City Director Ken Richardson, who represents Ward 2, where the Little Rock Technology Park could be built, told the park Authority this afternoon that, unless it acts swiftly to identify where it will build, "misery merchants" will prey on unsuspecting residents to get them to sell their homes.
Richardson, who isn't a supporter of using eminent domain to build the park, said he would support the Authority's efforts as long as site decisions were made "from the bottom up instead of the top down." That was a resounding theme at this afternoon's meeting of the Authority at the Reddy Room at Entergy's office downtown. Some
70 people crowded the room to hear the board talk about site selection. (See maps for areas considered here, in the request for proposals for site evaluation issued by the board.)
Bottom line: The authority expects to have hired a civil engineer by the first quarter of 2012 and could have a site selected by the third quarter of next year.
Several speakers in the audience expressed anxiety about losing their homes, and state Sen. Joyce Elliott asked if the Authority could pay more than the fair market value for a house, since residents might have a hard time affording new housing and moving costs. Authority member Dickson Flake said that "special consideration" might be given "in some cases," a statement that gave pause to some folks who gathered after the meeting to talk about their concerns. One of them was Justice of the Peace Donna Massey, who lives on Tyler Street and who, as the first to address the Authority, told them bluntly "I like my neighbors and I don't desire to move."
Most in the audience, however, seemed resigned, but unhappy, about the disruption to neighborhoods the tech park promises, though a few asked why it couldn't be somewhere else and one man suggested the park go on land that is now the War Memorial Golf Course. Another woman said she was ready to sell, but said the Authority wasn't doing enough to inform neighborhoods about its progress on the park. Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce head Jay Chessir, a board member, said the Authority was thinking about putting together a website to keep people updated. But the woman said she wasn't an Internet user and neither were her neighbors. Joe Busby, of the Oak Forest neighborhood association, and another man from the neighborhood suggested the board to meet with residents IN their neighborhoods, rather than at the Entergy offices during work hours, an idea that drew applause.
The only dollars committed to the LR Technology Park now are taxpayers' — the $22 million that the new sales tax will raise in Little Rock. Robert Webb, who campaigned against the tax hike, asked what contributions could be expected from UAMS or UALR, which, in theory, will benefit from the park. The answer: nothing beyond "seed money" contributions of $125,000. Dr. Mary Good of UALR, who chairs the committee, said the only way public universities could come up with money would be to raise tuition or get it from the state. The contribution from the universities will be "intellectual property," she said.
The $22 million will be spent on site acquisition and infrastructure. Chessir said private concerns won't be interested in investing in the park until they see the infrastructure. That leaves the question hanging: What if you build it and nobody comes?