by Max Brantley
Leslie Peacock is covering his presentation to the UALR Board of Vistors. Our early word was that full development would require acquisition of private homes in about half the strip of property adjoining the campus, as well as conversion of some existing parking. But our early word, too, was that Anderson would propose a federal government-style acquisition program — not just acquisition of property at market value, but relocation assistance as well.
I'm interested to know if Anderson has developed more of a vision of what the Authority is to be. There's been a lack of clarity on mission — research augmentation for UAMS and UALR or a business incubator, for example. That has been overshadowed to date by the long and unsuccessful search for a site. UALR would not donate the property, but sell it at market value. To date, the only real commitment to the project has been the $20 million or so committed by the city of Little Rock from a new sales tax. Still missing is any contribution from private sources.
The UALR master plan had designated this land for university use someday, so it would effectively put some limits on campus growth. Anderson said he'd talked to Authority Board Chair Mary Good about his idea and she was non-committal.
UPDATE: Saying his "worst nightmare the last two years has been a failed tech park," Anderson outlined UALR's proposal, which he believes would give the park its best chance to succeed: UALR would sell, at fair market value, property it owns within a 20.45-acre parcel bound on the south by 27th Street, on the east by Fair Park, on the north by 24th Street and on the west by Coleman Creek and Fillmore Street. It owns a checkerboard of 28 properties within those boundaries; there are 65 properties there altogether. Twenty of the 37 properties UALR does not own are rental and 17 are owner-occupied.
Anderson said UALR would sell with the stipulation that the Tech Park board commit to federal guidelines for acquisition of residential property, which assure "fair treatment of property owners and of residents." He added that UALR had asked the directors of the Methodist Children's Home, north of 24th street, if they would be interested in a joint offer, but they said they weren't.
UALR's master plan calls for eventually trying to buy the unowned properties for university expansion, and Anderson said he and others who debated the offer had to decide if it was a good idea to give it up for a tech park. But, he said, if the tech park is a success, "the city wins," and if the city wins, "UALR also wins." He said UA System President Donald R. Bobbitt and former UALR chancellor Charles E. Hathaway are "highly supportive" of the idea.
The site is ideal, Anderson said, because initially the park will rely on the intellectual resources of UALR and fellow sponsor the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to initiate home-grown businesses and proximity is crucial to that interaction. Only in its later stages will it attract out-of-state companies less reliant on the sponsors, he said.
Anderson said he had let UAMS Chancellor Daniel Rahn know of the idea a while ago. The Times has not been able to reach Rahn for comment.
After the meeting, Anderson said he wanted to "emphasize that this is not an offer," but "a beginning of a discussion with the community." That discussion is important; if most of the owners of the remaining property do not want to sell, an ordinance passed last year by the city Board of Directors that would prohibit the park board from using eminent domain to acquire property could make it impossible for the board to move forward.
Anderson will address the Tech Park board at its regular meeting tomorrow at 4 p.m., in the Bailey Center on the UALR campus.