by Max Brantley
The Little Rock Technology Park soap opera offers another episode Wednesday, with a board meeting at 4 p.m. at UALR.
Topic A apparently will be the late-arriving idea — championed by Board Chair Mary Good — to plunk the park into a couple of unconnected parcels on University Avenue. Good has been on a personal inspection tour, an unannounced visit that earlier drew critical comments from Authority Board member C.J. Duvall about Good's "unilateral decision making."
To recap: Little Rock taxpayers have committed tens of millions in new sales tax money to build a "technology park," an office project seen by some as a business incubator, by others as additional research space for UAMS and UALR (yet another bone of contention because of the contradictory comments during the tax campaign by city officials). An extended site search produced three finalists. Mary Good and the "expert" hand-picked by Tech Park godfather Dickson Flake didn't like the finalists because none was the residential neighborhood near UAMS that Flake, consultant Charles Dilks and Good favored. So Dilks, unbidden, came up with another site. And he produced his own site evaluator to study the sites. Minimum acreage and contiguous property — once absolutely vital characteristics to Dilks — were no longer so vital. The sites are the former Brandon Furniture store at 12th and University and property currently occupied by Sears several blocks to the north.
In any case, here's the campaign for the new site, as outlined in a document dump less than 48 hours before Wednesday's meeting:
* BRANDON BUILDING DESIGN: This is a drawing of space use in the old furniture store.
* BRANDON BUILDING SUITABILITY: This is the report to Good by Dilks' self-selected architect/planner William Gaudreau on the suitability of the Brandon building for "multi-tenant" use. It has such potential, he said, and presents "many interesting and intriguing opportunities for future redevelopment."
* SEARS PROPERTY: This document maps the Sears location on the north side of I-630.
* SEARS PROPERTY PRICE AND AVAILABLITY: A real estate consultant talks here about existing leases on the Sears property (it would be at least a year before a portion of the parking lot could be available for redevelopment and longer before the Sears building itself could be taken) and the cost of the property (owners say they'd take a bargain $7.9 million.) This document responds to a number of questions about environmental, parking and other issues raised by Board member Jay Chesshir.
* AND WHAT ABOUT THE BRANDON PROPERTY SALE? There's no specific discussion in these documents of the fact that a deal is reportedly in the works to sell the Brandon property to an investor. A land flip shortly before a public decision to use the property could alter the purchase or lease price, you'd think. The Gaudreau letter does say:
Whereas I have not had the benefit of all the work or investigations that has occurred to date, it appears this property opportunity may require immediate action to secure future development rights.
The push is on from the Board chair. Will other Board members toss the months of work on other sites and accede to the Good/Dilks gambit? Check in Wednesday. Like sands in an hour glass, these are the days of our lives.
(Did I actually read a city official saying the plans by a medical group to tear down the old Doctors Hospital just north of the Sears property for a new medical facility somehow was a "chip" toward development of a tech park there? Why not say the new Target, Radio Shack and Sport Clips in a nearby shopping center are also "chips"?
As it happens, problematic parking related to Doctors Hospital came up in one of the memos to Good:
Question #5: Is there potential to negotiate shared parking as between the Authority and LRMA [owner of the Sears property] as related to structured parking to be later constructed within the LRMA complex?
Response: It is impossible to provide a definitive answer at this time. In order to answer the question, it will be necessary for LRMA to conduct a detailed analysis of (a) its present and future parking needs; and (b) the best way to utilize the land which will be available after the new medical office building is constructed and the Doctors Hospital Building is demolished. Any sharing of structured parking to be constructed on land owned by LRMA would obviously need to be based upon fair and reasonable economics and could occur only in the event that LRMA’s parking needs were fully addressed. In the event that the Brandon Property becomes unavailable for purchase and/ or that the Authority determines that it wishes the Park to be located only upon contiguous land, the above described analysis could also address how the Authority and LRMA might work together in an effort to provide additional land and/or office space for the Technology Park within the LRMA complex. Given that the Authority’s Consultant strongly prefers this University Avenue and I-630 location and that there are many sound reasons for this recommendation, it would seem that such an analysis should be performed before any final site selection decision is made.