RESEARCH PARK: Study says touted Virginia Biotech Park (model here touted on LR Tech Park website) is hard to distinguish from any other office park.
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority indicates further today that it has heard the outcry from both residential neighborhoods and the city officials who control the money for the Tech Park about using a bit more consideration in choosing a site for the taxpayer-financed office building that is supposed to lure private businesses.
Today, it released a report from a UALR division on "best practices" that proponents of such facilities "must recognize in communicating with and involving potentially affected stakeholders in the process of site selection." The report also provides some strong cautionary words about such ventures.
UALR is a partner in the project with UAMS, the city and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which dreamed the idea up, wrote the law, raised money to pass a city sales tax to pay for it and effectively controls the governing board. Early designs on three low-income majority black residential neighborhoods as the preferred site for the park stirred up a storm. Since then, the process has been reopened to consider other sites.
Today comes the report from the Institute of Government at UALR, which has been in a ticklish position as a neighbor to residential neighborhoods targeted for removal even as it is working to build its image as a promoter of racial healing in the community. The report looks at the best way to use urban neighborhoods, focusing on the three identified by the Tech Park Board before it opened the site competition to other ideas. It will be accepting proposals through the end of this month.
Here's the report. It says affected residents should be part of the process. (Comment: It would be better if they were also included on the governing board, rather than it being almost entirely from a country club ward.)
The report found two places — Baltimore and Oklahoma City — where inclusion of people in the process from the outset and good relocation packages (not just market value of property) produced generally satisfied residents. But consider what also was done for an Oklahoma City hospital research park project, in addition to generous relocation payments:
* A comprehensive urban renewal plan; * the establishment of a Planned Urban Development (PUD) subdivision arrangement; * a sizeable federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) ($4 million); and, * the creation of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.
Good commentary, too, on whether these projects work, as proponents claim they do, in spurring economic development. The UALR notes studies about job creation, but continues:
"... None of these studies addresses the question of whether these opportunities and benefits produce positive externalities for neighborhoods affected by these projects.
In any event, these opportunities do not accrue automatically to communities with research parks. Some research suggests that these parks either have no effect in attracting biotech industry, or may in fact be counter-productive or superfluous to fomenting research and development activities in a community. The primary reason that many research parks do not perform to expectations is due to research funding and commercialization revenues being heavily influenced by the “Top 15” universities that dominate technology transfer."
This brings up a long-running criticism. The city of Little Rock can't finance this thing alone. Unless the major education institutions or private enterprise put in big money, it will be a hard slog. And without demonstrated benefit to hundreds of displaced people, it becomes a huge question of whether the Tech Park board should bulldoze residential neighborhoods.
The report notes some successes. But, significantly, parks touted by backers of the Little Rock park — in Virginia and South Carolina — have run into difficulties, the report notes. Take Virginia:
For example, at the Virginia Bio-Tech Research Park, two of the three publicly-held companies have moved out. As recently as last year, the Virginia Bio-Tech Research Park was in negotiations with Virginia Commonwealth University to sell two of its buildings. Furthermore, much of the park’s space is “occupied by entities that have nothing to do with the original purpose of incubating biotech start-ups and spinning them loose. Very little ‘clustering,’ or big-time corporate contract work, has been achieved. At times, it’s difficult to tell what distinguishes the biotech park from any other office park.”
How to avoid problems? Thirteen "best practices" are listed: Seek consensus, develop trust, don't rush, have multiple options, seek volunteers for sites and, among others:
Fully compensate all negative impacts of a facility—Compensation should be negotiated with potentially affected stakeholders. Compensation agreements for potentially affected stakeholders may include property value guarantees, relocation assistance, housing vouchers for renters, job training, and ensuring that public transportation is readily accessible to dislocated stakeholders.
Make the host community better off—Proponents of siting a facility in a particular community should respond to the real needs of potentially affected stakeholders in that community. Comprehensive benefits packages offered to residents could include tax abatements, providing amenities to residents (e.g., parks, access to public transportation), or even direct cash payments to residents. The net effect is that the potentially affected stakeholders feel that they are better off than before the facility displaced them. Laws and Susskind suggest that “incentive payments or promises to take actions of various kinds should be made over and above commitments to mitigate impacts or compensate a community for impacts that cannot be mitigated.”
Citing other reports, the UALR report says tech park developers too often hunker down and defend decisions "rather than engaging stakeholders in a timely and meaningful way. This breeds even greater public cynicism."
Uh, yes. But perhaps reports such as UALR's — and a demonstrated effort to follow its suggestions — could make a difference.
Little Rock Technology Park Authority Chairman Dr. Mary Good today released ‘Site Selection Considerations for Urban Research Parks,’ a report issued by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute of Government.
The research highlights best practices that proponents of such facilities “must recognize in communicating with and involving potentially affected stakeholders in the process of site selection.”
According to Chairman Good, the ten-and-a-half page report will serve the board and community well as they collectively consider where best to locate the Little Rock Technology Park.
“We are grateful for the fine work specifically prepared by Dr. Christopher Diaz, Research Associate, and Hunter Bacot, Director of UALR’s Institute on Government,” said Dr. Good.
The complete report is attached and posted at www.lrtechpark.com.
Interest in leasing space in the Little Rock Technology Park under construction in the 400 block of Main Street is a "comfortable amount" for this stage in the project, Authority board chair Kevin Zaffaroni said today at the board's monthly meeting. He declined to say how many floors of the first building to open, at 417 Main St., that comfortable amount might include, since no leases are final. /more/
Now that the Stephens properties on Main Street and Fifth have been sold to The Little Rock Technology Park, what is Stephens' share in the Metrocentre Improvement District assets, I wondered as I wrote yesterday's item on the potential sale of Henry Moore's "Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge." /more/
Dr. Mary Good, who has been the chair of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority board since its formation as a nonprofit in 2011, informed UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson in a letter Jan. 20 that she will step down March 15, it was announced at Wednesday's tech park board meeting. She said she would stay longer, if needed, until her replacement is named. /more/
The Little Rock Technology Park plans to close Friday on its first purchases of real estate: 5 Main Place at Fifth and Main streets, the Annex Building at 417 Main, the Mays Building at 415 Main St., the parking lot between the Mays Building and the KATV-Ch. 7 building (referred to as the Center Theater lot, because that is where the theater stood before Stephens interests had it demolished), the parking lot on the west side of Main between Fourth and Fifth, the old Stephens Inc. offices on Fifth Street, and the Keith parking at Scott and Fifth Street. /more/
Chad Young, an architect with Wittenberg Deloney and Davidson, presented the firm's preliminary drawings for the first phase of the Little Rock Tech Park construction: renovation of 42,000 square feet in buildings at 415 and 417 Main St. The presentation included a timeline that should a construction start date of March 8. /more/
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority board this afternoon signed off, with one nay vote, on the terms of two loans totaling $17.5 million offered by a consortium of Little Rock banks led by Centennial Bank. The authority board also agreed to extend the deadline for Richard Mays to accept its offer of $845,000 for his building at 415 Main St. to noon Friday. The deadline had been noon today. /more/
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. /more/
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority has received an updated appraisal of 415 Main St., a two-story, 10,020-square-foot office building owned by lawyer Richard Mays, that puts its value at $670,000. /more/
Grab an early lunch at the Main Street Food Truck Festival then head north across the Main Street bridge to North Little Rock, where an afternoon of provocative speakers is planned for today's Arkansas Times Festival of Ideas. It's free and that could include some craft beer at the end of the session.
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