by Max Brantley
I've now heard from two people who attended a committee meeting last night of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority. The committee was established to ease concerns of the residential neighborhoods between UAMS and UALR initially targeted as potential sites for the taxpayer-funded office building (and thus removal of dozens of homes).
Both said Authority Chair Mary Good seemed to indicate 1) continuing dissatisfaction with an Interstate 30 site near Heifer International and the Clinton Library that has been supported by the mayor and many others and 2) a continued interest in addressing "blight" in neighborhoods near UAMS and UALR. Good got supporting comments, my witnesses say, from Bob Johnson, the former state senator from Bigelow (Death Star, he was known then, for opposition to progressive legislation) and also a UALR appointee to the board. He, I'm told, seemed equally fixated on conditions in the residential neighborhoods near UALR. People from the neighborhood and others mostly spoke, I'm told, about interest in the downtown site. Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, parried some of Good's critical remarks about the site near his campus. Good has complained previously that the site offered downtown isn't big enough, but backers have said it could be expanded.
If Good and Johnson and Tech Park concept originator Dickson Flake, who specifically targeted the Forest Hills neighborhood at the outset, really do wind up favoring the original targeted neighborhood, that's three of the four votes necessary for an Authority majority. What's City Director Joan Adcock going to say then about that neighborhood being "off the table"? Sounds like somebody forgot to tell Johnson and Good. Or maybe they just don't hear so well.
Anybody else at the meeting with a report?
UPDATE: What follows is a letter from the neighborhood group representing the residential area near the proposed downtown site to C. J. Duvall, who's chairing the committee on housing concerns:
Dear CJ Duvall,
Some of the Hanger Hill neighbors will be able to attend the meeting tonight, but I am unable to attend due to a prior commitment.
I did want to let you know that the Hanger Hill Neighborhood Association really welcomes the Tech Park into our neighborhood. We are a small neighborhood in downtown Little Rock that often gets overlooked because the freeway cut us off from the rest of the downtown many years ago. We are in a great location and often refer to ourselves as the best kept secret in Little Rock. We are walking distance to many of the city attractions including the Clinton Library, MacArthur Park and the River Market District.
Our neighborhood is filled with great historic housing and many neighbors that take pride in their property. Our neighborhood has successfully had one of our blocks listed on the National Register and we were involved in getting the Oakland & Fraternal Historic Cemetery Park in our neighborhood also listed. Our association continues to work at expanding the National Register District to include a majority of the residential blocks.
Our neighbors are proud of our local school, Booker Arts Magnet Elementary. We have worked with the Game and Fish Commission to rehabilitate a creek that runs through the Cemetery Park. Grants were received by both the cemetery and the school. This project includes an education program where school children learn about the creek, collect data for the Game and Fish Commission and work to keep the creek clean. We are currently using the "Love Your Block" grant funds to plant trees along the school grounds in order to beautify the school and the neighborhood.
Our neighborhood is not without faults. We have problems with neglected housing, weed lots, illegal dumping of trash and lack of sidewalks. We need more investment into the neighborhood in the form of quality housing and existing housing restoration. We feel that the tech park would help spur this activity. We also feel that the tech park would encourage the city to investment more into our neighborhood, including following through with their East of I-30 plan. The plan includes connecting College street from the Clinton Library to the freeway by lengthening the street and widening it as well as beautifying it with lamp poles and sidewalks.
There are currently 10 acres of land available from the Lyons International in our neighborhood but there are many acres available adjacent to the 10 acre site. This land is in a prime location that has been overlooked for too long and who could want for better neighbors than Heifer International, the Clinton Library and the Clinton School for Public Service?
Just outside the 10 acre site is the William Woodruff House, founder of the Arkansas Gazette. The neighborhood is very concerned that we will loose this historic home from neglect and feel the Tech Park could inspire private investment or possibly it could be incorporated into the Tech Park plans, a wonderful way to recycle this historic home.
Thank you for your consideration and feel free to contact me with any questions.
Lakresha Diaz, president of the Hanger Hill Neighborhood Association