Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jay Chesshir believes the acquisition process for the recommended site of the planned Little Rock tech park could be “substantially done by the end of the year.”
In 2011, Little Rock voters approved a sales tax measure that included $22 million for the creation of the park. This week, ARK Commercial and Investment Real Estate recommended to the tech park board five properties along Main and Scott streets in downtown Little Rock, including the KATV building at Main and Fourth, for development of the park.
City leaders hope to attract technology-based startups and even established companies to the park, which the board voted to place downtown within what is being billed as the Main Street creative corridor. The park also would provide space for research coming out of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute.
Chesshir told ArkansasBusiness.com that serious negotiations with KATV would begin as soon as its ownership picture is resolved. Sinclair Broadcasting Group currently is trying to buy several stations including KATV. Negotiations have already begun with Warren Stephens, who owns some of the designated property along Main, and Chesshir said negotiations with other impacted property owners would begin “pretty quickly.”
“Our hope is that all or almost all the property will be acquired by the first of the year,” he said.
That property includes:
- The west half-block of the 400 block of Main
- The east half-block of the 400 block of Main
- The west half-block of the 400 Block of Scott
- The parking lot at the northeast corner of Main and Fourth
- A parking lot adjacent to the Junior League of Little Rock building on Scott.
Chesshir said the recommended site provides the “best of everything” — existing space that could be used immediately and space that could be easily renovated, plus vacant space on which to build or expand as the new “tech neighborhood” evolves.
He said the Annex Building, in particular, represents a quick move-in possibility and could serve as the park’s front door.
Chesshir envisions a return to the bustling Main Street of the mid-20th century, when Main Street was the center of commerce in the city. He noted an old photo, circa 1950, of Franke’s Cafeteria, which originated downtown and now has one location on Rodney Parham in west Little Rock.
“Main Street now reminds me of being on Rush Street in Chicago in 1993,” he said. “In a period of five to eight years, you could literally see that area of Chicago transform.”
That photo of the original Franke’s looks down Capitol Avenue and reveals a “bustling street full of people and commerce,” Chesshir said. “Five to eight years from now, I believe we will see much that same type of scene. Five years from now, people will look up and say, ‘When did all this happen?'”