Jeff Yates, the realtor hired by the Little Rock Technology Park Authority to look at possible properties downtown on Main Street for lease or new construction for the tech park, told the authority board today that two of the four clusters identified in the so-called “technology corridor” between Markham and Ninth streets had insufficient properties available to accommodate the park as envisioned by the board.
The corridor was divided into four clusters for purposes of targeting a focal point for the park hub, the first building in which Little Rock taxpayers will invest $22 million from sales tax receipts to house biological and technological start-up companies. Yates declined to identify which of the four clusters didn’t have enough available property within them to create a neighborhood of park-sponsored ventures, saying he did not want to give the owners in the clusters he is still investigating an incentive to raise prices. He did say, however, that the two clusters he is still considering are not contiguous, and one will require property from a contiguous cluster to be suitable.
The clusters are four-block squares bordered by Louisiana Street on the west and Scott Street on the east with the exception of Cluster III, which has east-west boundaries of Main and Center streets and north-south boundaries of Fifth and Seventh Streets.
In a letter presented to the board, Yates said the “the elimination of the properties with the least potential and the identification of the most feasible properties has resulted in one cluster that is more favorable than the other. However, more input is necessary from the owners of the the properties before a final recommendation can be presented.”
Board member Kevin Zaffaroni suggested that just because one four-block square might not contain enough available property to meet the tech park’s needs, that didn’t mean the park couldn’t be spread out among a wider area downtown. He noted that the Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis is a mile square and its facilities are not contiguous, but mixed in with neighborhood businesses, which is part of its appeal. Chair Dr. Mary Good and member Dickson Flake demurred, Good saying the park needed to “nail down a footprint. … You could end up with a building and nothing near by” in downtown’s warming-up real estate market, and Flake that the St. Louis park’s master plan calls for 100 contiguous acres.
Translation: Zaffaroni thinks you don’t need a campus for a technology park to succeed. Good and Flake do. Member Jay Chesshir, as the Chamber of Commerce member on the board, naturally could see positives to both site plans.
Yates said his investigation was a starting point, not a whole, telling Good, “With all due respect, this will be a point from which you can continue to build. This is not a finite thing. With success it will continue to [to grow] for decades to come,” the current clusters holding merely the “seeds” of the park.
Chesshir also updated the board on the City Board of Directors decision last week to take money from the general fund to pay a year’s lease on property on Markham that will house the Ark Challenge for Central Arkansas.
The board then went into executive session to consider seven new applications for director of the tech park, but decided to hold off on voting until absent members C.J. Duvall, whose task has been to contact references, and Bob Johnson were in attendance. A conference call executive session will be conducted next week.
New applicants include of Atlanta, whose resume says he is the director of economic development/executive director of research park at the University of Mississippi; of Little Rock, the former development director at the Arkansas Foodbank; , the entrepreneurship and technology development director for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; with the Clinton School of Public Service, who has been working in a legal resource center in Cape Town, S. Africa; , the Lipscomb Distinguished Professor of Agriculture at Arkansas State University; of Maumelle, senior vice president for Vestcom business solutions; and , the COO of Hortus Ltd./P. Allen Smith Companies and a former vice president at Axciom.