MIXED MESSAGE: Jay Chesshir (left) said residential areas remain 'off the table,' but Michael Douglas commented that current site finalists are not the 'be all end all.'
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority Board with little debate this afternoon set public hearings on the four sites identified by a consultant as the best among those submitted as sites for the city-financed building intended to lure technology companies to town.
A bit of ambiguity remained about whether the three residential neighborhoods between UAMS and UALR originally identified as prime locations for the project were out of consideration for all time. This arose during a brief public comment period.
First the Authority, with Chair Mary Good absent, accepted Dilks' recommendation and set meetings to hear from the consultant, site owners and the public at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the UALR Engineering and Information Technology Building and at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24 at the Jack Stephens Center at UALR. At Authority member Dickson Flake's suggestion, forrmer U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder, now working for Blue Cross, will "facilitate" the discussion. He agreed to do so, Flake said, on the condition that he strictly be a moderator, not an expert on the project or sites and with the understanding that technical questions would be answered by others.
Four sites remained after consultant Charles Dilks' study: 1) commercial property adjacent to UALR at Asher and University; 2) undeveloped acreage on John Barrow Road; 3) a 12-story former Alltel buildiing in Riverdale and 4) mostly unused acreage controlled by World Services for the Blind on the east side of I-30 near the Clinton Library. A significant amount of support has developed for the downtown site, but Chair Mary Good has been highly critical.
Dr. Michael Douglas of UAMS, an Authority member, commented that he had not been "overwhelmed by the level of enthusiasm" in Dilks' report. Indeed, Dilks noted shortcomings in all the sites and said location was critical, perhaps so much that other alternatives might be considered. The four finalists, Douglas said, are "not the be all, end all."
That led to a direct question from Phyllis Johnson, a resident of the neighborhoods originally targeted. Is the Forest Hills neighborhood along I-630 no longer being considered? If not, she said, "tell me now."
Authority member Jay Chesshir, leader of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, which led the city sales tax drive that is to provide $24 million for the project, recited the terms of a letter June 21 from Mary Good in which she told the City Board of Directors that the residential neighborhoods were "off the table" unless a "substantial" portion of the neighborhood indicated they supported the neighborhood as a tech park site and communicated that desire to City Directors Joan Adock or Ken Richards.
"At this point in time," Chesshir said, "to my knowledge that has not taken place."
But the Authority members were silent when another resident of the neighborhood, Daniel Hopwood, asked directly if there was a possibility the neighborhoods could be brought up again. He argued that taking of the neighborhood wouldn't be right unless 100 percent were in favor. Some absentee landlords, some with several recently acquired parcels, have expressed an interest in selling for the tech park, but apparently haven't formally expressed anything to city directors to date.
There's no deadline for choosing a site at this point and should the Authority find all finalists wanting, presumably the residential neighborhoods could be in play again, though it would require the Authority overcoming stated objections from the financier, the City Board.
The Authority meets monthly and Chesshir said there was a possibility the current batch could be reduced to a smaller number of finalists. Much more research is to be done on all before a decision, he said.
Tech Park executive director Brent Birch reported to the board that in response to several inquiries from various companies about the park and when it will be open, he's been saying November or December. Construction is to begin in March. The work is to begin on the top, sixth, floor of the building, known as the Annex. Leasing will begin before the work on the building is complete. /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/
It was a long Little Rock Technology Park Authority board meeting tonight, as the board took up issues of eminent domain and heard from the attorney for a credit union that has been excluded from a lending proposal to the park. /more/
The Arkansas Federal Credit Union, having gotten nowhere with complaints to the publicly financed Little Rock Technology Park Authority, has complained to the city board of directors that they were unfairly cut out of a lending consortium for financing of construction in the downtown project because banks don't like credit unions.They are correct. /more/
Brent Birch, the director of the Little Rock Technology Park, will address the City Board of Directors soon after the meeting starts at 4 p.m. today. If you are interested in a summary of what the Tech Park Authority has been doing of late and the timeline for development of the park, you can watch at the link on the littlerock.org home page. /more/
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority board on Wednesday night heard from park Director Brent Birch that two large tech companies and several small ones are eager to move into space on Main Street that the park is negotiating to buy. However, the buiilding, the annex to the Exchange Building at the northeast corner of Fifth and Main, probably won't be ready for occupation until the last quarter of 2015, Birch said. /more/
The Arkansas Venture Center will be the Little Rock Technology Park's tenant in its temporary space in the Block 2 Building on Markham, where it will offer its pre-accelerator and incubation programs for early-stage businesses and its coding classes. Brent Birch, director of the park, said the arrangement will sustain the current momentum of interest in tech startups while the Tech Park works toward a permanent home and "show the tech park is happening." /more/
That bomb you heard going off around noon at the Lafayette Building at Louisiana and Sixth Street was dropped by the Little Rock Downtown Partnership, in the form of a proposed design overlay district for Main Street and its neighbors. /more/
Layoffs at the Welspun pipe plant in Little Rock are a reminder of the folly of corporate welfare and the inability of Arkansas to separate itself from global economic forces. See the Fayetteville shale. And keep a watchful eye on that Sun Paper pulp mill proposed near Arkadelphia.
Melinda Gwin, 49, of Hamburg has been sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and ordered to repay $210,875 stolen from the First National Bank of Crossett. She was sentenced in El Dorado federal court, according to a Justice Department news release.
A college student and his dad who visited a gun range over the weekend for some bonding time over target practice were told to leave after the owner grew suspicious that the pair were...Muslims! Nope, not Muslims — they just happened to not be white. Either way, though, it's rank discrimination.