It’s too bad the Little Rock Technology Park Authority wasn’t put in charge in charge of the medical marijuana permit process. Things might have turned out better. Why? Because the board, which heard from four contractors today seeking the job of building Phase 2 of the park, acknowledged a certain lack of construction expertise and said it needed more information before selecting a firm.

Phase 2 will be a 17,500-square-foot building on the vacant lot between the operating park building at 417 Main St. and the Channel 7 building at Third and Main streets.


Authority member Kevin Zaffaroni told each of the four companies — Kinco, CDI, Clark and Nabholz, the finalists in the RFQ process — that he didn’t have the background to judge the companies based on their sales pitches today and the information in their RFQs. All have good reputations, he noted; all could erect a building.

So Zaffaroni asked each presenter this interesting question, and said answers would help him make a decision:


How can the Tech Park come up with the money to build the Phase 2 building? What creative ideas do they have, including financing options, and how can they partner with the park to make the project work?

“We have a problem,” Zaffaroni explained: Most of the $22 million in taxpayer dollars pledged by the city has gone into Phase 1: the purchase and renovation of the two historic buildings the park is located in now and the purchase of the properties it hopes to expand to, including the parking lot across the street, the adjacent building at Fifth and Main and others.


No big tech company, with big tech dollars, has decided to become part of the park. The park is renovating its fifth floor to be able to accommodate smaller enterprises, rather than one established firm, to which it had once expected to rent. So Zaffaroni is looking for a big idea, one that will help accomplish the park’s goal of creating business in the community. Each firm agreed to get back to the board with ideas.

Also, Zaffaroni wasn’t satisfied that information provided the board allowed an apples to apples comparison in the minority business percentages each company claimed. The park’s RFQ specifically asked about minority business involvement. (All the companies but one that presented today showed up with teams of white men. The exception was CDI, whose project manager, Jill Floyd, is an African American, though it should be noted that she does not appear on the “Our Team” page on the CDI website. Floyd is also a member of the Airport Commission.) One team mentioned small businesses as making up a part of its minority percentages; others measured businesses run by minorities.

Another complication: The board still doesn’t know exactly what Phase 2 will consist of, other than a building. It may include lab space, but it may not. Whatever lab space that will be included will have to be flexible to accommodate whatever science comes its way.

The board turned to Eldon Bock of WER Architects, which has been hired to design the Phase 2 building, for guidance. He suggested they call back crucial players — the project manager and the site superintendent — to get to know them better. The board agreed to do just that before going further in their deliberations.


In other business, the board approved a contract with Stone Ward for public relations. Tech Park Director Brent Birch also informed the board that he and board chairman John Burgess had met with the new director of the Arkansas Innovation Hub, Chris Jones, to tell him what the Tech Park does and to talk about a relationship that would be collaborative rather than competitive.