The long-awaited grand opening of Phase I development of the Little Rock Technology Park will take place in two weeks when the public will be invited to the downtown area to see the city’s multimillion dollar master plan to lure tech investment and talent to the region.
Little Rock Tech Park officials have scheduled a grand opening for the city’s first tech park on April 24, from 4-6 p.m. The evening event will include cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, along with tours of the unique open space, six-floor development.
Headed by East Harding Construction, work on the project began in April 2016 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. The initial phase of the downtown technology park will include 76 private offices and 75 open co-working at the Main Street location. The six-floor complex will also include a 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 fully operational later this month, the Little Rock tech village will connect the three adjacent properties formerly owned by the 415 Main Group LLC, Five Main LLC and DMT Ventures LLC. The multi-tenant, 38,000-square-foot facility is located at the center of the downtown district in the 400 block of Main Street.
According to Tech Park Executive Director Brent Birch, there are now 16 local businesses signed on as tenants in the downtown startup incubator since the authority began negotiating and executing lease agreements in early December. The Little Rock startup incubator is already experiencing heavy traffic since Conway-based Blue Sail Coffee shop opened for business in late March. Several Tech Park tenants have already moved into the renovated downtown development, including the Little Rock Venture Center and several local startups.
In recent meetings, the Tech Park board discussed preliminary plans for Phase II of the downtown project, which is expected to top more than $30 million. Although there is no defined funding or timetable for the next phase, design plans include state-of-the-art wet and dry labs and an additional 160,000 square feet of office space.
“The goal is to create space that allows these tech-focused companies, entrepreneurs and startups to operate under one roof and collaborate and create a community,” Birch said at a recent board meeting. “For a long time the Little Rock tech community was segment, with everyone kind of running around in their own silos. Our effort is to bring all those people into one common facility so they can interact with each other and find talent in the Little Rock market where they can grow and develop their company without having to move to a Dallas, Nashville or Tulsa.”
Although controversial at times, the project has been in the works since 2007 when state lawmakers created the nonprofit authority through enabling legislation under Act 1045 of 2007. The board-governed authority is sponsored by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), and the city of Little Rock, and spearheaded by a seven-member Board of Directors appointed by the sponsors.
The downtown project officially got off the ground after Little Rock taxpayers approved a $22.5 million sales tax referendum in 20011 to finance the venture. To date, the authority has received more than $15 million of the taxpayer back financing from the Little Rock city officials.