Residents fight back against new Tech Park
The Technology Park Committee and its advocates have recently received frequent fire by members and representatives of Fair Park area neighborhoods due to the planned construction of the $50 million Little Rock Technology Park, which threatens to displace current homeowners.
During their most recent monthly board meeting on Wednesday, April 18, the TPC voted unanimously to hire Charlie Dilks of Dilks Consulting to review a study done by civil engineers Crafton Tull of the three potential locations for the future Little Rock Technology Park.
During the meeting, Joe Busby, a University District Development board member, asked the Authority to sign a “social contract” on behalf of residents whose homes are in danger of being taken by the government’s use of eminent domain.
“The contract asks the board to treat people uniformly and equitably in acquisition; ensure relocation assistance is provided to all displaced persons; ensure that no one is displaced without making sure that “decent, safe and sanitary” housing is available within their financial means; be open to the public and make financial disclosures; to encourage acquisition without coercion and to make public all factors that have gone into the process of site selection before taking any action to acquire properties,” according to a story by Arkansas Times’ Leslie Peacock.
In response to the possibility of displacement, area residents have not only devised written sentiments, but visual. Many of them have systematically installed “not for sale” signs in their front yards in protest.
“The Fair Park neighborhood believes it would be good for the city, but how it would be done and how people would be treated is our greatest concern and fear,” said Joe Busby, University District Development Corp. board member and Neighborhood Connections special events coordinator. “Unless the technology park is very careful, they’ll make people homeless.”
Busby has been a resident of the Fair Park area for 18 years and said he still believes that the neighborhood has great potential. He has been a longtime activist for both the Oak Forest and Fair Park Neighborhoods.
Although an exact location for the facilities has not been determined, the TPC has narrowed it down to three separate options, all of which are located between UAMS and UALR. All three of the locations are currently residential areas south of Interstate 630.
To begin the first phase of park development, the authority must first complete these three tasks, according to lrtechpark.com: 1. the acquisition of land; 2. master planning and construction of site infrastructure; 3. development of the first building.
A state sales tax passed in September 2011 allocated approximately $22 million for the construction of the technology park over the next 10 years, according to lrtechpark.com. This amounts to almost half of the estimated $45 million cost of Phase I of the technology park.
“I have confidence that the board will approach the issue in a thoughtful and sensitive fashion,” said UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson. “I think that at the end of the day, the sense of negative effects from it will actually be minimal and that people that may be affected by it will be treated fairly. But I think that the other thing that is important to keep as part of the perspective is that we don’t have a lot of opportunities that I can see to do things here in the heart of the city that will increase the number of job opportunities, and a technology park will be very beneficial to the neighborhoods here.”
The LRPA was created in 2011 with the appointment of the TPC’s seven members by each of the Authority’s sponsors, UALR, UAMS, the City of Little Rock and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce: Dickson Flake and C.J. Duvall were appointed by Mayor Mark Stodola, Ed Drilling and Michael Douglas were appointed by UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, Mary Good and Bob Johnson were appointed by UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson, and Jay Chesshir was appointed to represent the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.
“While great strides have been made in this effort, the work is only beginning,” according to the Little Rock Technology Park Authority’s recently launched website. “But the end product certainly justifies the effort. A Little Rock Technology Park will be a vehicle for future economic development. It will stimulate more research and development (R & D) activity, facilitate commercialization of research, provide a tool for recruiting, and just as importantly, retain and attract research talent, assist in attracting R & D activities of established enterprises, and make Central Arkansas an attractive option for the R & D programs of companies which have local manufacturing.”
According to lrtechpark.com, technology parks are vital for communities for two primary reasons: first, because they help to “enhance the commercialization of a community’s research and innovation activities; and two, because research-based companies that are established in close proximity to research-based institutions “can provide significant economic impact in both employment and payroll creation.”