LR Tech Park Starting First Phase Of Downtown Business Incubator

The Little Rock Technology Park board of directors unanimously approved a motion on Wednesday that will allow for construction to move forward on the $6.8 million first phase of the downtown village to attract and incubate new startups, and bring hi-tech companies and entrepreneurs to the city.

The unanimous vote by the authority gives project manager East Harding Construction the thumbs up to move forward with the aggressive timetable and schedule to have the Tech Park ready for leasing by the end of this year, according Tech Park Executive Director Brent Birch.

“That is impressive,” board member Darrin Williams told Birch and an East Harding executive who appeared at the meeting.During a presentation that provided authority members with a layout of the new multi-office downtown village, Birch said that 26% of the contractors hired to work on the project are minority or women-owned business – a stipulation endorsed by the full board.

According to Birch, six of the 26 contractors hired to do work on the project meet the board’s women- and minority-owned business criteria. Those six companies will serve as subcontractors for the project, and he emphasized that East Harding will continue to reach out to other minority contractors throughout the schedule of the multi-phase development that will be built over several years.

The first phase of the downtown technology park will include 40,000 square feet of startup, office and co-working space at 417 S. Main St. Birch said he has talked to numerous prospective tenants and has a list of clients who will be ready to rent space in the village when construction is complete.

There is no timetable for the second phase of the downtown development, which will include state-of-the-art wet and dry labs and an additional 160,000 square feet of office space. Plans for phases 3, 4 and 5 of the downtown project are expected to be mostly new construction that will include an 800-car parking deck, retail and restaurant space, and office accommodations for established tech companies.

Two months ago, the Tech Park board unanimously passed a resolution to formally authorize a $17.1 million loan to fund phase one of the downtown tech village with funding from a local bank consortium. That financing arrangement was closed in mid-February and the authority has already received the $9.6 million tax-exempt portion of that loan.

In a bidding and construction schedule Birch presented to the board, the initial phase of the development would be completed by late January 2017.

In other business at the first meeting chaired by former Acxiom executive Kevin Zaffaroni, the seven-person board also approved an agreement to hire Best Park LLC as the manager of several downtown Little Rock parking lots that will be a steady source of new income for the authority. That contract will begin on July 1, and Best Park will manage and collect monthly fees for the parking facilities over the next five years.

The board also agreed on a new logo for the Tech Park, which represents a “digital tree” with the authority’s name underneath it. The board rejected at least five earlier designs because former chair Mary Good said those proposals did not fully integrate the digital tree logo and graphics with the Little Rock Tech Park name.