Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tech park board racing toward resolution

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 6:04 PM

Phase 1 (left) will be built with $22 million in public funds and another $28 million in private funds yet to be raised.
  • Phase 1 (left) will be built with $22 million in public funds and another $28 million in private funds yet to be raised.

Little Rock Tech Park consultant Charles Dilks will be asked to review 23 properties proposed to the park Authority board for location of the park and make recommendations to the board by Oct. 10 for what he considers to be the top three, four or five, the Authority board decided today at its monthly meeting, held at Baptist Health. The board will then hold three public hearings over two days on the selected sites and will choose at its Nov. 14 meeting which one it wants to pursue. There will have to be an engineering study of the site at that point.

So the board is sticking to that six-month study plan (and not a day more) recommended by a City Board resolution passed in June in response to the outcry from residential neighborhoods that the Authority first put its sights on for demolition to make way for what is essentially an office park.

Board member C.J. Duvall, reporting on the Authority's Neighborhood Housing Committee Board, whose paradoxical purpose is find housing for people who the board now say won't be relocated, reported that residents of Forest Hills and Fair Park, the former targets of the Authority, don't believe the Authority is truly interested in alternative sites.

Duvall also requested that any evaluation of the alternative sites take into consideration the impact on people, the possibility of reusing vacant structures and the cost of the alternatives, and board agreed to ask Dilks to do that.

Member Jay Chesshir suggested the board also hire someone to "have discussions with property owners and their willingness to sell" after the finalists are chosen. Chesshir said later that he did not intend for that person to go into the three neighborhoods theoretically off the table and take a census of who'd be willing to sell. Dr. Mary Good, chair of the committee, asked about language in her letter to the City Board that said "significant" interest from people living in the three residential areas could put those neighborhoods back on the table, said she had on her desk several letters from landlords and others in Forest Hills and elsewhere who want to sell. Is that a significant number? She said she did not know, and had put them aside while the Authority considers alternatives.

Six people stood up to indicate their support for a 10-acre site east of Interstate 30 and southwest of Heifer International that Moses-Tucker put forward.

Board member Dickson Flake said the board has enough money to pay consultant Dilks, noting that the city of Little Rock is the only partner in the enterprise not to have made its second installment in its pledge to the park. That means UAMS, a holdout, has now paid its second $25,000 toward its $125,000 commitment. In a letter UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn wrote the Authority to notify it the university was releasing its second $25,000 payment, Rahn thanked the board for considering the alternative sites. Rahn also requested that the Authority board "formally address the recommendations made by the UALR Institute of Government in their report, "Site Selection Considerations for Urban Research Parks" and "develop a process for inclusion of community stakeholders" to give advice during the site selection process. This will apparently be satisfied by the board's 2-day public hearings on the finalist sites.

Among several people who asked questions of the board at the meeting was Annika Whitfield, who wanted to know how many companies had indicated they'd invest in the tech park. Chesshir said it was premature to market the park before the site had been selected. State Sen. Joyce Elliott asked whether the board had participated in the search for an alternative site, to which Flake replied that he'd made some calls but could find no willing sellers.

However, one of the sites under consideration, in a building formerly occupied by Alltel, is being handled by Colliers International, the realty firm that employs Flake.

Maps of the 23 sites will be posted on the board's website.

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