The Little Rock Technology Park Authority board voted this afternoon to offer Richard Mays $845,000, the sum his appraiser reached for his building at 415 Main St., while concurrently preparing to file a condemnation lawsuit. Mays has until noon Nov. 16 to agree to the offer; otherwise, the board will proceeds with a lawsuit.
The Tech Park’s updated appraisal of Mays’ property came in at $670,000, so the offer is far more generous than the park once considered the right number. And it is astronomically higher than the park’s initial appraisal document for 415 Main St., between $470,000 and $530,000.
Tech Park Director Brent Birch said both the tech park’s and Mays’ appraisers used the same system of valuation, but that appraisal “is not an exact science.”
The board voted on the offer separately from the motion to continue legal work to file a condemnation suit on Nov. 18. Darrin Williams was the only member of the board to vote against continuing the legal work: He said he wanted negotiations to continue in earnest, mainly out of a concern that winning a suit — which would require the park board to convince the court that the property was for a public use — was not necessarily a slam dunk.
Birch noted that neither appraisal used the Exchange Building at 421 Main St., for which the board has offered $8.5 million, as a comparable. Besides size — the Exchange Building is 45,528 square feet; the Mays building is 10,020 square feet — Birch noted several differences: The Exchange Building has been fully renovated (it’s being leased by the Department of Higher Education) while the Mays building has not undergone a substantial renovation in 30 years; there is parking with the Exchange Building, and the Mays Building has fewer windows.
The $8.5 million offer for the Exchange Building also includes 75 parking spaces across Main Street, according to board member Dickson Flake, though one appraisal document listing all Stephens Properties Inc. holdings the park has made an offer on puts a value on the parking lot at an additional $710,000. (CLARIFICATION: The parking that Flake was referring to was not the West Main lot, Birch says.) The park has offered a total of $11.6 million for all the Stephens holdings on the 500 block of Main and nearby, which also include the Annex Building at 417 Main St., the old Stephens Inc. building on Capitol between Main and Scott, the Main Street parking lot where the Center Theater once stood and small parking lot at Scott and Capitol.
Before the board’s votes, board member Tom Butler asked if the park shouldn’t consider not buying the Mays Building at all. Chair Dr. Mary Good and Flake said that was a bad idea: Good said all the paperwork for the park’s agreement with a banking consortium for a $17.5 million loan to buy the properties for the future tech park would have to be redone and Flake said the building was important for park “connectivity” between the Exchange and Annex buildings and future construction on the Center Theater lot and the KATV building.
The Mitchell Williams law firm will prepare the legal challenge, which it estimates, should no settlement be reached, to cost $75,000 at the trial court level and an additional $30,000 if the case goes to the Supreme Court. Scott Schallhorn, the lead attorney for the park, is paid $295 an hour; John Baker, also of the firm, charges $270.
The board stressed, however, that negotiations will continue even if it goes to court. “We do not wish to have a lawsuit,” Good said. “It’s unfortunate this little property sits in the middle of what is needed to make the project successful.”