Tech Park Makes Offer For Downtown LR Property, Prepares Eminent Domain Strategy

Attorney Richard Mays said on Monday he would consider all his options concerning an $845,000 offer on the table from the Little Rock Tech Park Authority, but wouldn’t say for certain if he would fight to keep the taxpayer-financed group from taking his law office through eminent domain proceedings.

“I plan to consider their offer and take all of the issues under consideration and respond,” Mays told Talk Business & Politics. “I have been in this building a long time, it may be difficult to make a decision … but I’ll do the best I can.”

Mays made his comments following an hour-long meeting of the Tech Park authority, where board members adopted two measures that would move it closer to its goal of kick-starting the first phase of the $30 million downtown development to attract tech companies and entrepreneurs to Central Arkansas.

Following a recommendation by Tech Park Executive Director Brent Birch and discussion of the value of the Mays property, the seven-person board voted unanimously to extend an $845,000 offer to the Little Rock attorney on Tuesday (Nov. 3), based on the higher of two appraisals from local firm Ferstl Valuation Services.

In making the case for the offer, Birch told the board that an “apples to apples” comparison could not be made between the Mays property and the adjacent Five Main LLC property at 421 Main Street because of the difference in sizes, parking spaces, window views and the buildings’ conditions. The authority has made a $10.6 million offer to Five Main LLC for the building and lots at 421 Main, which is owned by a partnership headed by Stephens Inc. CEO Warren Stephens.

“Keep In mind if 421 is referenced as a potential comparable, we are also purchasing the building at 114 E. Capitol Ave. and 417 Main Street,” Burch said in a note to reporters after the meeting. “Also not apples to apples in terms of use, size, condition and other possible factors but will be a 400 block of Main Street transaction come January.”

On Birch’s recommendation and after about 20 minutes of discussion, the board voted unanimously to make the $845,000 offer to Mays, giving the Little Rock attorney only two weeks to accept or deny the offer by noon on Nov. 16. According to Birch, a smaller appraisal of $670,000 was made by local firm Larrison & Company.

If Mays refuses the offer, the board then agreed by a vote of 5-to-1 to engage Mitchell Williams law firm to prepare a condemnation lawsuit by Nov. 18 with the stipulation that board member Dickson Flake would continue negotiations with the local attorney to reach a resolution.

More specifically, Mitchell Williams would represent the authority if negotiations to acquire the land failed and the authority decided to exercise eminent domain power to take possession of the property.

In the discussion of their action, board members took pains to publicly state that the they preferred to close a deal with Mays without legal proceedings and expressed several times that the offer to the Little Rock attorney was more than a “fair deal.”

“This is not to do the condemnation, but to prepare all the legal work necessary to do it, if we have to do it,” Tech Park Chair Mary Good told board members after the vote. “We are not pulling the (legal) string at this point, but we are getting ourselves ready to do so if we do not get an acceptance of the offer.”

Still, Flake made it clear that the condemnation process should run parallel with the board’s offer and that the authority stays on its project timetable. “There must be clear evidence of the seriousness of this board,” Flake said.

The agreement with Mitchell Williams estimate that the firm’s fees and related litigation expenses, including trial preparation, written discovery and deposition and court filings, would cost nearly $75,000. If the case ended up before the state Supreme Court, the fees and expenses would likely amount to more than $105,000, said Mitchell Williams attorney John Baker.

“That number is an estimate from getting to filing the complaint in the middle of November to hearing and final adjudication by the Supreme Court,” Baker told the board after several questions concerning the possible costs of filing a condemnation lawsuit against Mays. “That $100,000 number is for that whole stretch, whether it is an 18-month or a three-year process.”

Board member and former Arkansas lawmaker Darrin Williams, who voted against moving forward with condemnation proceedings, also went back and forth with Good on how the board should proceed if the Mays property dispute goes to court. As in previous meetings, he questioned whether the Arkansas Constitution only allows the authority to deploy eminent domain authority for publicly-financed projects.

“Have we discussed with our general contractors and construction managers our ability to move forward if the portion of property we can’t purchase is mired in a lawsuit of 415 (property)?” Williams asked Good and other board members.

“Well, if the public issue becomes a piece, we can certainly designate this phase because we have ‘public use’- the issue is where you put that,” Good said.

But Williams countered: “I think that is the question – do we have public use?” Good interrupted and replied, “I think we do.”

“I would not suggest that I could speak for the Supreme Court,” Williams, an attorney, told Good. “I would be concerned about that.”

“I am not saying it’s 100%, but I am saying ‘my opinion’ is that we have public use,” Good said. “Not being a lawyer – I am not as scared as you are.”

Following the meeting, Mays pondered that same “public use” question in his office overlooking downtown’s Main Street.

“There are some legal issues I have to evaluate with their offer. I (may) accept their offer or counter, or see if there is some other option,” said the prominent local attorney.