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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tech park board meets; no progress

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 at 7:28 PM

FULL HOUSE: A bug crowd attended Wednesday's Tech Park board meeting. Progress on a site was scant. - KELLY DUDZIK/FOX 16
  • Kelly Dudzik/Fox 16
  • FULL HOUSE: A bug crowd attended Wednesday's Tech Park board meeting. Progress on a site was scant.

FULL HOUSE: A bug crowd attended Wednesdays Tech Park board meeting. Progress on a site was scant.
  • Kelly Dudzik/Fox 16
  • FULL HOUSE: A big crowd attended Wednesday's Tech Park board meeting. Progress on a site was scant.

Little Rock Technology Park Authority's board chair Mary Good opened today's meeting of the board with remarks she'd made to the Times on Monday: "There is still a misunderstanding," Good said, "of the vision of the park." She said the park is to be a "resource for getting university research into the marketplace. ... It's not necessarily a business park."

Good was responding to communication with the board from supporters of the Collins Street site downtown that touted its location as attractive site to private investors wanting to come to Little Rock. Her statement was a further sign that the downtown site is not Dr. Good's favorite.

Good also said the board was "disappointed with the engineering report" from Crafton Tull on the the Collins site and two others under consideration, one at Asher and University and the other on John Barrow Road, because it hoped it would say that one or two sites should be eliminated.

The board is eager to get on with the process, and Good made a motion at the conclusion of the meeting that the board decide, at the March meeting, on a site, whether to shelve the process or whether to seek other sites, her least favorite option. At the same time, she wants to hear from the Fayetteville tech park at the next meeting on its history and success and from Bioventures at UAMS on what researchers there want in a tech park. Board member Jay Chessir suggested that the board go back to consultant Charles Dilks — who has made it clear he doesn't like any of the three sites — and ask him what barriers to business investors each of the three sites presented. Board member C.J. Duvall said he'd like to hear from sponsors UAMS and UALR on their preference, but Good said all he'd be told was that the final decision is in the board's hands. Good was asked to restate the motion, but she said it would be restated in the minutes and the board voted to go ahead with ... what? Stay tuned.

Jerry Kelso of Crafton Tull reported on acreage, access, demolition costs, potential environmental costs and so forth for each of the three sites, and in response to Good said that if she wanted a recommendation against, he guessed they could make a case to rule out the Asher and University site because floodway and other development will require two distinct campuses rather than one. Kelso described the downtown site as "possible, doable," and said "the issue with" the John Barrow site was that it would not accommodate a build-out of 1 million square feet unless the buildings went higher than the 4-story model envisioned by the board.

Realtors for the three sites followed Kelso. Rett Tucker's presentation on the downtown site sparked a discussion on the widening of Interstate 30, which is part of the state Highway and Transportation Department's 10-year plan, and the current widening of Sixth Street, which is being done with city and federal dollars to provide better access to Dassault-Falcon at the airport. The board agreed that it needed to take the road projects into consideration in debate on the downtown property.

(An aside: The highway department plan calls for building a new I-30 bridge, Jay Chessir said. Surely the department isn't going to do that the same time it takes the Broadway Bridge out of commission?)

Good toldTucker she was worried about the chunk of land owned by the Hastings family within the Collins Street site. Tucker said the Hastings would cooperate with the park — even invest — but wasn't interested in selling the property, which Good and others saw as problematic.

Hank Kelley, realtor for the Asher and University parcels, brought Dennis Ford of FTN Associates Engineers to address issues in what Ford called the "bathtub," the city's name for the Fourche Creek floodway. Ford said he believed it would be easy to get the city's permission to fill in areas to add acreage to the site, despite Kelso's information that said U.S. Corps of Engineers permits would be required to build in some areas.

That permission might not be so easy to get from the city considering that Ward 6 City Director Doris Wright favors the Barrow Road site, which is in her ward. Wright spoke in support of the site and provided the board with the Ward 6 Transformation Plan as fodder for their consideration of the site.

Pam Brown Courtney, the realtor for the John Barrow site, provided the board with a report by a consultant she hired, Robert T. Skunda, president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park in Richmond, which the Little Rock Authority has used as a model. Skunda assessed all three sites and, not surprisingly since he was hired by the John Barrow group, he found that the John Barrow site is "the best of the three sites for the research park." Skunda noted that the John Barrow Road site is the only "greenfield" (not contaminated by previous development) and the only one under "consolidated ownership and control." He said the area was "dynamic, growing and impressive in terms of the amenities that the surrounding area offers." Skunda also noted the proximity to Parkview Arts and Sciences Magnet High School as a potential partner. He also wrote:

While the common wisdom of locating research and technology parks immediately next [to] higher education institutions tends to be the "automatic"recommendation when selecting sites for these types of projects, in the case of the Little Rock Technology Park that may not guarantee that the park will be any more successful than if it was located on a site which is conveniently located, offers significant amenities and is "neutral" with respect to its affilliation.

Chairman Good closed out the meeting noting that a petition purportedly from Forest Hill neighborhood property owners to reconsider their neighborhood had come to the board. She said she passed it along to the city and had gotten no response.

TWO PS REMARKS FROM MAX

1) Chairman Good apparently did NOT note the communication sent the board yesterday by citizens fighting the taking of their homes in Forest Hill and a promise to fight any condemnation proceeding. They don't fit her continued obvious preference to build the facility where their houses now stand.

2) If this Tech Park is not a business incubator but an expanded research facility for UAMS and UALR, what the HELL is the city of Little Rock doing asking city taxpayers to pay for it? Let those state institutions go to the legislature for support. Are they really short of space, particularly UAMS? It's short of money, we know and hoping for that reason to merge with a Catholic hospital and all that might entail in shrinkage of public rights and powers. And it wants the city of Little Rock to pay its bill?

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