The Little Rock Technology Park Authority spent nearly three hours on Wednesday (June 13) hearing proposals from four Central Arkansas construction firms competing to build the second phase of the downtown startup village that board members hope will serve as the “front door” of the six-stage development.
Following 30-minute presentations from the four finalists’ construction managers chosen from a pool of nine companies that responded to the Tech Park’s request for bids, board members and the project’s design team discussed how to move forward on a project that does not yet have ready financing or a set price tag.
In an unusual move during the lengthy meeting, Tech Park Director Kevin Zaffaroni asked top executives for each company to partner with the authority to come up with creative ideas to help fund the project’s next stage.
“If somebody comes back and wows (us) on the question that I asked, I would say to them, ‘you’re my partner’ because they’ve demonstrated you really, really have some good ideas to help us solve .. our biggest (problem),” said the former Acxiom Corp. executive. “Our biggest issue isn’t – ‘Is someone going to build a building that is upright, and the walls are straight? That’s not our issue. It may become our issue at some point, but we don’t know enough today to say if somebody is not going to do that.
“So, to me, our biggest issue is how do we get community involvement and participation to figure out a way to fund this,” said Zaffaroni, who presided over the monthly meeting in the absence of Tech Park Chairman John Burgess.
Earlier in the meeting, representatives from Kinco Constructors, CDI Contractors LLC, Clark Construction and Nabholz Construction each gave 30 minute presentations that focused on each’s firm strengths, management team and experience to handle the project that will be built in the constricted space between the Channel 7 building at Fourth and Main Streets and the Tech Park headquarters at 417 Main St.
Tech Park Executive Director Brent Birch said nine companies submitted proposals to the authority’s request for bids. From that pool of applicants, Birch said he whittled down that list to four finalists based on a board-approved ranking system.
Besides the four front-runners, Birch said VCC Construction, Baldwin and Shell Construction, Flynco Inc., Alessi Keyes Construction, and Bailey Construction and Consulting LLC were bidders on the project. East-Harding Construction company, which completed the first phase of the Tech Park in early 2017, did not submit a bid for the follow-up project, he said.
Following a brisk discussion on the proposals at Wednesday’s monthly meeting, the Tech Park board agreed to invite each of the finalists back to a later board meeting with more specific information on the project manager and superintendent roles for the development, and ideas for partnership with the authority to development a plan to finance the second step of the six-stage development.
According to the strategic plans for the second phase of the downtown development to incubate and grow the city’s technology sector, the architectural firms and construction manager will be tasked to design and then build a 17,500-square foot STEM-focused building that will include a research and wet/dry lab space design.
The bid specifications for the six-floor project also called for detailed information on the construction’s past performance with minority and women subcontractors, and to provide the board with energy and environmental design plan options that would allow the authority to gain LEED certification, the most widely recognized “green building” and sustainability rating system.
Based on the board’s square foot ceiling rate, the design phase of the un-financed project cost is estimated at between $1.24 million and $1.5 million. In December, the Tech Park board selected WER Architects/Planners of Little Rock to handle the design and planning for the multi-stage project.
In other business, the Tech Park board approved a lone bid from Little Rock advertising and public relations firm Stone Ward to promote the city’s downtown startup village and pitch positive stories on the city’s emerging startup landscape to local and national media.
The Tech Park will pay Stone Ward a monthly fee of $1,000 for those services. For any work outside the scope of the contract, the Little Rock firm must seek authorization in advance from the board for any expenses exceeding $500.
Birch also told the board that the downtown technology park should be ready to begin leasing space on the fifth floor of the authority’s current multi-tenant, 38,000-square-foot facility in July.
Last month, the Tech Park board unanimously approved a recommendation from Birch to award $84,388 contract to Evo Business Environments to outfit the 5th floor of the authority’s downtown offices with a modular wall system and office furnishings.
Birch told the board he believes the 5th-floor offices intended for larger startup firms will be snapped up by interested tenants once that space is ready for occupancy. Since the Tech Park held its grand opening for the six-floor Main Street office building a year ago, 43 companies or individuals signed up to be tenants, he said.
On the fiscal front, the Tech Park’s financial report shows that the downtown startup landlord is bringing in about $70,000 in monthly rent income from local tenants. According to past financial reports, capital costs for the completed first phase of the development ended at $21.3 million, 9.4% below the forecasted budget of $23.5 million. The biggest portion of the budget was $12.6 million in property acquisition costs and $6.8 million for construction.
The downtown development was accelerated in 2011 after Little Rock taxpayers approved a $22.5 million sales tax referendum to finance the project. In March, Tech Park officials held the grand opening for the multi-tenant, 38,000-square-foot facility located at the center of the downtown district in the 400 block of Main Street.
The Tech Park master plan calls for phases 3, 4 and 5 of the downtown project that are expected to be mostly new construction and include an 800-car parking deck, retail and restaurant space, and office accommodations for established tech companies.