FOR SALE: Rohn Muse has led opposition to use of Forest Hills for the tech park. Now some residents are saying they disagree.
A letter has been distributed to the board of the Little Rock Technology Park asking that it consider the Forest Hills neighborhood, a lower-income residential area between UAMS and UALR, for the site of the tech park. This is the area targeted by Board member Dickson Flake almost from the outset of his push to build a spec office building in Little Rock as a lure to technology enterprises. The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce ran a campaign to approve a city sales tax from which more than $20 million in public money is promised for the project. No other meaningful financial contributions have yet surfaced, apart from token amounts from UAMS, UALR and Children's Hospital.
An "expert" on technology parks was hired to study potential sites and he didn't include this territory in his original findings. But at Flake's behest, he reconsidered. Surprise. Forest Hills rose to the top. Then came an outcry from people in the neighborhood who didn't want their homes taken, certainly not at market value, hardly enough to relocate anywhere comfortably.
The outcry was heard by the City Board, which ruled out Forest Park, but it also has declined to rule out its condemnation by ordinance proposed by Director Ken Richardson. A study has narrowed alternative sites to selections that the "expert" has said repeatedly don't enthuse him as much as his original, Flake-influenced preference. Board Chair Mary Good and her rubberstamp, Bob Johnson, have proclaimed all the alternates unacceptable and have continued to point the search back in the direction of Forest Hills.
That's a long intro for today's development, hand-delivered to Chair Good. The letter, said to represent 30 property owners and bearing 20 signatures, favors negotiations for sale of the property, unlike the position in opposition from Rohn Muse, the president of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association.
Here's the letter. It doesn't identify addresses of those who signed, but it says they live in the area. "We are against eminent domain," says the letter, whose first signer is Phyllis Johnson. She's been at public hearings on the project to ask whether Forest Hills really was permanently excluded from consideration, a question for which she got an ambiguous answer a few months ago.
"Negotiations do not mean agreement with use of eminent domain," the letter says. Nor does it mean "giving away our property for low market rates."
The letter continues, "We are willing to come forward. We only ask that you allow individual residents of the proposed area to speak and ask non-residents, outsiders and non-impacted individuals to stand aside and give us the right to speak publicly."
Count on Good and Johnson, at least, to give this group great opportunity to speak, with a likely friendly nod from Dickson Flake, who's been working assiduously to find flaws in the the currently most favored alternative site downtown. Will city directors like Joan Adcock continue to say the subject is "off the table?" Stay tuned. The whole area can't be acquired without eminent domain, no matter what this particular group of residents says, unless every single property owner falls in line and likes the city's offer. Tall order. Also, legal work is underway to challenge any effort to expropriate the property with public tax money to provide office space for private enterprise.
But, at a minimum, the plot thickens. Powerful forces have wanted this property from the start and have never wavered from that belief. The City Board may shortly find itself in a sensitive spot.
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/
It's good to have an ineffective U.S. senator. That would be Sen. John Boozman, who couldn't bring all Republicans around to a plan to hamper the Clean Line electricity project to carry wind-generated electricity to Arkansas and other states. /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/
#StandUp4LR, the grassroots group organized to regain local control of the Little Rock School District, now run by the state has issued a statement today critical of Superintendent Michael Poore's budget process for next year, particularly insufficient community input. It also recommends a moratorium on new charter school seats in Little Rock because of the damaging impact that has on the School District.
Response to our story about rehoming and adoption has been overwhelmingly positive, with one exception. Rep. Nate Bell (R-Mena) has informed me that writing this story makes me the predator and Justin Harris the victim. I'm hellbound, apparently.
Nineteen teams are putting the finishing touches at this minute on whole hogs and pork butts in our annual Arkansas Times Hog Roast, which begins at 1 p.m. today at Argenta Plaza on Main Street in downtown North Little Rock.