Tech Park board down to three sites; boots two | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tech Park board down to three sites; boots two

Posted By on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 at 7:30 PM

click to enlarge CREATIVE THINKING: Board member Jay Chesshir listens as Millie Ward talks about the virtues of Main Street for a tech park.
  • CREATIVE THINKING: Board member Jay Chesshir listens as Millie Ward talks about the virtues of Main Street for a tech park.

Millie Ward, president of the board of directors of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, talked up the Creative Corridor on Main Street as the perfect place to put the Little Rock Technology Park.. Consultant Charles Dilks weighed in by phone. There was a lot of talk about Fayetteville's Technology Park. 

Then, just as the Tech Park Authority board began planning what it would do at its next meeting — chair Dr. Mary Good suggested the board cut off any further suggestions for a place to put the park and prioritize the sites on the table — worked-up board member Bob Johnson spoke up and said, what are we waiting for? He was tired of it. "Let's weed it down now." 

And so they did.The board will no longer consider the proposed site on John Barrow Road or a site downtown east of Interstate 30, between Sixth and Eighth Streets on Collins Street. The finalists are: Main Street downtown, land at Interstate 630 and University currently occupied by Sears and land adjacent to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock that Chancellor Joel Anderson recently proposed. 

Costs to buy, build, lease — all of that is up in the air. The Sears property representatives want a commitment from the board before they talk money. The land near UALR includes homes that would have to be bought, thus relocating residents, and Anderson doesn't want to act without the neighborhood's blessing. The downtown properties are all over the place. 

Ward was first up at this afternoon's meeting, where she vigorously argued for the downtown area as the area most likely to attract young entrepreneurs: The appeal of the lively urban neighborhood, with its restaurants, nightlife, the ability to bike and walk the area. Culture — new homes for the Arkansas Ballet, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and a Rep expansion are in the works on Main. The new bicycle company Orbea's plans to move in. Apartments getting more plentiful and chic by the minute. Proximity to financial institutions and investors, like Stephens Inc. Collaboration with the fledgling Argenta Innovation Center. And, of course, the availability of empty buildings for lease, empty lots for sale, 460,000 square feet in fact. How, Ward asked, could the board resist downtown?

Proximity. Therein lies the rub. Ward says shuttles will bring the campuses to downtown. She noted it took her six minutes to get to UAMS, where today's meeting was held, from her downtown office. But like immoveable objects Good, board member Dickson Flake and consultant Dilks said proximity to sponsors UALR and UAMS — and by that they mean next door, not a ride down the Interstate — is the number one ingredient to a tech park's success. Good and Flake, it can safely be assumed, will not be voting to locate the tech park downtown. 

Board member Kevin Zaffaroni — who works at Acxiom and is one of UAMS' representatives on the board — clearly likes downtown. When Johnson expressed concern that if the tech park were to locate downtown and were wildly successful, wouldn't that drive up property values and make expansion more costly? But Zaffaroni said he could picture an "anchor" building (now a parking lot) at Fifth and Main with expansion east and west. And as for increased property values downtown, Zaffaroni said "I would love to see that," a sentiment the downtown boosters heartily agreed with.

Zaffaroni said should a site adjacent to UALR be chosen, UAMS won't like it. If it were next to UAMS, UALR wouldn't like it. Nothing will be perfect. But all things being equal, Dilks said, proximity — the five-minute rule —  has to come first. 

Board member C.J. Duvall fired a minie ball into the works, saying if UALR (meaning Good, one guesses) doesn't like the idea of a downtown park, the board could ask for its $125,000 sponsorship back and move on. He was just sayin'. 

But no one really wants to lose sponsors. 

In the group's overview of its recent trip to Fayetteville ("We all heard what we wanted to hear," Flake said), Zaffaroni said the Fayetteville tech park's record of job creation was "amazing." He also noted the distance from the park to campus, which he estimated at seven or eight minutes. Flake quickly corrected him, saying it was under five, but Zaffaroni noted that the tech park directors described Bentonville as close. 

Prior to the vote to narrow down the sites, Good passed out some results from a survey conducted by the board designed to assess interest among start-ups in locating at the park. (She added she didn't mind if everyone saw it. Thanks, Dr. Good, for letting the public see a document held by a public board since Aug. 19, the date on the survey.) Interested parties included Apptegy, which is developing an app to make making apps easier; Black Oak Partners, which grew out of UALR and is a customer data analysis business; Bourbon & Boots, an online company selling Southern-made objects; Collision Hub, networking for the collision repair industry; EZRA Innovations, a proprietary drug company developed at BioVentures on the UAMS campus; Labscoop, an online company specializing in medical supplies and other life science equipment; NuShores Biosciences, a tissue engineering company based on research done by Dr. Alex Biris at UALR; Poly-Adaptive, another Biris start-up; Port Radius, a transportation and logistics software and Dr. Good's favorite because the company said it "needed UALR" to grow; Synanomet, a water filtration startup based on technology developed by Dr. Tito Viswanathan at UALR; Treatsie, an artisan candy delivery company; and Vivione Biosciences, which sells technology developed at  the National Center for Toxicological Research to detect food-borne pathogens. 

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