Little Rock Tech Park announces first retail tenant, putting final touches on downtown project

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 279 views 

Construction on the Little Rock Technology Park begain April 2016. A grand opening for the new facility is set for April 24.

The Little Rock Technology Park on Thursday announced that Conway startup Blue Sail Coffee Roasters is the first retail tenant to sign a lease for the newly constructed downtown technology village that is on schedule to be completed next month.

Tech Park Executive Director Brent Birch said Blue Sail, founded by Kyle Tabor, has signed a lease to operate a 1,200-square foot coffee shop at the main entrance of the authority’s taxpayer-financed development, which will be located at 417 Main Street in Little Rock.

“The coffee shop is a key element to the highly-caffeinated startup scene providing tenants and their guests an opportunity to collaborate and communicate outside of traditional meeting space,” Birch said. “We also welcome the public to come in and experience Blue Sail as well as see some of the amazing things happening in our local tech scene.”

Blue Sail operates two other stores in Conway, and will be the first outside retailer to sign a lease with the Tech Park ahead of the expected grand opening in late February or early March. Last week, the authority’s board of directors approved contracts for vending and food service, office equipment and janitorial service.

“The idea of bringing all of this to downtown Little Rock is an absolute pleasure,” said the 24-year old Tabor, who is partnering with Andy Pickle of North Little Rock. “Little Rock has been yearning for a real coffee company that serves well-prepared espresso and slow brews. Blue Sail will be staffing some of our best and most experienced baristas from day one and I cannot wait to pioneer the coffee culture in (the city).”
Tech Park board adopts 2017 budget, discusses plans for grand opening
At a Jan. 11 monthly board meeting, the Tech Park board unanimously approved a 2017 budget for the downtown startup incubator as construction workers wind down the “finishing touches” on the first phase of the multimillion-dollar project. In approving the fiscal budget for the largely taxpayer-financed project, Birch told board members the development to lure startups, entrepreneurs and maturing tech companies to the Little Rock area is still on schedule for completion in late February.

“We have made a lot of progress, it is starting to look real,” Birch said, showing slideshow photos of the storefront development. “They are putting the finishing touches on it, but we will be ready to go.”

In the 2017 financial report, however, the Tech Park will still not bring in enough revenue to become fully operational without public funds and bank financing. The budget projects that the downtown tech village will bring in total rental income of $1.12 million in 2017, which will mostly be offset by administrative costs, contract services, bank interest payments, and other expenses.

The first phase of the downtown technology park will include 76 private offices and 75 open co-working spaces at the Main Street location. The six-floor complex will also include a Tech Park-owned coffee bar, office suites, meeting and event space, indoor bike racks, 24/7 access and onsite parking, and a corporate-level conference room named after former authority chair Mary Goode.

Once in operation, the key pieces of the 40,000-square foot development will be the three adjacent properties formerly owned by the 415 Main Group LLC, Five Main LLC and DMT Ventures LLC. Those respective partnerships were backed Little Rock attorney Richard Mays and Stephens Inc. CEO Warren Stephens.

Headed by East Harding Construction, work on the project began in April after the Tech Park board unanimously passed a resolution to formally authorize a $17.1 million loan to fund phase one of the project with financing from a local bank consortium. That deal was closed in mid-February and the authority has already expended the $9.6 million tax-exempt portion of that loan, and is now using the remaining proceeds to finish the project.

In the summer of 2015, the Tech Park board also received a $6.8 million advance from the City of Little Rock that is part of the $22 million tech park bounty taxpayers approved during a 2011 sales tax referendum. Authority board members plan to ask Little Rock officials to approve a second payment of more than $1.3 million at an upcoming February city council meeting, Birch said.

In explaining the 2017 budget, Birch and Tech Park board member Dickson Flake forecasted that net income for the downtown nonprofit would be nearly $75,000, slightly below $161,200 in 2016. The new downtown development is projected to bring in rental income of $177,000 in 2017, along with more than $755,000 for office space that the authority leases to the State of Arkansas at 421 Main St.

At a December meeting, Birch announced a list of seven companies and two individuals that signed up to be tenants when the Tech Park opens next month. The list of lessors includes several technology-focused startups, entrepreneurs and early stage companies that already have some connection to the Tech Park’s current location and the Central Arkansas startup scene, including the Little Rock Venture Center.

At the time, Birch said those tenants will occupy 65% of the furnished space once the development opens for business. The Tech Park’s lone employee said he is also in talks with other prospective tenants and hopes to sign leases ahead of the Tech Park’s expected completion. He said he hopes to make additional announcements next week.

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