was coming down to a “final four or two” to provide 500,000 square feet of space for the tech park. The park would most likely be spread out among various downtown parcels, involving new construction or remodels or both. A cluster of properties that would include the parking lot at the northwest corner of Fifth and Main and smaller lots in the block east across the street may be the most promising.
Yates, who is working with park consultant Charles Dilks, predicted that there would be “hurdles” when it comes to final negotiations, but told the board “you guys are very persuasive and can help owners see their way clear” to a deal. In answer to a question from board member C.J. Duvall about whether he had a rough idea of what the asking prices would be, Yates said that “the short answer” was yes, but there were variables, such as condition, to consider. “I’ve met a lot of pigeons lately,” he said, adding that some “owners need to tighten up” their properties.
Yates suggested to the board that he bring his negotiations for several properties to members to give them leverage in making a deal.The board members, however, asked him to bring them the best property with a second best in mind kept to himself. Yates said he thought he could do that at the board’s June meeting.
The board also voted to approve the negotiations for a lease of 7,968 square feet in the Block 2 building at Main and Markham streets for a business accelerator. The property would then be leased to Innovate Arkansas for the first Little Rock Ark Challenge. The lease agreement would set rent at $12 a square foot for the first year ($95,616 by my calculations), $13.50 for the second and 2 percent annual increases after that. The landlord, MIMG XXIX Block 2 LLC, will provide an allowance of $180,000 for improvements to the space; the authority needs to come up with another $10,000 to prepare the building or cut back remodeling costs by $10,000. Dr. Mary Good, chairman, suggested the board ask Verizon if it had cubicles it would give the accelerator; Verizon provided some of their surplus from their acquisition of Alltel to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter has sent a memo to the board saying it may legally draw down the money it needs from its account, board member Jay Chesshir said. Their account now stands at $4 million. The city has pledged to spend $22 million on the park from sales tax revenues.
The board went into an executive session to review eight applications it has received for tech park director. Joining them was Buckley O’Mell, who works for the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and serves as the board’s amanuensis, since it has no staff. When I realized he’d gone into the meeting Noel Oman of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and I knocked on the door of the room where the board was meeting and asked O’Mell to step out or let the public in, since his attendance violated the rule on executive sessions. I’m guessing the board knew it was illegal to ask him in — to help hand them documents — and didn’t care. It’s a fairly loosey-goosey board, you know. O’Mell joined the rest of us outside the room where the board was meeting (in the Pulaski County Regional Building.
The board spent about 40 minutes looking at the applications and after opening the meeting up again announced they had made no decision, would ask the applicants if they could contact their references, and said they hoped to get more applications (form on website).