Tech Park board consensus: Time to get a move on | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tech Park board consensus: Time to get a move on

Posted By on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 7:43 PM

The Little Rock Technology Park Authority board tonight talked about their need to hire someone to do the day-to-day business of the board, speed up the process, and that start-up money, like the $250.000 grant the Innovation Hub in North Little Rock received from the Delta Regional Authority, would help it do that.

The $22 million in city tax dollars that will accrue over 10 years for the park is to go to capital expenses only, not administration, according to Mayor Mark Stodola.

The board has received $50,000 from its four sponsors — UALR, UAMS and the city of Little Rock — and 
Arkansas Children's Hospital toward their pledges of $125,000. The board expressed the hope tonight that they would quickly pony up the rest.

Board member Jay Chesshir is negotiating on the behalf of the board with Stephens Inc. on leasing a 5,000-square-foot space at 117 Main St., next to the Orbea bicycle company headquarters. Innovate Arkansas, which encourages technology start-ups, is interested in subleasing the space for nine months to the Arkansas Venture Center accelerator, which will launch for a Central Arkansas version of the Ark Challenge, a 14-week tech start-up mentoring program. The Arkansas Venture Center accelerator might also use the space at some point.

Board member Kevin Zaffaroni said he was anxious that the board make progress, noting it had spent two years and a half years getting to this point — selecting realtors to look for sites downtown — and he hoped it would not be another two and a half years before the park got off the ground. "I don't think this board is an operational group," with the infrastructure necessary to make a quick decision, he said.

His remarks were apparently triggered by board member Jay Chesshir's suggestion that the board notify the public of its RFQ with paid advertising for 10 days. The board has used its website, word of mouth and direct contact to solicit the three responses it has received so far: from Moses Tucker, Ark Commercial and Investment Real Estate and Flake and Kelley Commercial. Board chair Mary Good said, and others agreed, that there was nothing wrong with the proposals already received and she did not anticipate there would be more. She and Dickson Flake (not the Flake of  Flake and Kelley) did request the three companies to submit more information, specifically the relationship of the companies — either as owner, manager or negotiating for a seller — with properties in the Main Street corridor that have been suggested by the Downtown Partnership as possibilities. 

Flake and Good, along with board member Bob Johnson, did not vote for downtown and are still hung up on the fact that it does not present a campus setting with defined boundaries. "We really want a boundary defined," Flake said, and Good said neither Moses Tucker nor Ark Commercial addressed a master plan for the park, which she would like to see. Flake and Kelley's RFQ response indicated it would create a master plan. 

Good said she hoped that, should Innovate Arkansas lease all the available space the board has to offer, that Chesshir would find additional space for sponsors ready to move in. 

Chesshir and Good also discussed other grant possibilities, from a replenished Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, which Chesshir said is "out of money," the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Good wondered whether ASTA could, in fact, add a staff position that would assume the work the park needs done.

The board said it will vote on the RFQ applicants at its regular January meeting. Stodola, addressing the board at the meeting's end, said it would be appropriate for the board to hear from the applicants before making a decision. His advice was prompted by an earlier statement by a board member that perhaps members could come ready to vote.

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