Site Chosen, but Little Rock Tech Park Details Lacking

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 12:00 am  

“What we would be proposing to them are several locations that include Main Street,” she said. “There are several buildings along Main Street that could be renovated using tax credits. We think what they’re doing brings opportunities for private developers, as well, to take advantage of those tax credits.”

Tom Dalton, head of Innovate Arkansas, has been dealing with the Little Rock chamber in searching for locations but is otherwise unattached to the project. He said there is a need for a technology-focused incubation space in central Arkansas. His group, which mentors tech-heavy startups, has received about $190 million in investment revenue since it started, which he said indicates growth in that field.

“Innovate Arkansas, since its conception in 2008 … has probably had 380 to 390 startup applications in which probably somewhere in the area of 70 to 90 companies were actually signed onto the Innovate Arkansas process,” he said. “So that is an indication that we’re starting to grow. These companies, in the state, are heavily concentrated in two areas: central Arkansas and northwest Arkansas.”

Chesshir’s opinion aligns with Dalton’s.

“In many cases today, research and technology that’s moving to commercialization oftentimes has to go somewhere else for access to needed infrastructure,” Chesshir said. “If we don’t take advantage of what’s already taking place, and nurture and grow what’s already taking place, then all we are doing is providing wonderful new technologies and products and IT that others will capitalize, commercialize and create jobs out of. I think that’s it in a nutshell.”

Chesshir pointed to the success of the Ark Challenge, a business accelerator program, which attracted entrepreneurs from all over the world.

The authority’s board, which is scheduled to meet Wednesday, is next going to bring in real estate professionals, architects, engineers and consultants with experience in downtown areas, Chesshir said.

One thing’s for sure, he said: The corridor won’t look like the 30-acre idea that was originally recommended in Angle Technology Group’s 2009 study for the project. Downtown Little Rock just isn’t laid out in a way for that to be possible.

“There is a host of things that will now have to be researched, from an engineering perspective — what is and is not possible — and begin the process of identifying what the first building will need to have and design around those needs like determining square feet, wet lab space, shared service space, conference rooms, offices and the ability to expand,” Chesshir said.

And, ultimately, how close is this project to completion?

Chesshir said success for the park means “recognizing the end may not be until 20 years from now,” he said. “When you look at other research and tech parks, they’re long-term investments, long-term build-outs with long-term benefits. The people of Little Rock felt it was time to get started, and we are now getting started. Imagination is the only thing that can be used to determine what this will look like 20 years from now.”



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