Tech park board leans toward selection of site
Nearly 15 months since planning began for the $50 million Little Rock Technology Park — and after a few dead ends — the authority board has narrowed the search down to three final sites for consideration, according to reports.
The three locations, which the board narrowed down from an initial 23 strewn across the city, include:
About 10 acres between Collins and College streets and East Sixth and East Eighth streets;
About 35 acres near John Barrow and Interstate 630;
About 84 acres at South University and Asher Avenues.
After the requested consultant, Charlie Dilks, studied the three sites, the expert sent a letter to the board Jan. 2 asking about potential challenges related to “the size, topography, zoning, utility placement and demolition costs for the three properties,” according to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.
In his letter, Dilks noted concern for the University Avenue property, which is the location nearest to UALR, due to its U shape and asked whether “access could be granted through the UALR track and field facility,” according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Other issues he mentioned were related to the cost of demolition, environmental factors and traffic.
Dilks was initially hired as a site consultant after a unanimous vote at the board’s April 18, 2012 meeting. His initial mission was to review a study by civil engineers Crafton Tull of the three potential locations for the future Little Rock Technology Park. Acquisition of any of those locations was tabled as a result of a June vote by the Little Rock Board of Directors, which asked the board to spend six months looking for commercial properties that would not require the displacement of area residents.
The decision to study other possible locations for the tech park came after months of protest by residents of neighborhoods, including Fair Park and Forrest Hills, many of whom were concerned that the authority would use eminent domain to acquire their homes. In response to the possibility of displacement, many area residents had devised written and visual sentiments — petitions, “not for sale” signs and a “social contract,” which was submitted to the board by area resident and then-opponent Joe Busby.
The final sites that were considered at the end of the first search included three separate 30-plus-acre tracts, all of which were residential and strategically located between UAMS to the north, UALR to the south and Arkansas Children’s Hospital to the east.
According to the Authority’s website, the first phase of construction at the not-yet-chosen site will only contain one building, while phase two will create nine more. Three criteria must first be met before Phase I can begin, according to lrtechpark.com: the acquisition of land; master planning and construction of site infrastructure; and development of the first building.
A Little Rock city sales tax passed in September 2011 allocated about $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.
“If Arkansas is going to compete in the global economy, we’ve got to have more people and more businesses in these areas; so a technology park really folds in well with that,” Anderson said in a Forum interview last August. “When the voters approved the tax support for developing the park, that was really a farseeing step. It’s not something that they will really get the full benefit of; it’s going to be their children and grandchildren. It’s a long term undertaking.”
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority was created in 2011 with the creation of its board of directors. The board is comprised of seven members, each of whom were appointed to represent Authority sponsors such as UALR, UAMS, the City of Little Rock, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Those board members are Dickson Flake, C.J. Duvall, Ed Drilling, Michael Douglas, Mary Good, Bob Johnson, and Jay Chesshir.
A document titled “By-Laws of Little Rock Technology Park Authority,” which can be found at lrtechpark.com, dictates and explains what the organization is and how it functions. The document was written by Chairman Mary Good, former dean of UALR’s Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology and adopted by the board Nov. 9, 2011. It states that the LRTPA was created under Act 1045 during the 2007 Regular Session of the Arkansas General Assembly. The board’s seven members are to manage its affairs without compensation for their duties and are appointed for five-year terms following the initial period, during which term expirations are staggered.
“While great strides have been made in this effort, the work is only beginning,” according to the 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.”