Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tech park locations: Development costs equal

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 6:21 PM

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

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