STARTUP: Tech Park eyes this building at 2nd and Main for start of business development effort.
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority
voted tonight to negotiate, along with Innovate Arkansas, to lease space in a building on the east side of the 100 block of Main, where Stephens Media was once located. Stephens Inc. owns the building; the Authority and Innovate Arkansas would lease 9,500 square feet in the building, which will also house the new Orbea bicycle manufacturer headquarters at the corner of 2nd and Main.
Authority board member Jay Chesshir said he'd talked to Tom Dalton
, director of Innovate Arkansas
, about creating co-working space and an IT accelerator in the building. Chesshir also said he's talked to Warwick Sabin
who heads up the Silver Mine tech incubator
regjonal director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub that includes the Silver Mine in North Little Rock, about possible collaboration. Innovate Arkansas heads up The Ark
tech job accelerator; leasing space here would allow Little Rock to have its own Ark Challenge
The Authority will negotiate a two-year lease with an option for two additional years, and Chesshir said he hopes the facility will be operational by "the end of the first quarter" next year.
The board also agreed to issue a request for qualifications for "site investigation and negotiating services" for the park. The scope of services states that the investigator will work with the tech park's consultant, Charles Dilks, to
"evaluate the proposed site and determine if it can be master planned for the long-term development of the park."
The board action followed a presentation by Mayor Stodola
on available spaces downtown for purchase or building. He provided the board maps created in the past two weeks by architectural firms Polk Stanley Wilcox, Witsell Evans Rasco and Wittenberg Delony and Davidson, which he said donated their time. The maps divided Main Street into four areas for development, each area made up of 4-block "clusters," from the 100 block to the 800 block. For example, the architects, working with the Downtown Partnership, showed availability in Cluster II, which would run from Third Street on the north, Scott on the east, Capitol on the south and Louisiana on the west, as four empty lots that could be built on, several buildings for sale and three parking decks. Property in the cluster is owned by Stephens Inc., including the large new parking lot at Capitol and Main, Doug Meyer, Doyle Rogers, and the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, and board chair Dr. Mary Good
declared it was the only grouping of buildings that made sense. (I'll try to upload maps in the a.m.)
Board member Dickson Flake
said he was worried about "connectivity" between the buildings, and the lack of defined boundaries for a "master plan." Stodola noted that the properties are no farther than two blocks of each other in the clusters.
Flake's objections to the lack of "connectivity" seemed odd in light of the fact, which he and Good pointed out later in the discussion, that the $50 million the park expects to have to raise before it can build included 30 acres. That, when fully developed, would require more than a two-block stroll for perambulating entrepreneurs.
Member Bob Johnson
— who like Flake and Good voted against locating the park downtown in favor of the Sears site on University Avenue — strenuously cited his fear that the Authority could get into a "snooker position" by a piecemeal approach to acquiring property, with the park's success creating higher purchase prices for surrounding properties. "Availability does not mean affordability," he told the mayor. Downtown Partnership chair Millie Ward spoke from the audience, suggesting that the park could acquire a group of buildings for later development. Money set aside from the sales tax for the park now totals $4 million, and Good said it might be a good idea to "hedge your bet" by doing as Ward said.