by Max Brantley
The downtown business establishment has turned up the heat on the lobbying effort to get Pulaski Tech to move its culinary school downtown, a subject the Tech Board is likely to decide Thursday. Lobby groups: Argenta Arts Foundation, Argenta Community Theater, Argenta Downtown Council, Argenta Community Development Corporation, Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock Downtown Partnership, Little Rock Regional Chamber, North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, North Little Rock Visitors Bureau, Riverfest.
Here are the talking points. (My unsolicited advice. Ditch that overused word "synergy." Apart from meaning the preferred location is close to some other institutions — but not lots of others — it's mostly meaningless.)
I don't think Pulaski Tech will forsake its Southwest campus for a move downtown if the cost is appreciably higher, as a Tech consultant has said it would be. Downtown backers are skeptical of that estimate. They'll have to prove it's off-base. Legislators and city officials from Southwest Little Rock also tell me they are more than a little PO'ed by the pressure to move downtown. What are they? Chopped liver?
It's an interesting political debate. Pulaski Tech has the benefit of enormous success at a low cost. It did it without a great deal of help, by the way, from interest groups now seeking favors. So it's more independent than some. I like any and all ideas for luring people onto moribund Main Street. But taxpayer- (or, here, student-) financed institutions can't do it alone. Private investments are also needed. Market matters.
The notion that one location is better than another for a school or research facility also brings up the Little Rock Technology Park site search that I mentioned last night. A real estate professional asks me: Does it really matter if it's very close to UAMS or UALR, a location that will dislocate potentially hundreds of residents? Couldn't it be put on a greenfield a few miles away? Land costs in the established neighborhoods now proposed for study and the modest 20,000-square-foot building initially planned will eat up the $22 million from the new city sales tax pretty rapidly, before any staff is hired or additional buildings are on the drawing board.