Tech Park considers exercising eminent domain to acquire Main Street property | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tech Park considers exercising eminent domain to acquire Main Street property

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2015 at 7:06 PM

It was a long Little Rock Technology Park Authority board meeting tonight, as the board took up issues of eminent domain and heard from the attorney for a credit union that has been excluded from a lending proposal to the park.

Little Rock lawyer Richard Mays, who owns a building at 415 Main St. that the Little Rock Technology Park Authority wants to buy, is apparently not satisfied with the appraised value — between $470,000 and $530,000 — that the authority's appraiser has put on his property, and has questions whether the park serves a public purpose, board member Dickson Flake told the authority board today.

Because the state enabling legislation creating the authority gives it the right of eminent domain, Flake proposed that the board ask its lawyer to draft a complaint to be ready in case the board has to exercise that right to obtain Mays' property. 

Board member Darrin Williams, however, expressed concern that he was being asked to vote on using eminent domain without knowing exactly how far apart the park and Mays are on price (Flake is handling negotiations), and said he was worried how the board would fare in court in pressing a case for eminent domain, since the statute is so "narrowly drawn." He cited a decision that said the city could not use eminent domain to obtain property for the industrial park at the Little Rock Port, and also wondered if the park could lease the property rather than buy it.

The board's attorney, Scott Schallhorn, said the legislation was specific in designating the tech park's right, "so we have that going for us." To the leasing issue, Schallhorn said that, from a business perspective, it would make little sense, because of the money it would take to adapt the building to the tech park's use, and board chairman Dr. Mary Good said, in response to a question from member Kevin Zaffaroni, that no accommodation could be made to allow Mays to stay in the building. Flake corrected Williams on the court decision on the industrial park, saying the port authority resold the property it acquired, but the park would hold on to its property. 

Flake said Mays had not yet sought his own appraisal, though he has known that the board wants to buy his building for some time, but added that "no one could have been more cooperative" and that the building has been the home of Mays' law firm "for 30 plus years and he hates to move." 

Williams was persistent in his questions,saying he wanted to know how far off the city and Mays were before considering eminent domain, but board member Jay Chesshir said that should the matter go to court, it would be best to get the tech park's public purpose status now rather than down the line.

In the end, the board agreed that if no price has been agreed on by the end of the month, it will hold a special meeting Nov. 2 to look at the documents generated by the negotiations and vote on whether to go forward in filing a complaint of eminent domain.

At the invitation of board member C.J. DuvallRichard Downing, an attorney for the Arkansas Federal Credit Union, which was dropped by a consortium of banks who have made a lending offer to the tech park, addressed the board, saying it violated state law in its process of choosing a lending offer. The park authority board has said it has no role in deciding the membership of the consortium; Good said of the credit union "we didn't leave them out or add them in."

Downing said the board illegally considered the consortium's initial proposal because it was submitted past the board's own July 31 deadline. The board should have made a public notice that it was extending the deadline at that point, Downing said. Downing also objected to the fact that the proposal was not "sealed" and that the board allowed Centennial Bank to revise the proposal, dropping AFCU and adding two other banks, but did not allow the AFCU to submit a separate proposal. He called the process "fundamentally flawed." Good said she thought the board would take Downing's argument under consideration.

The credit union was dropped because of objections by the Arkansas Bankers Association, which said the credit union gets tax breaks that banks do not.

Zaffaroni said he didn't understand Downing's complaint about the proposal not being sealed, pointing out that the proposal was discussed in an open meeting, as required by the state Freedom of Information Act. Downing said the FOI has an exception for the consideration of proposals.

"Is the heart of your issue — are you attempting to get us in the middle of your dirty laundry with the banks?" Zaffaroni asked. Shortly thereafter, Good said, "This is a discussion we should not have," and the board adjourned.

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