Tech park offers $845,000 -- or else

The Little Rock Technology Park's board of directors voted in a special meeting Monday to offer lawyer Richard Mays Sr. $845,000 for his 10,000-square-foot building at 415 Main St. It's the last piece of property needed for the first phase of the $100 million technology park.

The offer is $175,000 more than the tech park's $670,000 appraisal said it was worth. Mays had his own appraisal done that came in at $845,000. Both appraisals were delivered in October.

Mays has until Nov. 16 to accept the offer.

When the board set up Monday's meeting, it instructed its real estate lawyer, Scott Schallhorn of Mitchell Williams, to draw up a condemnation lawsuit against Mays in the event the board and Mays couldn't agree on a price for the building. The suit, citing the board's authority to use eminent domain to take Mays' property, will automatically be filed Nov. 18 if a sales agreement isn't reached.

The three-story building nestled between properties owned by financier Warren Stephens has been the home of Mays' legal practice since 1984. When contacted at his office after Monday's meeting, Mays said he would mull it over. Could he make a decision by Nov. 16? "I'll do the best I can," said Mays.

"What I'll do is consider it and just get back with them," Mays said.

Tech park board member Darrin Williams voted against continuing with the condemnation suit. The other board members, Chairman Mary Good, Vice Chairman Kevin Zaffaroni, Secretary Jay Chesshir, Treasurer Dickson Flake, Tom Butler and C.J. Duvall, voted in favor.

Mays contests whether the board has authority to condemn his building, saying there is a question of whether the tech board's use of it is a "public" use.

"I would say I'm scared of that question," said Williams, a lawyer and CEO of Southern Bankcorp Inc.

"Not being a lawyer, I'm not quite as scared as you are," Good said, laughing.

Also on Monday, the board voted to extend its scope of services with Mitchell Williams to include the condemnation suit, which could cost $75,000 -- and $30,000 more if it were to be appealed all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Mitchell Williams lawyer John Baker said the worst-case scenario would be three years of litigation. The cost would remain the same, he said, whether any legal questions were resolved in six months or three years.

Negotiating a price and going through with the lawsuit are not mutually exclusive, the lawyers told the board. And even if the Mays property is tied up in court, there may be a way to close on the rest of the first-phase land acquisition and start construction as planned after the first of the year.

"I'm working on that now," said Flake, who is handling contract negotiations for property acquisition and development. Besides Mays' building, the tech park board is set to close in January on Five Main Place (also known as the Exchange Bank Building) at 423 Main St., the annex at 417 Main St. and the old Stephens Building at 114 E. Capitol, plus three parking lots in the area, for $11.6 million. Those properties are owned by companies belonging to Stephens.

All of the Stephens' property needed for the tech park is being bought in the first phase. East Harding Construction of Little Rock has been hired to remodel the buildings and integrate them. The total price tag for the first phase is estimated at $24 million. The tech park board will take out a loan for $17.5 million; the rest will come from the tech park's share of a 1 percent sales tax voters approved in 2011. The city has said it will allot $22 million over 10 years of collecting the tax.

Brent Birch, director of the tech park, told the board that the tech park was approved for Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Brownfield Program funds to cover the cost of an environmental site assessment for phase one of the project. That saved the tech park between $3,000 and $5,000, Birch said. The department will pick who does the assessment and has indicated that the tech park could also -- its phase two environmental site assessment paid for by -- department, Birch said.

The board also authorized Birch to engage Smith and Goodson PLLC, a Little Rock land surveying firm, to survey the property included in the first phase. At the tech board's October meeting, members authorized Birch to negotiate with Crafton Tull for services, but the firm wanted too much, "in the $20,000 price range," Birch said. Smith and Goodson has agreed to do it for $11,000, he said.

Business on 11/03/2015