In theory, the board of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority, which has been wed to the idea of flattening a neighborhood for construction of a biotech business park, is now open to suggestions for alternative, non-residential, locations. There's a form for those who would propose them on the Authority website (www.lrtechpark.com); submission deadline is Aug. 31.
Their newfound openness was brought about by an ordinance proposed by City Director Dean Kumpuris and passed in June that pointed to fears in Ward 2 that the Authority would exercise its power of eminent domain to remove unwilling residents from their homes. The board recommended the Authority conduct a six-month study of alternative sites. The board has no real power over the Authority — it was created by state legislation and reports to no one — but the city has influence in the amount of $22 million in sales tax receipts, which it's pledged to pay the Authority over the next 10 years.
After the ordinance passed, City Director Joan Adcock later told residents of the Forest Hills neighborhood, which like two areas in Fair Park was being targeted by the Authority and which was fighting the move with its public "NOT FOR SALE" campaign, they'd won.
But last week, an Authority-appointed subcommittee of representatives from housing agencies and the neighborhoods stirred up fears again. Its agenda: Making relocation easier.
The Authority board maintains the three neighborhood sites — 60 acres just north of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus that includes the Methodist Children's Home; 39.25 acres south of 12th Street roughly tucked between Our Lady of Good Counsel Church and Franklin Elementary, and 40.8 acres north of 12th, east of Jonesboro Drive and south of Interstate 630 — are perfect choices because of their location between tech park's two university sponsors, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and UALR, and to Arkansas Children's Hospital, which isn't a sponsor but which has committed to putting $125,000 in the tech board pot. Preparing the 60-acre "UALR site," as it's identified by Crafton Tull, the civil engineering firm hired by the Authority board to study the sites, would require the removal of 128 residential and commercial structures; the 39.5-acre "12th Street South Side" site would require the removal of 131 residences and commercial structures, and the 40.8-acre "12th Street North Side" site in Forest Hills would require the removal of 150 residential and commercial structures. (In all cases, the number of commercial structures is negligible, but the Crafton Tull report didn't differentiate.)
On the basis of what it's been told by tech park managers Angle Technology Group, which identified the two Fair Park sites in its 2009 report to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce (board member Dickson Flake selected the Forest Hills site), the Authority board says the park should be no more than a 5-minute commute from the universities if it is to succeed. (Residents of the Forest Hills neighborhood, directly across I-630 from UAMS, suspect that another reason their neighborhood is being considered is that it would allow the med school, which has expanded all it can north of the interstate, to spread south.)
The Times did a little checking into what land is available that might meet the board's 5-minute distance. Since it can take more than 5 minutes to simply leave a parking deck at UAMS or hike to a car at UALR, the times listed here are for interstate travel and, for times to UALR, road access.
Most of these properties are on the market and will be proposed to the Authority board, sellers say. Prices should be compared to the $9 million in site acquisition that the Authority has budgeted.
If an alternative site is not chosen, residents of the selected neighborhood location, which will include elderly and low-income residents, all of whom are paying a city sales tax that will help pay to level their houses, will have two options: Sell their homes, some of them lived in for decades, to the Authority for "fair market value," an amount almost certainly less than they would need to move to similar housing in a similar neighborhood, or hire lawyers to fight the Authority's exercise of eminent domain in court.
The Times proposals, as they might be marketed to the Authority board by commercial realtors:
World Services for the Blind property
• 10 acres between 6th and 8th streets southeast of Heifer International and the Clinton Library
• $3.6 million
• All utilities; fiber optics nearby
• 3 minutes to ACH, 5 minutes to UAMS, 9 minutes to UALR
There are some heavy hitters at bat for this property: Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari, Clinton Foundation executive director Stephanie Street, Clinton School Dean Skip Rutherford, Acxiom senior vice president Jerry C. Jones and Rett Tucker of Moses-Tucker Real Estate, who jointly signed a letter to Mayor Mark Stodola and Authority board chair Dr. Mary Good expressing support for this alternative. Advantages: High visibility from interstate, quick access straight to partner institutions and interstate access to NCTR research park near Pine Bluff, 30 acres of adjacent land available for acquisition in future, low demolition costs, only one residential relocation required. It shares its downtown location with the Virginia Bio-Technology Research Park in Richmond, which the park Authority board refers to as a model for Little Rock.
Verizon Building 5
• $19 to $23 a square foot
• 224,467 square feet at 1 Allied Drive on the Arkansas River
• All utilities
• 5 minutes to UAMS, 9 minutes to UALR
Riverfront Plaza, buildings 2 and 3
• $16 to $18 a square foot
• 105,886 square feet at 1 Allied Drive
• All utilities
• 5 minutes to UAMS, 10 minutes to UALR
UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn has spoken approvingly of the former Alltel properties, both for the beauty of their location and the fact that they're ready to move into. Advantages: These two properties (available for sale or lease by different realtors) combined would provide enough square footage for three buildings under the Authority's plan, which plans to construct a 100,000-square-foot building in the first phase of development. They're wired, a hill away from UAMS and on beautiful property on the Arkansas River. There is undeveloped acreage available on nearby Riverfront Drive, including 1.2 acres ($719,523) and 3.2 acres ($2 million), for expansion. The location would require a drive up a two-lane road to get to UAMS, but Rahn doesn't think a distance restriction makes much sense anyway, since collaborators will be driving no matter what their destination ... unless of course UAMS decided to make it possible for researchers to walk to the tech park, in which case the former Ray Winder Field, now owned by the university, would work. Residential relocation required: Zero.
Ray Winder Field
• 3.8 acres at Jonesboro Drive and Interstate 630
• Owned by UAMS
• On the UAMS campus; 4 minutes to UALR
OK, so three acres is too little, the Authority board has said, to accommodate future mushrooming of the technology park. So build up, supporters of this idea say. Advantages: Can be acquired at no cost, is on the UAMS campus, is a block away from the state Department of Health's Public Health Laboratory, has high public visibility, and maybe UAMS could persuade the National Guard to sell the adjacent Ricks Armory, for another 3 acres. Residential relocation required: Zero.
About 10 acres at the corner of Fair Park and Asher Avenue
• Owned (mostly) by UALR
• Walkable to UALR proper; 4 minutes to UAMS.
UALR owns several acres on the southeast corner of its campus that it will develop one day for something. Why not for the technology park, area business owner Jerry Meyer has suggested. Drawback: The university would have to buy a muffler shop and a car lube drive-in. Advantage: Besides the cost savings, the park would be along the campus' planned 47-acre greenway with bike and walking trails along Coleman Creek, fulfilling one of the Authority's goals of having a water feature and other park-like amenities on the campus. If the park's a flop, UALR can use the space for classrooms or other campus facilities and call it the Trail of Tears building, to reflect its location just east of the Trail of Tears Park the university recently dedicated. Residential relocation required: Zero.
The Village Shopping Center
• Corner of University and Asher avenues
• Seconds from UALR, 4 minutes to UAMS
This shopping center is partly leased, but realtor Hank Kelley of Flake and Kelley said he's looking at whether property there (including the site of the unoccupied Cinema 150) and acreage to the east, including land already owned by UALR, could be combined to appeal to the Authority board. This could be the real deal: The board of the University District Development Corp. (a separate entity from UALR) has voted to consider a proposal with Kelley. Drawback: Would take some wheeling and dealing — but why appoint the head of the Chamber of Commerce (Jay Chesshir) and a realtor (Dickson Flake) to the Authority board if not to promote wheeling and dealing? Advantage: Directly across from UALR on a corner that the Flake and Kelley brochure says is passed by 39,000 vehicles a day. If the Authority could purchase the shopping center, it could use storefronts as ready-to-move in office space while planning for development of property to the east, on the other side of UALR's Village dorms and soccer field. High visibility. Residential relocation required: One, possibly.
The Village at Brodie Creek
• 26.08 acres available
• Price not disclosed
• 5 minutes to UAMS, 8 to UALR
Cleared and leveled acreage on Col. Glenn Plaza Drive near I-430 is next door to the nursing school for Baptist Health, which, while not a partner in the Technology Park, may have an interest in the biotech work expected to go on there. Drawback: Will require the clearing of trees. Advantages: If some trees are left, the campus could be as park-like as the Authority claims it would like to see, though plans for the neighborhoods include bulldozing everything. Realtor Hank Kelley says this area offers a clean slate for tech park designers to work from.
Little Rock Riverport Land
• I-440 at Lindsey Road
• 118 acres
• $3.5 million
• 13 minutes to UAMS, 17 to UALR
Visiting venture capitalists and scientists from out of state would have easy access to this great swath of undeveloped land right on I-440. Though it's 7 minutes farther than the Authority's limit, the land would be the choice for big thinkers: The Authority of the future would never have to look for property on which to expand, because it's all here. Advantage: Good price for such a huge amount of land. Residential relocation required: zero.
The Arkansas Building, the Boyle Building and the MM Cohn Building
• 196,000 square feet
• $2.6 million
• All utilities, with access to fiber optics.
• 5 minutes from UAMS, 9 from UALR
The tech park Authority could learn its ABCs (Arkansas, Boyle and Cohn) of building reuse and make a Main-Street-supporting Mayor Mark Stodola happy at the same time by buying up these three contiguous buildings on Main. There's enough square footage to accommodate two buildings (as envisioned by the Authority). Advantage: Downtown synergy, with loft living and an entertainment district within blocks. Possible research investors officed nearby. Residential relocation required: zero.
Brandon House Furniture
• 6100 W. 12th St.
• 130,000 square feet
• Price to be determined
• At the corner of University and 12th Street, close to three residential sites proposed by Authority board, 3 minutes to UALR, 5 minutes to UAMS
It's only one building and it's landlocked, but this former furniture store is larger than the building the Authority plans to construct in its first phase and it requires no land-leveling, home-buying or utility-line-laying. If the Authority had tech companies champing at the bit to move in, this would be a good place to start. If the "park" succeeds, there will be venture capital to expand elsewhere — right? Advantages: Great visibility, near UALR and UAMS. Residential relocation required: Zero.
Total of 95 acres in two parcels on I-430 between 36th Street to Colonel Glenn, including:
• 27 acres near Shackleford Crossing and 36th street
• $3.3 million
• 66 acres between 36th and Colonel Glenn (access east of Clear Channel Metroplex)
• $3.5 million
• Water, sewer, electricity on the 27-acre parcel
• 5 minutes to UAMS, 8 to UALR
For $6.8 million, or $2 million less than it says it will spend to acquire residential property for the tech park, the Authority could buy these two parcels, which surround the Shackleford Crossing shopping center. The 66-acre parcel has two access points, on Col. Glenn and 36th Street, both just east of Interstate 430; the 27-acre parcel fronts 36th Street. Advantages: What a deal. The smaller parcel has sewer, water and utilities installed. A boon to Ward 6. Residential relocation required: Zero.