Monday, July 2, 2012

UAMS withholding Tech Park payment over site search: Update

Posted By on Mon, Jul 2, 2012 at 2:40 PM

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."

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