Brent Birch, the newly hired director of the Little Rock Technology Park, told the board this afternoon that he’d had a “volume of interest” by local companies interested in the park. After the meeting, he characterized the interest as “solid” given that the park doesn’t yet exist. That would be a fine thing, given that there has been no private investment pledged toward the park to date.
Birch also reported that he’d been researching federal economic development funds and meeting with the state fiber optic network ARE-ON head Steve Fulkerson about whether the tech park could hook into the high-speed network. Main Street does not yet have fiber optic lines, but more are being laid downtown, he said.
Birch, who formerly headed the web division of Arkansas Business, has also redesigned the park website, which was in sore need of improvement.
The board was also presented with conceptual drawings by Chad Young, principal designer with the Wittenberg, Delony and Davidson architectural firm, of what the park development could look like.
(Young said he would furnish the images in the morning, after they have been reworked to delete the word “future” on one lot that caused confusion.) (Birch was able to send the above image from the power point presentation.)
Young’s drawings presented two options: one including the KATV building, at Fourth and Main — which is about 22,000 square feet and would present considerable “challenges” to remodel, according to board realtor Jeff Yates — and one excluding the property. The drawings illustrate a development that includes an 8-story building virtually encompassing the entire block on the east side of Main between Fourth and Fifth, a new 8-story building across from that on the west side (a parking lot now) and a 6-story building on a small parking lot on the northeast corner of Fourth and Main. An 8-story, 900-slot parking deck, would replace the four-story deck at Fourth and Scott. (See the board approved cluster here.) The next step will be to meet with city planners to see if the permits required for the park, which will include laboratory space, will be obtainable.
Vanessa McKuin with the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas told the board she was glad to hear Young say that should the KATV building be bought, the shell would be preserved. She noted that the KATV building, originally Worthen Bank, was on the National Historic Register and she would like its facade preserved as a reminder of the historic nature of the block. She also noted that developers could apply for federal and state tax credits to preserve the facade.
The Rev. Scott Walters of Christ Church expressed the hope that a more innovative transportation plan — one that might preclude the addition of a 900-slot parking deck a block from the church at 509 Scott St. — would be considered. Walters said the church is now surrounded by parking lots, and that city developers have always said there is too much parking downtown. Board member Dickson Flake said the 900 slots were actually a low ratio given the square footage envisioned in a park build-out of nearly 650,000 square feet, and board chair Mary Good said the parking was crucial to speed travel time between park sponsors UALR and UAMS. Young noted that the first floor of the deck will be retail space and so the deck won’t be immediately recognizable as a parking deck.
CLARIFICATION: McKuin writes to say that she would like to see the KATV building repurposed, rather than gutted:
At the meeting, I expressed support to repurposing the entire structure of the building, more than just the skin or the outer shell of the building. There is sometimes a thin line in a gut rehabilitation, but preserving only the facade while dispensing with all other historic features is generally not considered best practice (as laid out in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation) and likely would make the project ineligible for state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits. I strongly encourage the tech park designers and decision makers to consult with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program in determining what is and is not eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits.
is the letter McKuin sent the tech park board after last month’s discussion of what to do with the historic building.