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Property owner willing to add space to tech park, agent says

by Claudia Lauer | June 13, 2013 at 12:03 a.m.

A real estate agent for one of four sites under consideration for the Little Rock Technology Park said Wednesday that the owners are willing to negotiate the possibility for more space.

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Jim Hathaway told the technology park board that about 125,000 square feet of planned building space could be made available to answer some of the concerns that the site is not large enough for the proposed technology park. The site, which includes the Sears property on University Avenue near Interstate 630, would include less than half of the wanted 30 acres.

“It will likely be 30 to 45 days before we can verify for sure that this can be done, and exactly what can be done,” he said. “This group would then be able to better understand what the extra square footage and land area represent.”

Hathaway said three floors of the four-story, $18 million Midtown Medical Park - currently under construction - had not been leased out. And depending on the intended use, the space could be designed to fit the park’s needs and be made available within a year.

He also said an additional building with more than 70,000 square feet of space was in the owner’s construction plan and also had not been spoken for. He said that building could be acquired at the owner’s cost of construction.

“This is all part of a discussion that would need to happen, but in order to make that into lab space, which is significantly harder to turn over to a new tenant than office space, the owners likely would need some kind of a time commitment for that space,” he said.

The space announcement followed a presentation by University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dan Rahn and interim Director of the BioVentures initiative and UAMS professor Marie Chow that recommended finding facilities to start developing companies to eventually fill the space in the proposed technology park.

Rahn said he would like to see the board take advantage of available resources as a temporary space to build on momentum in developing technology and biotechnology companies happening at the universities.

“We would be happy to share our resources,” he said. “We have to get something up and going now. There are pressing reasons to do that, whether it is through this entity or others.”

Board member Jay Chesshir, also the president and chief executive officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he is also having meetings with private interests to bring the ARK Challenge, a Fayetteville-based technology business accelerator, to Little Rock. He said the move would require about 5,000 square feet of space.

Board Chairman Mary Good said she would support getting started on a temporary space, but stressed that she did not want the board to forget the larger mission of the technology park while fostering the smaller economic development accelerator and incubator efforts.

The technology park is a partnership between UAMS, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the city of Little Rock. All four partners agreed to provide $125,000 in seed money to plan the park. Little Rock also promised $22 million from the 2011 citywide sales-tax increase to fund part of the park’s construction.

The goal of the park is to attract public and private investment to develop the research going on in the city’s medical and educational facilities and eventually grow marketable companies.

The Sears site was added as a potential location in February, months after the board narrowed 23 potential commercial sites to a list of three other finalists.

Those other sites being considered are:

About 10 acres between Eighth and Sixth streets and College and Collins streets, east of Interstate 30, with the option to buy or use additional acres north of the property.

About 84 acres at the corner of Asher and University avenues.

About 35 acres on John Barrow Road near I-630.

The Sears site initially included a second property brokered by a separate owner and real estate agent, the Brandon House furniture warehouse on University Avenue across I-630 from the Sears site. The Brandon property has since been put under contract by another buyer - a textbook company - that was willing to share space with the technology park.

Board members raised legal questions about renting from or sharing space with a private company because the board is using largely public money. Representatives of the Brandon property were not at the meeting Wednesday, and it was unclear whether the official proposal had dropped that portion of the site.

“I was one of the skeptics in the previous conversation about the Sears site,” said board member C.J. Duvall. “But having a holistic conversation with the stakeholders has shown me an opportunity with this site that we need to discuss. There is a linkage between what [Hathaway] said and what Dr. Rahn said.”

Hathaway said he would have site schematics at the next board meeting.

UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson is scheduled to speak at the board’s next meeting about his hopes for the proposed park.

The board decided at its meeting in May to put the brakes on the site search in order to revisit the purpose and goals of the park. As part of that goal, the board finalized plans at Wednesday’s meeting to visit successful technology parks in St. Louis and Winston-Salem, N.C., in July to bring back ideas for Little Rock’s park.

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 06/13/2013

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