A day after the Little Rock Technology Park Authority closed on a multimillion dollar financial arrangement and a real estate deal to jump start the first phase of the downtown tech village, longtime board Chair Mary Good announced she is resigning next month.
Good, an appointee of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, told other Tech Park board members at Wednesday’s monthly meeting that the completion of the long-awaited deals to move forward with the initial phase of the downtown development was a perfect time to step down from her controversial post.
“This is really a good time to transition,” said Good, former dean of UALR’s Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology. “It has not been great every day, but it has been a journey.”
In Good’s tenure that officially began in 2011, the former UALR dean has been at the center of a number of controversial events, including two eminent domain proceedings that both stalled the authority’s efforts to build the city’s first technology park. Under enabling legislation passed by the Arkansas General Assembly as Act 1045, the authority was officially created in 2007. The publicly-financed board is sponsored by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and the city of Little Rock, and governed by a seven-member Board of Directors appointed by the sponsors.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Good presented the other board members with a resignation letter and said she informed Chancellor Joel Anderson at UALR she was stepping down before the second phase of the multimillion dollar downtown project begins.
Board member Jay Chessir, executive director of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, thanked Good for her years of service and for helping the board to wade through several public controversies.
In other board business, Tech Park Executive Director Brent Birch said the authority has begun talks with local real estate brokers to purchase the former Worthen Bank building downtown that now serves as the downtown studio and headquarters of KATV-Channel 7, which was purchased by Hunt Valley, Md.-based Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. in August 2014.
In response to a query from Talk Business & Politics ahead of the authority’s monthly meeting, Birch said the board hopes to move forward with the purchase of the building at the corner of Main and Fourth Street in downtown Little Rock whenever the funds to perform an acquisition becomes available. Birch said he and board member Dickson Flake, a local real estate broker with Colliers International, began preliminary talks about two weeks ago with Little Rock real estate firm Flake & Kelley, which is representing Sinclair Broadcasting and KATV management. Flake & Kelley’s representative in the talks is John Flake, the brother of Dickson Flake and chairman of local commercial real estate firm.
“We have discussed the potential timing of a purchase and a likely lease back option with Flake & Kelley and KATV,” Birch said. “Our plan was if we didn’t have another property to (purchase), we would go ahead and acquire the (KATV) property to help complete the block.”
Birch said Flake & Kelley notified the authority that Sinclair believes it will take them about three years to find new offices for KATV and then eventually move.
“(That) is acceptable to the board,” Birch said. “In the lease back option, the (Tech Park) would purchase the property and KATV would stay as a tenant until their new location was found or built and they moved.”
Birch, the lone employee of the publicly-financed authority, said there is not an “urgent timetable” from either side of the negotiating table. He said the Tech Park has not arranged for an appraisal of the KATV building, and has time to negotiate a deal with KATV and Sinclair.
Flake & Kelley officials said they could not comment on the negotiations with the Tech Park at this time. KATV General Manager Mark Rose did not return a phone call seeking comments for this story.
Exactly a week 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 a local bank consortium that will lower the financing deal by $400,000. That financing arrangement was closed on Tuesday, he said.
Birch also confirmed to the board that the Tech Park officially became property owners on Tuesday with the purchase of downtown buildings on Main Street formerly owned by a Warren Stephens-led partnership and Little Rock attorney Richard Mays.
The first phase of the project will include 40,000 square feet of startup and office and co-working space at 417 S. Main St., which is expected to be completed by November or December. At that time the authority can begin the process of selecting and finding tenants to lease space in the tech village, officials have said.
The KATV offices at 401. S. Main St. is adjacent to the Mays law offices, separated only by a parking lot. East Harding Construction is nearing the process for submitting bid packages for subcontractors for the project, Birch said, with the hopes of beginning construction on the 417 Main building in early April.
In other Tech Park business, board member C.J. Duvall was reappointed to his position on the authority by the city of Little Rock. He did not attend Wednesday’s meeting for personal reasons. In early January, UAMS appointed Nancy Gray of UAMS Bioventures to the authority’s board of directors, replacing former university administrator Tom Butler.