by Max Brantley
A private consultant, Charles Dilks, has completed his recommendation for sites among 23 submitted for the Little Rock Technology Park Authority to consider for construction of the first phase of a construction project aimed at attracting tech business to Little Rock.
Dilks' recommendation of four finalists does not include any of the three residential neighborhoods originally targeted by consultants as ideal for their location between UAMS and UALR, two sponsors of the project. The project will be funded primarily at the outset with a promised $22 million in Little Rock sales tax money. Backers have said another $28 million in private money will be needed for a second phase of construction, source still undetermined. The drawing above illustrates the plan for building the project in stages.
An original study produced for the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has been driving the idea along with now-Authority Board member Dickson Flake, stirred controversy in the residential neighborhoods. Loud objections to the loss of homes in the low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods finally drew promises from city leaders that their land would not be considered. But suspicions lingered, partly because of continued remarks by board members in support of addressing blight in those areas and critical of other potential sites.
Indeed, Dilks' letter notes that he didn't find any of the sites he "ideally suited" for the tech park. He success is tied to location, particularly proximity to sponsoring institutions.
In conclusion, the above sites stand out above the 23 proposals received for the reasons identified. However, in every case, there are a number of unfavorable characteristics which, in my opinion, do not lead to one superior site which meets all the important success criteria for a technology park. Accordingly, I suggest that the Authority should move with caution in selecting any one of them and to make sure there is not another alternative site that could be made available that would be more favorable to the success of the technology park.
* DOWNTOWN: A 10-acre site east of Interstate 30, proposed by Moses Tucker for property mostly controlled by World Services for the Blind, which has given up on a plan to build a new facility there. Authority Chair Mary Good has been harshly critical of this site and questioned the price and size, though proponents, including Mayor Mark Stodola, have said additional parcels could be added. This land costs about $5.2 million. Backers have touted its proximity to Acxiom, the Clinton Library, Heifer and a growing residential community. Dilks noted it's "far" from sponsoring institutions, though the neighborhood presents attractive features.
* COL. GLENN AND UNIVERSITY: A parcel of up to 84 acres recommended by Flake and Kelley for the University District Partnership on the south side of Col. Glenn, at the southern edge of the UALR campus. No price given until precise needs are known. It includes a shopping center, former Coleman Dairy property and some Fourche Creek flood plain land. It's contiguous to campus and work there would be a shot in the arm for a struggling neighborhood. Dilks noted the need to remove retail tenants, though Hank Kelley has said most are in short-term leases are readily able to relocate. Dilks also noted the floodplain and said the site's very proximity to UALR might be a negative to other sponsors by identifying it too closely with UALR.
* RIVERDALE: A proposal from Flake and Kelley for one of the Verizon (formerly Alltel) buildings in Riverdale (1 Allied Drive, Building 5), a 224,000-square-foot building with up to 22 acres counting adjacent undeveloped ground. Dilks said the large building would have to be largely vacant at the outset, a possible drawback, and said the single large structure would make it impossible to build a mixed-use campus.
* JOHN BARROW: This is 30 to 40 acres along the 1900-2200 blocks of John Barrow Road, a neighborhood south of Kanis Road pushed by its city director, Doris Wright. Another Barrow neighborhood site — 37 acres along Riley Drive, just south of Interstate 630 — was withdrawn because it's under contract now for a medical facility. Dilks said the site would be easy to develop, but was expensive and a long way from sponsors.
All the 23 proposals are listed on the authority's website.
Dilks' recommendations were mailed last Friday but had not been publicly released until I requested them. The Authority will consider these recommendations at its Board meeting next week, Wednesday, Oct. 10, at Baptist Health. Dilks discusses pros and cons for each. The plan is to hold public hearings on the finalists and decide the site by Nov. 14. Then an engineering study will be required.
* Here's Dilks' letter on the conclusions of his search and urgings about the importance of site selection as a prelude to evaluations of the four finalists.
* Here's Dilks' first-stage evaluation of the 23 sites.