Leslie Peacock will be back soon with meeting details and discussion, but here’s the outline of recommended property purchases by consultants to the board of the Little Rock Tech Park. The news release:
ARK Commercial and Investment Real Estate, the firm selected to assist the Little Rock Technology Park Authority Board in investigating and acquiring a site for the Little Rock Technology Park, today presented its findings to the board. The board requested that the property search focus on downtown Little Rock’s “Creative Corridor.” After an extensive study of the area, ARK Commercial recommends that the Technology Park Authority acquire the following properties:
* West half-block of the 400 Block of Main Street
* East half-block of the 400 Block of Main Street
* West half-block of the 400 Block of Scott Street
* ·Parking lot at the northeast corner of Main Street and 4th Street
* As part of the purchase of other parcels, a one-lot parking lot along Scott Street, adjacent to the Women’s City Club (Junior League) building
“After months of searching the area, we are confident this site offers the largest feasible group of available properties on Main Street that is nearest to Markham Street, President Clinton Avenue, and the downtown resurgence that springs from the River Market,” said Jeff Yates, managing partner, ARK Commercial and Investment Real Estate. “This is a prime location to harness the growing energy from an area that is emerging as a downtown center for both entertainment and commerce.”
ARK Commercial’s property search included investigation of 98 parcels (buildings and parking lots) throughout the Creative Corridor. It consists of properties that have already been developed, with many being re-developed, and some that have been re-developed again and again. ARK Commercial examined the physical characteristics of each parcel, while also reviewing county records, Metrocentre Improvement District records, records provided by property owners, and other information from both public and independent sources.
“This is just the first step in the process,” said Yates. “Once approved, we will complete work on cost estimates and negotiations for acquisition of the properties.”
The news release doesn’t mention cost of the land (some vacant and some occupied by the likes of KATV, the Mays Bird law firm and former Stephens Inc. buildings now occupied in part by the Arkansas Higher Education Department) or necessary construction. The city will contribute $22 million over time, in theory. As yet, no significant private support has emerged.
The PDF assesses each piece of property in the corridor and includes photos and square footage. It says owners of the targeted property are “amendable” to selling. It mentions that one property owner had investigated other locations. That likely would be KATV, which has indicated to me an interest in moving in the past. The parking lot on the west side of Main is mostly Stephens-owned, though a small parcel at Capitol and Main is controlled by the Little Rock Housing Authority.
The Tech Park Authority board unanimously voted to accept Yates’ recommendation, and had high praise for the proposal, which Yates said some had told him could not be put together. Even board Chair Dr. Mary Good, who has not been a supporter of a downtown park, called the proposal “really good.” “Progress!” board member Jay Chesshir chimed in.
The board didn’t talk dollars, but after the meeting Yates said the city money would “certainly buy all this … but then you’ve got to build.” The plus is that the Authority would generate income in rent from current occupants as it builds out the park. Good would not speculate what the board would do should the purchase of the properties prove too expensive. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she said.
One of the parcels, the annex to the Exchange Building at the corner of Fourth and Main, is unoccupied but refurbished to the extent that it would give the tech park a “running start” at its first occupation, Yates said. The annex is 28,600 square feet. In all, the area the park could create 540,000 square feet of space by building three 6-story buildings on the Main Street parking lot, on the western half of the KATV property and on the small parking lot to the south. A new parking deck would replace the KATV deck and expand to fill the whole block along Scott. (See graphic above). The 6-story height suggestion was in keeping with the character of downtown, Yates said, but it is only a theoretical model.
The vote came after consultant Charles Dilks, who advised the Chamber of Commerce and the Authority early on to create a park campus that would be within a five-minute drive to university sponsors UALR and UAMS, talked about a Brookings Institute study on the success of urban tech parks that take advantage of entertainment, retail and housing opportunities. Dilks gave his blessing to the park’s downtown location, though he again warned that the distance presented a challenge and said the Authority needs to buy all the property it will eventually need now and create a sense of place, rather than scattering it across disconnected buildings, to succeed.
The board’s approval of the proposal comes with a caveat that it get city approval for planned zoning needs, such as whatever the city would require for wet lab exhaust and so forth. The board appropriated $7,500 to pay someone to draw up a simple site plan to show the city what would go where.
Yates gave a nod to Buckley O’Mell, who works for the chamber and handles all the Tech Park’s publicity, for giving the intersection of 5th and Main a new name: “the
corner intersection of Entertainment and Commerce.” The development of an Aloft Hotel at the southwest corner of E and C and the Creative Corridor developments further down the 500 block of Main (for the ballet, symphony and the Rep) made the 400 block especially appealing, Yates said. The nickname could have legs.
The board also discussed the possibility of using the ARE-ON fiber-optic network, which is restricted by law to university use. Since two universities are the sponsors of the tech park and will be primary tenants — UAMS Bioventures has committed to moving there — the park ought to be able to sign on to the state-of-the-art system, a move that would be both faster and cheaper for the park.