Tomorrow, the Little Rock Technology Park Authority will hear a recommendation from its “investigator/negotiator” on a park location and a report on Brookings Institution research that says urban “innovation districts” are the wave of the future for tech parks.
That “investigator,” realtor Jeff Yates, said today he’ll provide other options in case the board asks for recommendations other than the one he proposes. He declined to name his favored location, but said he’d given adjacent property owners a “heads up,” though, as he noted, the Authority “may not build anything for 20 years.” Build? I’m putting my money on a parking lot just next to KATV in the 400 block of Main Street. (If the park is building, it would be several years off, when the $22 million the city has promised from sales tax revenue has accrued.)
Yates’ talk will come after a presentation by longtime Authority advisor Charles Dilks of Philadephia of research by the Brookings Institution on urban tech park sitings (“The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America”). From an article summing up the research:
For the past 50 years, the landscape of innovation has been dominated by places like Silicon Valley — suburban corridors of spatially isolated corporate campuses, accessible only by car, with little emphasis on the quality of life or on integrating work, housing and recreation.
A new complementary urban model is now emerging, giving rise to what we and others are calling “innovation districts.” These districts, by our definition, are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. They are also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.
Given Dilks’ previous position that the park should be located no farther than 5 minutes from park sponsors UAMS and UALR, it’s hard to know where he’s going on this report. The Brookings research doesn’t call the campus model — favored by members Dr. Mary Good and realtor Dickson Flake (and scotched by a 4-3 vote of the board) — passe, but notes the rise of synergistic settings in which business accelerators and university-based research start-ups operate in side by side.
The report describes three models for “innovation districts”: mixed-use downtowns (Kendall Square in Cambridge, the Cortex district in St. Louis), transformed riverfront industrial areas using historic building stock (Boston’s South Boston waterfront, Seattle’s South Lake Union area) and the “urbanized science park,” where formerly isolated campuses are bringing in retail and restaurants and removing barriers between park and the surrounding area (North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park).
Yates was to make a site recommendation at last month’s meeting, but said there was one property owner who was operating on his own “timetable” and not the Authority’s.
The meeting starts at 4 p.m. in the Metroplan office at Broadway and Markham.