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Urban locale chosen for Tech Park

Submitted by Liz Fox on November 6, 2013 – 11:28 amNo Comment

City officials have decided on a downtown site for the location of the long-awaited Little Rock Technology Park.

The choice was made during the Oct. 23 meeting at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, with the final decision coming down to a 4 to 3 vote. Attendees included UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson, and Mary Good, the founding dean for the College of Engineering & Information Technology who also serves as chair of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority Board.

“[They will] identify the site-specifics in the downtown area [and] how we can create connectivity,” Chamber of Commerce head Jay Chesshir told KUAR reporter Karen Steward. “Whether that’s taking existing buildings along with new buildings or if that’s strictly on a new building perspective. All of those things now need to be looked at.”

The park has been the center of much discussion since 2011 and can be described as a center of biotech research used to better the city and its residents. Among other considered sites were the Sears building on University Avenue and a blend of university-owned buildings and residential property, the latter of which caused a stir when it came to light that many people would be forced to move from their homes as a result of eminent domain.

While Chesshir, Acxiom senior vice president Kevin Zaffaroni and UAMS vice chancellor Tom Butler supported the arrangement, Good opposed the decision and implied it would change what the university was working toward when ideas for the tech park were conceived in 2010.

“How do we manage to acquire enough property down there to have some continuity?,” Good said during the meeting. “All of the pieces are very scattered and very small. How to put that together in somewhat of a park arrangement, in my mind, is going to be somewhat difficult.”

According to an Oct. 31 Arkansas Times story by Leslie Newell Peacock, many of the downtown supporters are referring to a tech park-like area in St. Louis for ideas. The locale, founded in 2002 and officially known as “Cortex,” is comprised of start-ups and businesses that aim to push for research-driven commercialization in urban, metropolitan settings. Cortex also operates on principles of current and potential investment, which some officials say could work wonders for downtown Little Rock.

However, the vagueness of the concepts and goals of the tech park has confused a handful of involved individuals. Rod Ford, who serves as CEO of technology firm nGage, noted the board is unsure about what exactly the project will entail and how it will compare with endeavors in other cities.

“We’re really confused right here in Little Rock,” Ford told the Arkansas Times last month. “[The board has been] a lot more interested in finding a way to divide up the pie than build a bakery.”

While stipulations are still being discussed, the Little Rock Technology Park will be funded through city taxpayers to the tune of $22 million. Good has said no private investment will be involved until more details are fleshed out, but planners estimate an extra $50 million from residents will foot the bill for the first building.

The city board has voted to create a two-year lease agreement by March 2014 to keep interest in the venture. Meetings during the month of November will be used to discuss finances and other propositions for downtown property that’s currently standing vacant.

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