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Birch: First Phase of Little Rock Tech Park to Open in Fall 2016

The first phase of the planned Little Rock Technology Park is targeted to open in the fall of 2016 with 40,000-SF of incubator and office space at 417 Main, Tech Park Executive Director Brent Birch said Tuesday.

Birch updated the Little Rock Rotary Club on the progress of the park and broke down the project's five phases:

  • Redevelopment of 415 and 417 Main into space for park tenants.

  • Development of wet/dry lab space at 319 Main.

  • Construction of a parking deck with ground floor retail/restaurant space on the east side of the 400 block of Main.

  • Evaluation for future development/rehabilitation of the Worthen Building, which houses the KATV studios on the southeast corner of Capitol and Main.

  • Development of general office space at 400-422 Main.

Right now, his focus is the first phase, which entails 40,000-SF and about 3.25 acres. When complete, the $50 million park will encompass about 600,000-SF of office and lab space spread along Main Street, part of what is being called Little Rock's Creative Corridor.

Birch said progress on each of the projects will depend on financing, which he believes will be both public and private, taxable and tax-exempt, and the ability to fill the space with tenants. He said the park hasn't had problems filling its temporary co-working space at 107 East Markham, where it leases desks for $150 a month.

Last week, the board overseeing the project, the Tech Park Authority Board, gave Birch approval to begin negotiating with East-Harding Inc. of Little Rock to serve as construction manager for the first phase, which has a $6 million construction budget. The tech park also signed a letter of intent with a consortium of local banks for financing of $17.5 for first-phase development.

The consortium includes Centennial Bank, First Security Bank, Arvest Bank, Simmons First National Bank and Bear State Bank. The group originally included Arkansas Federal Credit Union until the Arkansas Bankers Association objected to its inclusion.

The deal with the bank group would finance the project at 2.95 percent for six years and allow the tech park authority to purchase real estate along Main Street from Warren Stephens. Birch said the park should close on 75 to 80 percent of the property it has targeted by early next year.

Park tenants will include startups and entrepreneurs, researchers and information technology companies, design firms and intellectual property attorneys. The park's downtown location enables it to expand beyond only tech startups, he said.

Birch even envisions light manufacturing that could include robotics in future tech park labs and Fortune 500-type companies opening satellite offices in the park. But the park's primary purpose remains providing a home for the area's emerging tech companies, he said.

"We're building a home base for these emerging tech companies to be able to build and stay in Little Rock," he said. "We have these companies today but they're scattered."

Along with the Venture Center, the tech park currently leases 8,000-SF of co-working space leased from the city at 107 E. Markham St. Eight startups lease space there, and two recently "graduated" into their own office space, including Apptegy, recently profiled in Arkansas Business.

The idea is for startups to percolate in tech park co-working space, move up to below-market space provided by the park, and eventually graduate into permanent, dedicated space in the park, Birch said.

The process has been slow and at times cumbersome, but Birch said the city stands to see a big return on the $22 million investment city voters provided with a 2011 sales tax increase to fund the park.

City leaders hope to emulate the success of the Arkansas Research & Technology Park in Fayetteville, which as far back as 2012 generated 400 total jobs with salaries averaging $70,000 per year and economic activity of about $30 million.

"The community, whether you're in the tech sector or not, needs to realize the economic impact this can have," Birch said.

Click here to read the full article by Arkansas Business.

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