by Max Brantley
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority will hold a community briefing at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Entergy Arkansas's Reddy Room at 9th and Louisiana.
Despite some earlier uncertainty on the point, the authority WILL have a draft ready for public inspection on the request for proposals from engineering firms to evaluate sites for the project, intended as an incubator for private businesses. It will be underwritten at least in part by Little Rock taxpayers, with $22 million already committed from a new city sales tax. That is the only significant financial commitment to the project so far.
Here's the RFP. It details three potential general areas for the project, envisioned to require about 30 acres and incorporate a central drive on a campus with "mid-level" buildings of up to four floors, eventually with 850,000 to 975,000 square feet of space in multiple buildings. Perimeter security is said to be important, but the project is supposed to integrate with the neighborhood, not be walled off, and include a water feature. The plan would include a first phase, for one 80,000 to 100,000 square foot building with a 20,000-square-foot footprint, and a second phase for the built-out project. The three sites suggested in the draft RFP, yet to be approved by the Authority board:
* NEAR THE MILLS FREEWAY: Roughly bounded by Interstate 630 on the north, Elm on the east, Monroe on the west and the midpoint of the block between 11th and 12th on the south. The district is not a perfect rectangle; it zigs and zags at various points.
* SOUTH OF 12TH IN OAK FOREST: Roughly bounded by 12th Street on the north, 18th Street on the south, the alley between Fair Park and Tyler on the west and the alley between Jackson and Monroe on the east. In the zigging and zagging for this parcel, both Franklin School and Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church would be omitted, among others.
* CLOSE TO UALR: Roughly bounded by University Avenue on the west, the alley between Taylor and Fair Park on the east, 19th Street on the north, and the midpoint between 23rd and 24th Streets on the south. This would take in the Arkansas Methodist Children's Home and some existing open land that abuts the UALR campus and UA Cooperative Extension Service buildings. UALR and UAMS are also sponsors of the project. (Note: the district zigs around Popatop Liquor at 19th and University.)
Noted: Real estate executive Dickson Flake is the contact for the proposal. He, along with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which supplied the draft to me in response to an FOI request, have been driving this project since its inception, as the draft indicates.
Neighbors will have some specifics to talk about this week, which is good. Some seem certain to complain, again, about the top-down nature of this project, however. It will appear to be fully developed as to design and potential location though the Authority Board has so far had only one organizational meeting. From talking to them, I know neighborhood residents have some ideas of their own about where the project might best be placed. The Board could, of course, direct revisions in the plan as drawn.