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.
After some confusion earlier, the Little Rock Technology Park Authority has announced release of "site measurement criteria" for the place the authority will build an office building with $22 million in city tax money under authority granted by legislation written and promoted by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. The idea is for the building to attract private businesses.
Today's list, a bit longer than what was released earlier, is a list of factors that will be considered in selecting a site, but it sets no specific requirements in any of the individual areas. You can see the full list on the jump. For example: it asks those with potential sites to identify the proximity and "convenience" to research institutions, but doesn't set fixed limits on what's expected in those categories. The Authority's original insistence on a five-minute drive time between the site and either UAMS or UALR had caused great controversy and scoffing from city officials.
The release today came with the following statement from Charlie Dilks, the consultant hired by the Tech Authority (an independent board dominated by people with connection to the Chamber of Commerce and business establishment):
"The research and technology park industry is now over 40 years old, and a lot has been learned about the various criteria that have led to their success or failure.
"The goal is to create lively, mixed-use, amenity-rich environments around the intersection of university research and private industry. Successful parks promote the collaborative, entrepreneurial culture that is essential to innovation and the transfer of technology and cutting-edge research into commercial applications.
"As the board reviews alternative site locations, a list of criteria needs to be agreed upon in order to judge them. The criteria attached should be the template to be used for this evaluation. Weighing land site criteria and scoring them implies precision and objectivity. It should be understood, however, that a numerical selection process could lead to bad conclusions and high probability of failure.
"In the end, sound judgment based on experience of successful parks needs to be qualitatively made, and it should be noted that some of the site qualifications may be altered by investment such as infrastructure capacity, configuration, establishment of anchor institutions, and quality management whereas other sites, due to external conditions, may be less subject to change.
"After evaluating alternative sites for the park for probability of success, you may then test the best sites against the locational considerations to determine if the effects are positive or negative in the short and long runs."
The consultant and the Authority Board had from the start favored sites in the residential neighborhood between UAMS and UALR, generally a low-income area with a high minority population. Residents organized opposition to the plan and that prompted the City Board, which controls the money, to urge the Tech Authority to seek alternative sites. It's been a bumpy process, with a reluctance of some Authority leaders to let go of the original residential neighborhoods. Mayor Mark Stodola indicated to me yesterday his belief that the residential neighborhoods are off the table — though he added that a different, collaborative approach might have produced a different outcome had the process begun differently. Stodola has said positive things about a downtown site, east of Interstate 30, on commercial property near the Clinton Library and Heifer International. Those institutions and Acxiom have promoted the site, along with Lion World Services, which controls a 10-acre tract at its core that it no longer plans to use for a new center for its instruction program for the blind.
Board Chair Mary Good confirmed to me that the authority avoided setting specific requirements in each area because, for example, it would make no sense to reject a 29.8 acre site that fit all other desires but fell a fraction of an acre short of the optimal size.
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority has announced that it has developed criteria for potential sites of the city taxpayer-financed building that is envisioned as a lure for private technology ventures.
Information for potential sites must be submitted by Aug. 31.
The Authority, a creation of a law developed by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and run administratively by the chamber, has been enmeshed in controversy since targeting three residential neighborhoods between UAMS and UALR for the project. The Little Rock City Board, which is providing the money ($22 million from a sales tax increase pushed in a campaign run by the chamber), urged a wider search for property that wouldn't dislocate neighborhoods.
The full news release is on the jump. In it, the release from Authority Chair Mary Good said of the original sites:
Although the three sites are not now being considered, the reports’ recommendations for building placements, appropriate phase build out, utility utilization, etc., will be of use for whatever site is ultimately chosen. These issues and the environmental questions — both aesthetic and practical — will be the subject of the Board’s discussion at the August meeting.
The site submission criteria are listed here. They are general attributes for each site, rather than a set of requirements that sites meet certain rules, such as minimum acreage or, say, a minimum driving time from UALR and UAMS. That short drive previously had been a firm desire of the Authority Board, but it has been roundly criticized by the city board, residents and UAMS, which has withheld its payment to the tech park effort because of concerns over site selection. Clearly, however, location could end up influencing Authority members when they make a decision. Good has made it clear several times that she could envision a scenario in which the residential neighborhoods might yet be considered, though city officials, the latest being Mayor Mark Stodola, seemed to have ruled that out.
I have made an FOI request for the final engineering firm report on the three original sites. It has been completed and the news release said it would be posted on the Tech Park website, but it is not there currently.
A number of property owners have suggested alternate sites. Drawing high attention has been commercial acreage on the east side of Interstate 30 downtown near the Clinton Library, Heifer International and Acxiom headquarters.
UPDATE: This Tech Park can't, or won't, shoot straight.
I asked Jay Chesshir, the chamber boss who's running the Tech Park show generally, about the seeming lack of specifics in the so-called criteria, such as minimums for acreage, distance from institutions and the like. He sent me this note:
As has been requested, all Little Rock sites will be considered. The document asks for all of those things you’ve mentioned.
I followed up and asked, just to be clear, that the criteria actually weren't criteria at all, in a commonly understood sense, merely a request for information. He didn't respond. But that's all people with potential sites received in letters inviting them to provide the general information.
But then Chair Mary Good responded to a question from Leslie Peacock about criteria:
There is some confusion about the one page sheet that went out with the news release this morning. That sheet is the factual cover sheet for those folks recommending a Park site. The criteria for evaluating the sites are being finalized by the committee. I expect their final copy this week (maybe tomorrow) and it will be posted on the web site and I will send you a copy.
In short, the news release was in error, from the very first sentence. And misleading. And people with land to sell have already been sent letters about filling in the barebones "criteria" list without any mention that the real criteria are yet to come.
To simplify various developments reported here yesterday on the proposed Little Rock Technology Park, a city taxpayer-funded office building project dreamed up by the private (but taxpayer subsidized) Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce:
The independent, unanswerable board of the authority has made all sorts of placating noises in response to Fair Park neighborhood outrage that residents might be bulldozed for an office building.
But ... the Authority board has NOT taken the neighborhood off the table, not even with partner UAMS withholding money and UALR leadership referring to the unfolding "regrettable disaster." UALR's effort to be a beacon of racial and ethnic advancement is suffering from its role in the potential devastation of a portion of its nearby neighborhood, populated heavily by lower income black people.
Some city board members have objected (some more strenuously than others; some, like Doris Wright, hardly at all). Far better sites have been offered, including yesterday's proposal to use mostly vacant commercial acreage near the Clinton Library and the burgeoning River Market district.
The question: Will the Chamber of Commerce faction's long preference for the poor residential neighborhood near UAMS be deterred by the rising opposition? Or will the Authority's criteria be drawn to exclude all but this option? And, finally, if that happens, will the Little Rock City Board of Directors have the brass to just say NO, for once, to the Chamber of Commerce? Without $22 million in city money, there is no Tech Park. This issue, better than any yet, will demonstrate who calls the shots on spending the accumulated Taco Bell sales tax pennies of city residents. Its elected representatives, influenced by wishes of the neighborhoods they nominally represent? Or a self-selected group of Little Rock business establishment insiders, plus Death Star Bob Johnson, the city water despoiler from Perry County?
When it rains Tech Park news, it pours. This just in from Leslie Newell Peacock:
UAMS has not paid the second of four installments it's pledged toward the construction of the Little Rock Technology Park out of concern the Technology Park Authority board is not working to find a location alternative to the three residential areas under consideration from the outset.
UAMS, UALR, Arkansas Children's Hospital and the city of Little Rock donated $25,000 each last year; each partner (and ACH, which is not a partner but is giving financial assistance) has pledged $125,000, to be paid in five installments. Spokesman Dan McFadden said he believes Children's has made its second installment. Neither UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson nor city leadership could be reached to see if they planned to pay.
UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn was out of town today, but Tom S. Butler, vice chancellor for administration and governmental affairs at UAMS, said the chancellor wants to see the Authority board take part in alternative site selection, rather than just receive proposals. Dr. Mary Good, chair of the board, said at the board's last meeting that it did not plan to participate in coming up with alternatives. Rahn, Butler said, "thinks they would have the finances to be able to look at these other areas and evaluate them."
Butler, who grew up south of 12th Street on Adams, near one of the three study sites, is a member of a committee named by the board to work with residents of the Forest Hills and Fair Park neighborhoods between UALR and UAMS to hear concerns and help them find housing should their neighborhood be chosen for demolition. The committee was to meet last week, but board member Jay Chesshir sent a note out saying the "committee had not decided on either of the three spots," Butler said, and wasn't going forward.
"We want to see how things are going and that everything is being considered" before making a payment, Butler said. "I think we should look at everything. We're not hung up on the five-minute rule," he said, referring to the Authority board's criteria that the park be within five minutes driving distance between the "owners" of the park.
Chesshir, CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, said there's no deadline for payment of the contributions. Chesshir is one of three Chamber-related members of the seven-member board operating the authority. The Chamber is operating it administratively and promoted the law that created it. The Chamber also ran the campaign in support of the city sales tax that will provide $22 million as the first payment on building the tech park.
Update: McFadden confirmed that Children's has made its installment.
Update 2: UALR has also paid its $25,000 "for all practical purposes," Chancellor Joel Anderson said this afternoon. He said he was aware that Rahn had decided to withhold UAMS', but that Rahn had not approached other partners to urge them to follow suit. Anderson called the tech park siting a "regrettable disaster" so far, but he is optimistic that with time consensus will emerge. "My guess is there will be some attractive alternative" arise. All proposals need to be "fully evaluated on their merit." He said he will do "what I can do to assure the process is legitimate and wholesome."
More Little Rock Technology Park News this morning.
I've just received a copy of a letter from officials of Heifer International, the Clinton Foundation, the University of Arkansas School of Public Service and Acxiom Corp. and a leader of the Moses-Tucker real estate firm suggesting a 10-acre site on Interstate 30 between Sixth and Eigth Streets for the park.
This would add to the neighborhood in which the advocates for the site have made significant investments in recent years.
The letter went Friday to Mayor Mark Stodola and Mary Good, chair of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority Board.
It would require relocation of, at most, one residential triplex, the letter says, thus saving a significant portion of the $9 million estimated for land acquisition cost that could be used for additional land purchases. Asking price for the 10-acre parcel is $3.6 million. The Tech Park has talked about a larger site, though it isn't going to develop a full project at once. There's an additional 30 acres of adjacent commercial and industrial land in the neighborhood for expansion, backers of this idea say. The one residential parcel is rented on a month to month basis and reportedly turns over frequently, so attrition should eventually leave it vacant.
The property was acquired by World Services for the Blind, but a plan to build a new headquarters there isn't going to materialize.
Here's the letter sent today by Pierre Ferrari, CEO of Heifer; Stephanie Streett, executive director of the Clinton Foundation; Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School; Jerry Jones of Acxiom, and Rett Tucker of Moses-Tucker.
The letter quotes UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn as saying a "five-minute" rule for distance between UALR and UAMS and the facility is not essential, as a consultant on the tech park idea has written. The site would provide easy access and be highly visible in a "dynamic" corridor of development, the letter noted, in addition to ending divisiveness over residential home acquisition, perhaps by eminent domain.
The Authority Board has said it plans to pick the best of three residential neighborhood sites and then take suggestions for other locations, though, to date, it has shown little inclination to waver on a preference for property very close to both UALR and UAMS.
RELATED: An article in The Atlantic on successful development of a tech-oriented neighborhood in London. These assets cited for the emergence of a cluster of tech firms:
• Amenities and ‘vibe’
• Similar/complementary firms
• Branding and messaging
• Cheap space
• Proximity to central London
• Connectivity – to the rest of London and UK
Why not look there for Technology Park acreage, she asks.
She also talks about the meaning of blight, inspired by a recent lecturer at the Clinton School, Dr. Mindy Fullilove, a writer and teacher at Columbia University. To those cheering the destruction of residential neighborhoods for an office building, the project is "blight removal." (And we'll worry later where the human element of that blight will rest once they are made home clearance refugees.) Comments Whitfield:
Dr. Fullilove proposes that blighted really means to those who use it, "not mine". In other words, as long as something is not yours and you don't see the value in it, like someone else's home, it is ok (or at least one tries to justify that it is ok) to destroy it, redefine it, and mistreat it because after all it is "blighted" (doesn't belong to me).
That captures the insensitivity with which the powers-that-be view this neighborhood. Just an obstacle to a bit of real estate speculation and corporate welfare.
Joyce Williams, another of those human beings interested in preserving a residential neighborhood, has also distributed a note responding to Whitfield's and commenting on those who decide the fate of neighborhoods.
They wear suits, have great material resources, plan in private and make every effort to present a civilized public face but have proven they are will run their planned agenda at the expense of the community.
Both notes follow in full. Whitfield has received one response from city officials, from City Director Joan Adcock:
Thank you for your email, I agree
Word got back to the Authority. Late this evening, Chair Mary Good, who was the most dismissive of the Tech Board at Wednesday's meeting, distributed a letter to all concerned. She and her board still intend to focus first on choosing the best residential neighborhood to tear down for the office building, but she says they will then put aside that selection for a study of other sites and not consider the neighborhood site further unless strong neighborhood support builds.
Mayor Stodola and Members of the Board:
This is a response to the ordinance you adopted on June 19 regarding the selection of a site for a Technology Park in the City of Little Rock. The Technology Park Authority Board will follow the provisions of the ordinance.
These statements will outline and clarify key steps that will follow:
1. Three potential sites for the Technology Park were identified prior to the appointment of the members of the Technology Authority Board, and they are currently being evaluated. The engineering study that is underway along with the site consultant report will allow the board to identify one of the three as the best potential site of the three being evaluated. These analyses will provide valuable information to the members of the Tech Park Board and also to the public regarding the factors that are relevant in choosing a site for a successful technology park.
2. Once the best site has been identified, that site and the other two will be taken off the table and will not be given further consideration unless there is substantial neighborhood interest and support for further consideration. We ask that any such interest be communicated to the Technology Park Board through either At-Large City Director Joan Adcock or the Ward Director in whose ward the site is located.
3. The Board will proceed to consider and evaluate other potential sites as outlined in the City Board’s ordinance.
I trust this information is helpful, and thank you for your service to the citizens of Little Rock.
Mary L. Good, Chair
Little Rock Technology Park Board
Not exactly warm and fuzzy.
NOTED: Mary Good continues to misstate a critical fact about site selection process. Three sites were identified before the Tech Board was chosen. But one was dropped and another was substituted later, by Board member Dickson Flake. That's the Forest Hills neighborhood across I-630 from UAMS, seat of hot opposition to the plans. Rohn Muse, a neighbor who's led the We Shall Not Be Moved coalition, took the microphone at Tuesday's Board meeting to again correct Good on her continued misstatement that the three sites under review were all products of a consultant's earlier study. Good apparently didn't hear Muse, any more than she heard the board's debate and vote on the ordinance, which indicated a clear board interest in a meaningful search for other alternatives. Good indicated Wednesday she wasn't much interested in that. The city's $22 million apparently has some persuasive power after all. Whether it will in the final site choice remains to be seen.
If I had to wager, I'd still predict the Chamber of Comerce, which has been salting Authority Board audiences with shills for its plan to take a residential neighborhood close to UAMS, will continue to build support among
slumlandlords in the neighborhood happy to unload their rental property. The Authority will find fatal flaws, particularly driving distance, in any other site recommended. It will "reluctantly" decide that a neighborhood, preferably Forest Hills, must go. It will provide information that a significant number of owners of property favor the idea. Those that don't? Tough. Here come the bulldozers and eminent domain. (And, I should add, a lawsuit challenging constitutionality of use of condemnation for a building to be leased to private enterprise.)
Question: Why is Joan Adcock the designated go-to? It's not a confidence inspirer. (UPDATE: She reportedly told a neighborhood meeting Thursday evening that they had "won." Just because Joan Adcock said it doesn't make it so. Be aware of at-large city directors bearing supposed gifts. They work first for the business establishment, which is driving the Tech Park bus. Director Kenneth Richardson remains properly skeptical. No one is safe until the board passes his no-condemnation ordinance for private homes.)
High irony: Somebody is in the field with a poll this week sampling Little Rock male voter sentiment on the city's plans to ask voters to reauthorize some or all of a 3.3-mill property tax for road and drainage work. (If it's like the sales tax campaign, the poll is part of a Chamber of Commerce effort, specific expenses won't be disclosed and there will be a huge financial gratuity to a chamber pet project from the proceeds if the tax passes.)
The questions included:
1) Most important issue facing city today — economy, education, public safety, health care, etc.
2) Are U.S., Ark. and Little Rock moving in the right or wrong direction?
3) Favorable/unfavorable on Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce (a sure sign their grubby paws are on this), the Board of Directors.
4) Questions about reauthorizing the 3.3-mill tax: Would it matter in the decision if the city asks for 3 mills, instead of 3.3? Would I be persuaded if I knew this is not a new tax? Do I think passage of the sales tax eliminated the need for a road and drainage tax, since the sales tax included capital money for roads and drainage? Would I be more likely to vote for the tax if it directed a portion of the money for parks and the Zoo?
5) The poll came with a buttload of "push" information, about the work done with the last big bond issue backed by this property tax.
They didn't ask the open-ended question of what it would take for the city to pass this tax. My answer: I happen to generally favor a continuing commitment to roads and drainage so that deferred maintenance doesn't require yet another tap of poor people's pocketbooks at the Taco Bell to pay for it. But the City Board must demonstrate an equal concern for all neighborhoods. It must fix a situation in which the Chamber of Commerce is running a $22 million-going-on-$50-million unaccountable public agency that is slavering to bulldoze poor black people's homes. It must demonstrate a willingness to consider a system of governance that ends the business establishment's stranglehold on policymaking. It, finally, must sign a blood oath that not a single effen dime of the millage would go to the technology park.
But I dream.
Some make the case of overkill here on the Little Rock Technology Park Authority. I invoke the hoary legislative tale of the fox who, against his better judgment, gives a lift to a scorpion over a rain-swollen stream and gets bitten for his generosity. "Sorry, it's just my nature," the scorpion says as they both go down in the flood.
Anyway. I have to add this. Little Rock officials who crafted a conciliatory outreach to neighborhoods Tuesday night at the City Board are none too happy with the Technology Park Authority's go-to-hell response yesterday. Board Chair Mary Good sniffed at the meaninglessness of the Board ordinance calling for a site selection delay. She said the Board had no time to do any site study on its own. She also said anybody with alternate ideas would have to comply with the Authority's criteria, written to favor the neighborhood site that Tech Park creator Dickson Flake has wanted from the first and which Good still clearly seems to prefer. Good sneered, too, yesterday at the work of the UAMS College of Public Health. A class project there illuminated the potential harmful impact on the neighborhood and also revealed some salient facts about a much different land acquistion approach by a Richmond, Va., tech park admired by backers here (gradual, non-residential).
In the end, the city of Little Rock has the hammer. A $22 million hammer. The Tech Park is penniless without city tax money. It can ignore the wishes of poor minority neighborhoods all it wants, but will the City Board turn over the money if the Tech Park Authority continues to operate unaccountably and autonomously and callously?
My word this morning from a city insider who has his finger on the pulse of this debate: "A stronger message will be sent. They just don't get it."
Yep. That was clear enough yesterday when Flake, who does real estate work for the Catholic diocese, told me why one of the proposed neighborhood removal target zones was drawn to omit a Catholic church. It's a "neighborhood stabilizing" institution, he said. Popatop, a major liquor store, was similarly seen by Flake as too vital to be included in a neighborhood removal zone.
Hundreds of homes and an orphanage WERE considered expendable, however.
If homes are not "stabilizing" elements of a neighborhood, I don't know what are. Is it really a neighborhood if no one lives in it? Should you be interested in what some real, live neighbors have to say, read here from the UAMS report.
If the Little Rock Technology Park Authority was hoping a cost estimate from its civil engineer to clear and prepare a site for a 30-acre tech park would guide its choice of three proposed areas, that hope was dashed today at the Authority board's monthly meeting. Jerry Kelso of Crafton Tull presented his company's estimates for phase 1 of the park, clearing, leveling and installing utilities: $6.3 million for the 40.8 acres encompassing the Methodist Children's Home next to UALR (area 1), $6.9 million for the 39.25 acres just south of 12th street and west of Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church (area 2) and $6.8 million for the 40.8 acres south of I-630, the Forest Hills neighborhood (area 3), adjacent to the Central Arkansas Library System's children's library, under construction.
If people who want to offer up alternative sites to the Authority — which the Little Rock City Board has said the Authority board should consider over the next six months — thought it was going to be easy, their plans may have been dashed as well. The Authority board has instructed members Dickson Flake and Michael Douglas to create a form that spells out all the requirements an alternative site must meet. Will it include a five-minute drive time between partner institutions (now sometimes referred to as "owners")? Will it require 30 acres? We'll see.
Board chair Dr. Mary Good and member Jay Chessir had quite a bit of back and forth, disagreeing over how much time the board should give those who would offer alternative sites to submit their proposals to the board. Good, not surprisingly, is in a rush: she suggested mid-July as a deadline, three weeks from now. Chessir said those who will propose alternate sites will certainly need more time than that to fulfill the board's request for information on the forms ... not yet created ... by Flake and Douglas (who is out of town attending a meeting of the Association of University Research Parks in Boston) and he suggested an Aug. 1 deadline. No action was taken.
Robert Nunn, who signed up to speak at the meeting, noted Good's expressed bewilderment at the lack of trust for the board, and told her it was because the Chamber of Commerce, which does not account for its expenditure of $200,000 in city dollars it receives every year, is "deeply involved." He also pointed out that none of the board members live in neighborhoods that will be affected. "You will not be in danger of losing your homes in your affluent neighborhoods. ... How can you empathize" with those who will, he asked.
Nunn's remarks prompted Chessir to make a little speech about the $200,000 the city pays it in "consulting fees," saying some blog or another put out incorrect information on the chamber's refusal to itemize how its spent, saying the city contract with the board — for economic development — requires quarterly reporting and an annual audit and he could find it at City Hall. (See the open line item below for Max's correction of Chesshir's smear of the reporting here. In short, the documents he claims as proof of disclosure are window dressing, just like tonight's Tech Board action. This Board spit on the city board action last night and is moving full speed ahead to demolish a residential neighborhood. Any consideration of other sites will just be for show. — mb)
Dr. Creshelle Nash of UAMS College of Public Health and Ashley Bachelder, a student at both the college and the Clinton School for Public Service, presented a study students made of how tech parks have been developed in other places and the results of interviews they had with 15 randomly selected residents of the targeted neighborhoods. The park in Richmond so frequently held up as a model for Little Rock's did not take over neighborhoods but parking lots in public ownership and three houses, and did that in phases. It echoed information Douglas passed on to the board via speakerphone earlier from research park convention: He told the board that he'd learned there that "we are relatively unique in trying to establish a park in a populated area."
Other information from the Public Health/Clinton school study,"Community Views: A Service-Learning Project": African-Americans are in the majority in the three targeted areas, and a high percentage — 49 percent in the area 1, 42 percent in the area 2 and 35 percent in the area south of I-630 had attended college for a while.
It also found that houses in areas 1 and 2 both were 53 percent owner-occupied, and 44 percent owner-occupied in area 3, number the Authority board expressed some doubt in.
After the presentation, Chair Good noted that a sample of 15 people was "not enough to take to the bank," a fact Nash acknowledged, saying it was what was possible in the classroom situation. Chesser (good cop) said he was proud of the students for taking the time to do the study.
After the meeting, state Sen. Joyce Elliott expressed surprise that the board won't be doing its own research into alternate sites, rather than relying on the input of the public, which does not have the resources the board has.
She noted language in Kumpuris' ordinance last night suggests the city wants the board to participate in the search for alternatives.
That ordinance states:
Section 1. The Board of Directors requests that the Central Arkansas Technology Park Authority 17 engage in a six month extensive study on the selection of a site for the park to be located. During that 18 time, the Board of Directors requests that the Authority explore possibilities for sites within the corporate 19 limits of the City of Little Rock, Arkansas, or on the campuses of the University partners, that can be 20 obtained through the use of any, or all, of its statutory powers.
It also asks the Authority to report to the city and community at the end of the six-month period the "new potential locations that meet the needs of the Authority and fulfill the spirit of this Resolution [now an ordinance]." Good hopes to have everything in the bag before then, she said.l
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority, the Little Rock City Board in its hip pocket, will meet this afternoon to continue its site selection study and Chair Mary Good promised last night votes on a variety of specific things unannounced to the public beforehand about site selection procedures. (Though it's always subject to last-minute change, the City Board theoretically posts underlying specific proposals for its agenda in advance of its meeting. An accountable public agency does this. The Tech Park is accountable to no one, except in sum the UAMS/City/Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce partners, but the Chamber has called the shots from inception.)
Reaction to last night's City Board votes not to protect residential neighborhoods from mass destruction is already filtering in. Dr. Anika Whitfield, a resident of the neighborhood, wrote a letter to city officials saying, "Little Rock city government has shown itself tonight to be not for the people, not by the people, but for power and by wealth."
Robert Webb, bounced off the Housing Authority for raising questions about the city sales tax that is financing the tech park, wrote presciently before the vote: "... as history has shown, City Hall has demonstrated a pattern of voting against the best interest of residents to side with the Chamber of Commerce."
Kathy Wells, president of the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods, sent a warning to those targeted for property purchase that, even in a condemnation proceeding, a property owner in that neighborhood learned recently that he had to pay a seller's fee to real estate agent Dickson Flake, godfather of the Tech Park, in an earlier land acquisition scheme nearby. Be aware.
Another mid-city activist, Terence Bolden, circulated an e-mail urging election challenges to sitting board members on the "Chamber of Commerce puppet government" and an end to at-large city director elections for three members. He wrote: "If this issue of taking homes away from people is not enough motivation to get this done, then nothing ever will be!"
I hope to be able to post the full report of the UAMS College of Public Health study on the deleterious impact on human health, finances and community of a mass neighborhood removal project. Interesting, too, was its study of a Richmond, Va., research park often touted by local Tech Park partisans. It did NOT use eminent domain. It took almost no residential property. It acquired property in stages as needed rather than a mass removal. It has also experienced some financial problems since inception. I loved Robert Nunn's impassioned and eloquent plea to the board to consider the human dimension of the issue and the irony that people who supported a sales tax and pay it on groceries and lunch at Taco Bell now find their pennies will finance their homes' destruction.
Practical considerations pend heavily. City Manager Bruce Moore noted the city's promised $22 million will be accrued over 10 years. No lump sum now exists for Tech Park use. How will the Authority proceed with land acquisition and building construction on the promise of accrued money over a 10-year period (presuming it even survives a lawsuit over use of eminent domain to acquire property for lease to private interests)? Will the city borrow money — with attendant additional interest costs? Does the Tech Park really think strapped state and federal governments are going to shovel millions into this project, having already denied the Chamber of Commerce's earlier $1.7 million startup earmark from Congress? And where, finally, is the additional $25 to $30 million for initial construction going to come from? A private partner with private equity — such as the most successful of research parks have had — would be the best solution and allay the neighborhood fears that is just another typical Little Rock public-private partnership. The public pays, the private sector profits.
Much more to come
But to answer Mary Good's plaintive cry of a lack of trust: Trust must be deserved. An independent agency without a central controlling public authority has been delegated millions in public money and the power to take people's homes. It is run primarily by a political lobby, the Chamber, with a published agenda in favor of corporate citizens over individuals. It is governed by a seven-member board that includes three people directly from the Chamber, only one black person and only one woman. All live in silk stocking Little Rock neighborhoods except for a former Perry County senator, Bob Johnson, whose legislative career was distinguished by work to prevent environmental protection of Little Rock's water supply. It is unelected and essentially unaccountable even to the agencies that appointed the members, yet it has been given control of more city money than a number of accountable city departments receive to operate.
The city can withhold money, but it has not yet demonstrated that there are any circumstances under which it would do so. When the Tech Park board inevitably returns to the poor neighborhoods around UAMS and UALR as the preferred site for compulsory mass teardowns, the at-large directors who control the outcome of city votes (and depend on the business establishment for their campaign financial clout) are not likely to stand in the way judging by events last night. Relocation money, even if offered on top of "fair market value" for homes, is little salve for people uprooted and forced to find new homes in unfamiliar places, perhaps far removed from jobs.
PS — Anybody else remember West Rock?
The Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods has endorsed Little Rock Director Kenneth Richardson's proposed ordinance to prohibit spending of city tax money on court-ordered seizure of private homes to build the office building envisioned by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce as a lure for private technology companies.
Richardson's ordinance competes tonight with Director Dean Kumpuris' resolution urging the Little Rock Technology Park Authority, which is an independent agency effectively controlled by the Chamber of Commerce, to spend six months considering other non-residential alternative sites, but preserving use of eminent domain as a final option.
Kumpuris' resolution has no legal force. Richardson's ordinance has meaning, because the Tech Park is virtually penniless without city tax money. It can't condemn private property without money.
If homes are to be taken, it should be a fair negotiation in which homeowners don't face a threat of being evicted at low market prices from long-time homes impossible to replace. And renters should have some consideration, too. It can be done without condemnation. The library acquired its property for the new children's branch along I-630 almost entirely through negotiation. City officials are now huffing that Bobby Roberts, too, used condemnation. But here are the facts on that from Roberts:
There was one abandoned house that we condemned. We did that because we could not find the owner and the Florida bank that held the paper had collapsed during the banking crisis. Therefore, we had to go to condemnation. In that case the court instructed us to place the fair market value of the property in escrow to give the owner and/or bank a chance to make a claim. Neither ever appeared so the escrow reverted to us. I think the escrow was around $13,000.
An unoccupied derelict house without an owner, condemned by a public library for a purely public use, is not an occupied private home forceably taken by a quasi-public agency to house a private business.
UPDATE: I've learned that Kumpuris' resolution is going to be upgraded to an ordinance tonight and prohibit spending of city money on land acquisition for six months while a citywide site search is performed. It's meaningless in terms of expenditures. No land was likely to be bought in six months anyway. But it does put some pressure on the Tech Park cheerleaders to do a meaningful search for alternatives. Will they? I'll believe it when I see it. Will the City Board hear unhappy residents if the search comes back to that same poor neighborhood that Dickson Flake has wanted all along? City officials already are making assurances that people facing condemnation will be paid replacement value and relocation expenses, as was done in airport acquistions. They think their hold on the money gives them leverage over the Chamber of Commerce Medicine Show. That would be a first.
The Coalition's letter, from president Kathy Wells:
I summarized some of this yesterday, including this statement by Justice of the Peace Donna Massey, who, as a Quorum Court member, represents the neighborhoods targeted by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which controls the authority, for seizure. Said Massey of a letter written by Dr. Anika Whitfield in support of Director Kenneth Richardson's proposal to prohibit using city money to take private homes in condemnations:
I also concur with Dr. Whitfield. A resolution is not enough to ensure my home and many others in Midtown will not be destroyed. A resolution is a nice gesture; however, real commitment must be exemplified through an ordinance.
Massey sent her letter to the City Board. It prompted this response from Director Erma Hendrix:
YOU HAVE "DITTO'D MY RESPONSE, TO DEAN KUMPURIS, CONCERNING THE "RESOLUTION," ABOUT LOCATING THE "PARK" ANYWHERE I[N] THE CITY OF LITTLE ROCK. "BULL."
I AM NOT "ASLEEP."
It's been noted before that 1) the moratorium is meaningless in the time line already projected for the Little Rock Technology Park development process; 2) it's primarily a delaying tactic to defuse opposition (Director Gene Fortson's condescending comments about opponents is an accurate representation of the Chamber establishment's view of the neighborhood residents' ability to think for themselves); 3) the City Board has no control over the independent Tech Park Authority except to withhold taxpayer money. That won't happen because it would mean disobedience to the Chamber, which runs Little Rock city government.
Whitfield has a more personal view of the city's disrespect for the homes of poor people. Her letter to the City Board follows. It is also followed by a letter from the We Shall Not Be Moved Coalition urging support June 19 for Director Kenneth Richardson's ordinance to prevent use of city tax money to seize homes by eminent domain. And also a letter from Justice of the Peace Donna Massey.
Toward the end of the meeting, without public notice and after distribution of the proposal to board members, City Director Dean Kumpuris said he would ask the board at its next meeting to approve a resolution calling for a six-month moratorium on site selection for the Little Rock Technology Park, the controversial real estate development that the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce has long wanted to put on 30 acres or so in a predominantly black and low-income neighborhood between UAMS and UALR. Many residents don't want to lose their homes, particularly through the forced unfair bargaining of government condemnation.
The moratorium, Kumpuris reportedly explained, would ensure a thorough search for alternate sites. My reporter says Director Kenneth Richardson said the moratorium was unnecessary if the board would approve the measure he's already filed to prohibit use of eminent domain or tax money on land purchases. Of course. Which is why Kumpuris stepped up with a measure to give the City Board a way around voting on THAT little political bombshell. I should add the city can only suggest what the independent seven-member Tech Park Authority decides to do. It doesn't control its decisions, except to provide a couple of members and, well, yes, the money.
I now have photo images of the resolution. You'll see it suggests look at all alternatives within the corporate limits of Little Rock as well as property in the targeted area that might be available without use of eminent domain.
Here's the thing: A meaningful search would be a good thing. There's a lot of suitable property, from the Clinton Library neighborhood to the old Alltel campus. (Even better would be a meaningful evaluation of the wisdom of this expenditure by independent evaluators — not self-interested cheerleaders of the tech park idea, a flavor of the day among real estate and chambers around the country. The city has already committed $22 million and it's likely that taxpayers will be asked to put up $28 million more through bonds — meaning millions more in interest — to finish the office building to which tech companies will supposedly be drawn.)
But if the chamber's ground rules for site selection — including the arbitrary five-minute drive time between UAMS and UALR — guide the outcome at the end of the six-month search process, it won't have much meaning except as window dressing for the old plan to steamroller the neighborhood.
The low-income neighborhood has been targeted by the chamber at least since 2010 when the chamber had Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor seek (unsuccessfully) a $1.7 million federal earmark. Their proposal touted blight removal in the neighborhood. If the road winds back to the neighborhood, then it will be time to settle the pregnant legal question of whether the Arkansas Constitution has changed since the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in another case, clearly and eloquently, that the city of Little Rock couldn't take another piece of private property for a project aimed at luring private business. (Hint: It hasn't.) Arkansas once esteemed private property rights. But the framers never met a chamber of commerce touting a tech park.
PS: After mulling this overnight, I've decided Kumpuris' proposal is even emptier than I originally thought. The City Board has no control over Tech Park Authority. Director Gene Fortson's condescending remark about opponents demonstrates the business community's usual view that it should call shots and noisy little people should get lost. The decision was never going to happen quickly. Dickson Flake, the Chamber and Co. have ALWAYS wanted the same piece of ground for this project. They'll conclude it's the only option after rounding up the usual suspects. It's only the 21st century iteration of the failed industrial parks that litter Arkansas. There, too, civic leaders thought if taxpayers only built streets or warehouses or factory shells, business would come. They forget that ideas, vision, energy and private capital spell business success, not taxpayer handouts. UAMS and UALR are here now. Empty buildings are here now. If these were the elements for synergy, taxpayers need not spend another penny on the LR Chamber's pipedream. Here's what Fortson was quoted as saying in the D-G in support of Kumpuris. Short form: "We'll be the judge of what's good for dumb, poor people."
“This resolution is timely in that this process has taken on a life, an emotional level beyond the bounds of reason and history,” said at-large City Director Gene Fortson. “At this emotional level, the proposal is not being discussed reasonably as people who are reasonable should discuss it.”
If a bunch of chamber of commerce cutouts were proposing to cut a swath through a couple hundred homes in the Country Club area of the Heights to build an office building, I bet Gene Fortson would sound a touch unreasonable, too. But, see, those are rich, white people. Their homes mean more than those of poor minority people.
ALSO: After lengthy discussions, including a one-week delay from a scheduled vote last week, the Directors also approved a sewer rate increase. They didn't alter billing to be based on a four-month, rather than six-month, water usage cycle. The four-month plan was suggested by Director Stacy Hurst as way to potentially cut a break for water sprinkler use by those who don't use sprinkler meters. Sewer rates are based on water use, though water for lawns and gardens doesn't go into the sewer system. Wastewater officials had resisted yet another rejiggering of rates that a new computation basis would have required. Though the revenue need wouldn't have changed, the allocation of costs among customers would have.
They'd never let the whisky pipeline go through our dry counties!
What Conceptus Hatcher seeks is control and punishment over female sexuality…
A government that has the power to make a woman carry a pregnancy to term…
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