The coalescing of the tech park | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The coalescing of the tech park

Posted By on Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 4:58 PM

click to enlarge Brent Birch, tech park director.
  • Brent Birch, tech park director.

The Little Rock Technology Park has slowly been evolving from a porridge of ideas in the minds of its Authority board to something in three dimensions. It has office space on Markham, currently leased by the Central Arkansas Challenge. It has a director, Brent Birch. Soon, Birch will be sending out a brochure (see the  here) outlining the goals of the park, the advantages of locating in downtown Little Rock, and images of what the park will look like when build-out is complete. 

Meanwhile, Birch, with assistance from board member Dickson Flake, is finishing up an application for a $500,000 grant for "planning and conceptualizing" from the federal Economic Development Administration. It would pay for architects, engineers, demolition and the like. It's money the park sorely needs, since its only revenue sources at present are donations from sponsoring institutions (UAMS, UALR and the city) and Arkansas Children's Hospital and rental income from the Central Arkansas Challenge ARK Challenge. The authority is operating with a 2014 budget of $153,628. 

Birch presented the Authority Board, which met yesterday, a "Project Major Milestones" graphic showing project dates for completion of real estate negotiations and other preliminaries through April 2015. If all goes as planned, Birch anticipates that he will conclude negotiations for purchases of Stephens-owned buildings at Fifth and Main — the Exchange Building (5 Main Place) and its annex — by the end of December and a building owned by the Mays Law Firm next door early next year. Negotiations with KATV for its building (the original Worthen Bank) at Fourth and Main will begin mid-November and wrap up before February, though redevelopment of the KATV building won't come until much later in the park's development. The final work on Birch's schedule includes writing and issuing request for proposals for redevelopment and contracting on the annex. 

The annex is about 28,000 square feet. The Mays building is another 10,000. Neither seems suitable, in Dr. Mary Good's opinion, to hold laboratory space, a concern she expressed yesterday. "It's a problem, in my opinion," Good said, because she believes the park should offer lab space to its tenants — which should include biotech firms — right away. 

How the park will proceed if it does not win the $500,000 grant was board member Kevin Zaffaroni's concern. "How long can we go until we run out of money?" he asked. Flake, who is in the process of preparing cost estimates for the park as a whole, said the park would be able to operate in its first phase of development with income from 5 Main Place (leased by the state Department of Higher Education), as well as any revenue from the lease of the Ark Challenge space on Markham. (There is also the $22 million being collected over a period of 10 years by the city in sales tax revenues and dedicated to the park.)

Birch told the board around 10 companies have approached him about the the park, including "two that would be great tenants." Most of those who've contacted him wish the park was already built, but there are those who don't immediately need space, he said. 

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