Little Rock Tech Park: Authority won't meet as site review continues | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Little Rock Tech Park: Authority won't meet as site review continues

Posted By on Tue, Apr 9, 2013 at 1:43 PM

TECH PARK OPTION: Sears property on University.
  • TECH PARK OPTION: Sears property on University.
No meeting of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority this month. Chair Mary Good says the board continues to gather site information.

When last we checked in, Board member Jay Chesshir raised some sharp questions about late-arriving site proposals involving the former Brandon's Furniture store on University Avenue and, past I-630 to the north, property on which, among others, a Sears now sits.

Good's announcement of no meeting this month included related information:

* NEW SITE: One is a memo from developer Jim Hathaway, who brought in the late arriving proposal for the Sears parcel. He said he didn't want to engage in the lobbying some others had engaged in. Rather, he urged the board to consider factors listed by consultant Charles Dilks as indicators for a successful location:

Proximity to sponsoring institutions;
Neutrality of location to sponsoring institutions;
Prominent visibility—-Image
Accessibility for both private and public transportation
Quick Access from primary road system
Ability to phase development and conserve capital
All utilities in place with no need for offsite runs
Proximity to amenities such as shopping, medical services, hotels and restaurants
Minimum number of landowners with which to negotiate

E-mail by Dilks to Mary Good makes the same points.

* SEARS PROPERTY: Hathaway also provided a detailed memo on the potential cost of the Sears property, which isn't currently for sale and remains under lease: starting about $7.9 million. He also addresses a question of whether the same ownership's adjacent Doctors Building might be available at some point in the future. Some portions could be leased to the Tech Park as turnover occurs, he said.

* ARCHITECT REPORT: Good also released a letter from architect/planner William Gaudreau based on a preliminary tour of the former Brandon's building. He was brought in by Dilks. It said the building merits further consideration and that there is potential there to create a "successful multi-tenant complex."

* DILKS RESPONDS TO SHARP QUESTIONS: The key memo is probably consultant Dilks' answer to questions posed by Chesshir on his previous support for a 30-acre site, contiguity of property and other considerations that would not be met by the Brandon/Sears sites. Thirty acres would be ideal, he said, but the Brandon/Sears twofer's "prime location" outweighs its lack of acreage. Similarly, the split site, while not ideal, has the benefit of high visibility and is already linked by a sidewalk that could be made "more attractive." He said he'd "easily" walked it himself. (Me, too. Trust me. It's a high-traffic-volume dangerous, unpleasant stroll.) Can renovation be more expensive than new construction? Sometimes, yes, he said, though he said the Brandon building had "good bones" and could be renovated easily, though he said that could be known for sure only when bids were taken. His friend, the architect Gaudreau whom Dilks selected to tour the building, has experience in such work, Dilks helpfully noted. Finally, yes, the fully developed proposal would require a parking deck, but other options in the original search would, too.

What you have here continues to be an outside consultant who, for whatever reason, seems determined to guide the Board away from sites produced, studied and vetted under an advertisement-for-proposals process. Dilks at least seems to have put aside the Forest Hills residential neighborhood option he originally favored at the insistence of Board member Dickson Flake and taken up, too, by Good and Board member Bob Johnson. Intense community pressure against that site set the search for alternatives in motion.

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