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The Insider March 31

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Asa cashes in The Washington Post reports that Asa Hutchinson has landed a potentially lucrative gig thanks to his time as a top official at the Homeland Security Department. He’s a “special advisor” to Fortress America Acquisition Corp., a creation of former Congressman Tom McMillen of Maryland (a former pro basketball player, too). The idea is for Fortress to use proceeds of a public stock offering to buy companies in biodefense, hazardous material cleanup and emergency preparedness. What’s it worth to Hutchinson? Maybe a lot. SEC filings show he paid 14 cents a share for 200,000 shares in the new concern. That $28,000 could turn into a bonanza, depending on the success of a planned public offering. Other partners include former Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma and a partnership based in the Cayman Islands. (See Brummett on the subject, page 32.) Coming soon Sharon Priest, executive director of the Little Rock Downtown Partnership, says she expects dramatic new development action on Main Street soon. Tower Investments, the California-based firm that recently purchased several buildings in the 500 block of Main Street, is “ready to proceed” transforming those properties into condominiums. “They are going to be priced to the target market of young professionals,” Priest said. “I’m guessing between $90,000 to $150,000.” The first phase of the development will be condominiums on the top four floors of the Lafayette Building, the former hotel at Sixth and Louisiana. Who needs a lobbyist? You can save money on a lobbyist when you’ve got one on the floor of the legislature. Or so suggests a real estate appraiser chafed by a letter he received from Republican Rep. Susan Schulte of Conway. A licensed appraiser, Schulte wrote letters on House stationery urging other appraisers to oppose bills that could allow real estate agents to do appraisals in certain cases. She also urged colleagues to complain to the Arkansas Board of Realtors about an appraiser who’d expressed opposition to the bills. Conflict of interest? Schulte thinks not. She said in an e-mail: “Gosh, if I as a legislator can’t speak up to protect the licensing laws of my state and profession, not to mention the potential lack of protection to the public because of bad legislation; then surely we need to ban lawyers from the judicial committee; bankers from insurance and commerce; nurses and owners of nursing homes from health and welfare.” ASU tension mounts The bad relations between the Arkansas State University faculty and ASU President Leslie Wyatt continue to worsen. Donn Mixon, a lawyer for the executive committee of the Faculty Senate, threatened legal action in a letter to Wyatt on Tuesday. Unless Wyatt is more responsive to faculty grievances over promotions, the letter said, “My recommendation to the Executive Committee and to the faculty members who are entitled to promotions will be that the court system is their only recourse.” Faculty members say that Wyatt has not complied with established university policies on grievances. Moving up The venerable and successful Dixie Cafe group of family restaurants is taking a new direction. Owner Alan Roberts says his company plans to open what it hopes to be the first of several Fire Fall Grill and Bars in August in a former strip center at McCain and Fairway in North Little Rock. He’s calling it upscale casual dining with American cuisine — steaks, seafood, salads, burgers, appetizers. If the concept is successful, the company will open them as complements in other Dixie Cafée markets. The Twelfth Man Attorney General Mike Beebe sat on the Arkansas RimRockers’ bench for the entirety of the team’s ABA championship game at Alltel Arena last Saturday. He didn’t get any court time, but Beebe played the role of “12th man,” high-fiving and cheering the players. No harm in a would-be governor associating himself visibly with an event attended by nearly 15,000. Beebe promoted his appearance in another venue sometimes popular with politicians — Tommy Smith’s morning show on The Buzz.

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