In theory, the board of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority, which has been wed to the idea of flattening a neighborhood for construction of a biotech business park, is now open to suggestions for alternative, non-residential, locations. There's a form for those who would propose them on the Authority website (www.lrtechpark.com); submission deadline is Aug. 31.
Their newfound openness was brought about by an ordinance proposed by City Director Dean Kumpuris and passed in June that pointed to fears in Ward 2 that the Authority would exercise its power of eminent domain to remove unwilling residents from their homes. The board recommended the Authority conduct a six-month study of alternative sites. The board has no real power over the Authority — it was created by state legislation and reports to no one — but the city has influence in the amount of $22 million in sales tax receipts, which it's pledged to pay the Authority over the next 10 years.
After the ordinance passed, City Director Joan Adcock later told residents of the Forest Hills neighborhood, which like two areas in Fair Park was being targeted by the Authority and which was fighting the move with its public "NOT FOR SALE" campaign, they'd won.
But last week, an Authority-appointed subcommittee of representatives from housing agencies and the neighborhoods stirred up fears again. Its agenda: Making relocation easier.
The Authority board maintains the three neighborhood sites — 60 acres just north of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus that includes the Methodist Children's Home; 39.25 acres south of 12th Street roughly tucked between Our Lady of Good Counsel Church and Franklin Elementary, and 40.8 acres north of 12th, east of Jonesboro Drive and south of Interstate 630 — are perfect choices because of their location between tech park's two university sponsors, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and UALR, and to Arkansas Children's Hospital, which isn't a sponsor but which has committed to putting $125,000 in the tech board pot. Preparing the 60-acre "UALR site," as it's identified by Crafton Tull, the civil engineering firm hired by the Authority board to study the sites, would require the removal of 128 residential and commercial structures; the 39.5-acre "12th Street South Side" site would require the removal of 131 residences and commercial structures, and the 40.8-acre "12th Street North Side" site in Forest Hills would require the removal of 150 residential and commercial structures. (In all cases, the number of commercial structures is negligible, but the Crafton Tull report didn't differentiate.)
On the basis of what it's been told by tech park managers Angle Technology Group, which identified the two Fair Park sites in its 2009 report to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce (board member Dickson Flake selected the Forest Hills site), the Authority board says the park should be no more than a 5-minute commute from the universities if it is to succeed. (Residents of the Forest Hills neighborhood, directly across I-630 from UAMS, suspect that another reason their neighborhood is being considered is that it would allow the med school, which has expanded all it can north of the interstate, to spread south.)
The Times did a little checking into what land is available that might meet the board's 5-minute distance. Since it can take more than 5 minutes to simply leave a parking deck at UAMS or hike to a car at UALR, the times listed here are for interstate travel and, for times to UALR, road access.
Most of these properties are on the market and will be proposed to the Authority board, sellers say. Prices should be compared to the $9 million in site acquisition that the Authority has budgeted.
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