As efforts continue to determine the best place to build a Little Rock Technology Park, three new potential locations are being proposed.
Wednesday the board overseeing the project will be meeting. It’s the first gathering since many involved in making the decision traveled to other successful tech parks elsewhere in the country.
The board of the Technology Park Authority continues working to define exactly what they would like the tech park to be. To get some perspective, last month several board members, along with Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson, traveled to successful tech parks in St. Louis and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“I think that anytime you visit another similar operation, it’s beneficial," said Chancellor Anderson. "It’s like visiting, if you’re a university administrator or faculty member, visiting another university campus is always interesting and informative because you see some people doing things differently and you get ideas and you also get confirmation sometimes that you’re doing a good job or you identify areas where you could improve.”
Deciding where to build the park has been controversial. UAMS and UALR have emphasized the need to it to be near their campuses. Tuesday, three additional sites were proposed.
Board member Jay Chesshir with the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce says Wednesday afternoon they will discuss their travels last month, which he believes will help the panel reach a consensus on an ideal location.
“The board had an opportunity to visit with folks who’ve actually created these parks and are seeing them succeed and flourish. So taking that information and moving forward in the site decision process is something that we are currently doing and are going to try to move through that process as quickly as we can in order to make the appropriate decision.”
UALR and UAMS have agreed to supply $125,000 each in start up money, while the city of Little Rock is to give $22 million from a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2011.
But last month Mayor Mark Stodola said he wants to see more from the two institutions.
“There was a common thread that was told to us by all of the developers in both the St. Louis site, the Cortex site, and the Wake Forrest-Winston Salem, North Carolina site and that is that there’s got to be an investment, both physical and financial, from your academic institutions," Stodola said in an interview with KUAR.
"I have yet to hear anything from UALR or UAMS about what their physical presence will be or what kind of financial support they’re going to provide to this. In fact, I’ve heard just the opposite of that, that their contribution will be the intellectual talent. Well certainly we want intellectual talent, but we’ve got to have more than that,” Stodola said.
Tuesday Chancellor Anderson proposed a fifth site beyond those previously discussed. It’s a 20 acre piece of land on the northeastern side of the UALR campus, near the Stephens Center and Fair Park Boulevard.
The university has slowly been acquiring pieces of land as they’ve become available with an eye toward future expansion. Of the 65 properties that make up the site, 28 are now owned by UALR, with 37 homes that would need to be bought.
Anderson believes that could satisfy the mayor’s concerns and address important issues for the university.
“We are certainly prepared to make more than intellectual talent. The location of the site is a factor in that decision. If it’s nearby the campus, and of course nearby is a relative term, then it will make sense for us to put some of our units there, whereas, if it’s a good distance from the campus and therefore very inconvenient for faculty and staff access, then we would not locate those units there," Anderson said.
"So in some ways, I think that what we’re dealing with, and it’s not anything that particularly bothers me at this stage of the game, but it’s a kind of a chicken and egg proposition. There are a number of issues that more or less have to be settled simultaneously.”
Also Tuesday two other new sites were proposed.
One near War Memorial Park would involve pieces of land owned by the city and UAMS. It includes proposed private investment for a hotel, conference center and retail development.
The other site being pitched asks the board to consider developing the tech park along Main Street in downtown Little Rock in existing, historic buildings.
Board member Jay Chesshir says they’ll carefully study all of their options and move at a careful pace.
“There’s never been a set, defined timeline in which the site decision would actually take place because of the massive amount of research and information that’s needed to make the best decision," Chesshir said.
"So having had the opportunity to tour two different successful research parks and further define what it is we believe will be successful here in Little Rock, I believe we’re nearing the end of this part of our process, whether that’s 60, 90 or 180 days from now in terms of the actual decision, don’t really quite yet know, but we are getting much closer.”
Wednesday's meeting of the Technology Park board begins at 4 pm at the Bailey Center on the UALR campus.