by Max Brantley
After some confusion earlier, the Little Rock Technology Park Authority has announced release of "site measurement criteria" for the place the authority will build an office building with $22 million in city tax money under authority granted by legislation written and promoted by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. The idea is for the building to attract private businesses.
Today's list, a bit longer than what was released earlier, is a list of factors that will be considered in selecting a site, but it sets no specific requirements in any of the individual areas. You can see the full list on the jump. For example: it asks those with potential sites to identify the proximity and "convenience" to research institutions, but doesn't set fixed limits on what's expected in those categories. The Authority's original insistence on a five-minute drive time between the site and either UAMS or UALR had caused great controversy and scoffing from city officials.
The release today came with the following statement from Charlie Dilks, the consultant hired by the Tech Authority (an independent board dominated by people with connection to the Chamber of Commerce and business establishment):
"The research and technology park industry is now over 40 years old, and a lot has been learned about the various criteria that have led to their success or failure.
"The goal is to create lively, mixed-use, amenity-rich environments around the intersection of university research and private industry. Successful parks promote the collaborative, entrepreneurial culture that is essential to innovation and the transfer of technology and cutting-edge research into commercial applications.
"As the board reviews alternative site locations, a list of criteria needs to be agreed upon in order to judge them. The criteria attached should be the template to be used for this evaluation. Weighing land site criteria and scoring them implies precision and objectivity. It should be understood, however, that a numerical selection process could lead to bad conclusions and high probability of failure.
"In the end, sound judgment based on experience of successful parks needs to be qualitatively made, and it should be noted that some of the site qualifications may be altered by investment such as infrastructure capacity, configuration, establishment of anchor institutions, and quality management whereas other sites, due to external conditions, may be less subject to change.
"After evaluating alternative sites for the park for probability of success, you may then test the best sites against the locational considerations to determine if the effects are positive or negative in the short and long runs."
The consultant and the Authority Board had from the start favored sites in the residential neighborhood between UAMS and UALR, generally a low-income area with a high minority population. Residents organized opposition to the plan and that prompted the City Board, which controls the money, to urge the Tech Authority to seek alternative sites. It's been a bumpy process, with a reluctance of some Authority leaders to let go of the original residential neighborhoods. Mayor Mark Stodola indicated to me yesterday his belief that the residential neighborhoods are off the table — though he added that a different, collaborative approach might have produced a different outcome had the process begun differently. Stodola has said positive things about a downtown site, east of Interstate 30, on commercial property near the Clinton Library and Heifer International. Those institutions and Acxiom have promoted the site, along with Lion World Services, which controls a 10-acre tract at its core that it no longer plans to use for a new center for its instruction program for the blind.
Board Chair Mary Good confirmed to me that the authority avoided setting specific requirements in each area because, for example, it would make no sense to reject a 29.8 acre site that fit all other desires but fell a fraction of an acre short of the optimal size.
Technology Park Site Measurement Criteria
Known or suspected environmental hazards
Traffic Patterns, transportation service
Proximity to research institutions
Convenience to research institutions
Other surrounding amenities
2. LOCATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
Effect on surrounding neighbors/development patterns