Brent Birch, the director of the Little Rock Technology Park, will address the City Board of Directors soon after the meeting starts at 4 p.m. today. If you are interested in a summary of what the Tech Park Authority has been doing of late and the timeline for development of the park, you can watch at the link on the littlerock.org home page.
Birch told the tech park board last week that negotiations with owners of property on Main Street, which would include buildings on the east side of the 400 block of Main and a lot at the northeast corner of Fourth and Main, could be complete by June. The earlier projection was mid-April, but the park is still working with the city on zoning and other matters (including a disagreement over whether there should be a skywalk connecting buildings, an eventuality years in the future since one end of the skywalk is a five-story building that will one day go up on the empty lot on the west side of the 400 block) and estimating what funding will be available. The city once committed $22 million to the park from sales tax receipts, but the additional penny added in 2011 has not produced predicted revenues.
The postponement until June concerned board member Kevin Zaffaroni, who said he believed that Little Rock was losing potential biotechnology leases because the date to build the wet lab is too far off. UAMS’ wet lab is full. Board member Dickson Flake told Zaffaroni that the wet lab, which will require construction of a building because none of the available properties (the Exchange Building, its annex, a law firm and possibly the KATV, Channel 7, office) are suitable, has been moved up.
Four tech companies — Inuvo Inc., PrivacyStar, SpotRight and The Iron Yard — recently announced they would move into the Museum Center at 500 President Clinton Blvd. So why do we need a tech “park”? I asked Birch and board member Jay Chesshir. “The park is about much more than generic office space,” Birch replied. Chesshir said the tech park will serve start-ups that can’t afford the market rates at buildings like the Museum Center. However, Chesshir acknowledged, some of the tech park space will be leased at market rates to subsidize the lower rates charged start-ups.
Chesshir expressed concern that the Venture Center, which is located in the tech park space at 107 Markham St., was denied funding by the federal
EDS EDA (Economic Development Administration) technology grant program because, EDS EDA said, its programming duplicated the Innovation Hub’s. He said it was important for EDA and other agencies to know the difference between the various technology-promoting operations so they wouldn’t be competing for federal dollars. Mary Good, the chair of the board, mused if the Venture Center, the Hub and the Tech Park could partner in some way, but Chesshir said each address distinct needs.