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Million-dollar effort.

North Little Rock Gears Up To Build 262-Acre Industrial Park

North Little Rock is home to private industrial parks, but the city has never undertaken the task of developing one itself.

That could all change, though, if the city can clear a series of bureaucratic hurdles to get the necessary permits and money to build a 262-acre park.

On July 27, the North Little Rock City Council agreed to provide up to $400,000 in matching funds in hope of qualifying for a federal grant.

If all goes well, the Economic Development Authority will kick in $650,000 to form a $1.1 million war chest to build the industrial park.

The location of the proposed industrial park, near the southwest corner of Faulkner Lake Road and Interstate 440 south to U.S. Hwy. 165, is no secret.

However, city leaders are still trying to keep the identities of the landowners under wraps. Unconfirmed reports have linked William L. Patton Jr., Floyd Fulkerson, Kathleen Andie and Moro Inc. with the site.

The grant application is part of a cooperative effort with the North Little Rock Economic Development Corp., designed to attract new industry to the city.

This non-profit group will help offset the city's contributions by covering an unspecified amount for engineering fees associated with the project.

"It's by no means a done deal," cautions Stephanie Milligan, executive director of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and the ramrod on the project.

The grant application still has to wind its way through the EDA office in Little Rock, the regional office in Austin, Texas, and on to the national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Civic boosters have had to pull one trick in the grant application project -- signing up companies for an industrial park that isn't built yet. This was a key in pursuing the federal grant.

"It's kind of been like herding chickens," Milligan says. "We now have three solid companies that can work within our time frame."

Milligan declined to name the companies but did reveal that two of the companies have a combined employment of 294, with the prospect of adding 200 more jobs as early as 1995. The pair has committed to move into the industrial park from elsewhere within central Arkansas.

The smallest of the trio, which employs 21, needs to expand but is landlocked at its current leased quarters.

The company has searched for sites around North Little Rock and hasn't found proper configuration of land needed to develop a facility allowing it to double the work force.

The three companies will set up shop on 27 acres. This represents part of 55 acres the current property owners will donate in exchange for city-paid improvements -- an acres-for-infrastructure swap, as it were.

The city-backed effort will have an option on the remaining 207 acres, costing substantially more than the $100,000 value mistakenly gleaned from the Pulaski County Assessor's office and reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

North Little Rock has contingency plans for less ambitious sites, Milligan says, in case the 262-acre deal doesn't make it.

Something will be done; only the scale of the project remains to be seen.

If the industrial park is built in some fashion, it will put the city in the unique position of competing with three privately financed developments:

* Springhill Commercial Park; an estimated 253 acres are available in this 450-acre development located in the northeast corner U.S. Highways 67-167 and Interstate 30 east of Arkansas Hwy. 161.

* Galloway Industrial Park; an estimated 135 acres are available in this 300-acre development at the Galloway exit on Interstate 40.

* Rose City Industrial Park; an estimated 15 acres are available in this 35-acre development located north of the U.S. Highways 165 and 70.

Milligan doesn't view the proposed industrial park in direct competition with these private offerings, though.

She says the city needs a large, contiguous block of industrial-zoned land with infrastructure to add variety to the city's menu of sites.

Backed by a non-profit entity, the proposed industrial park also will have favorably priced real estate. Private developers might not like the arrangement, but any industry wooed helps broaden the local tax base.

That means more money for the city-owned electric company and the North Little Rock School District.

And North Little Rock Electric Department rates are typically 13 percent lower for residents and 8 percent lower for businesses -- a statistic highlighted in bold print in the city's promotional material.

The city began an extensive inventory process to identify all possible sites for a future industrial development.

The North Little Rock chamber also had to wade through a lot of "thanks, but no thanks" solicitations from landowners interested in selling acreage for the industrial park.

Take this snippet of telephone conversation for instance:

"Does it have water?"

"Yeah, about every six months it floods," the prospective seller says.

Seeing Little Rock land R&G Sloane Co.'s new $25 million plant and 500 future jobs has done nothing but whet North Little Rock's appetite for industry.

North Little Rock is envious of the financial and political muscle packed by its sister city that has built the Little Rock Industrial District and the Little Rock Port Industrial Park.

The 1,000-acre Little Rock Industrial District in the southwest part of the city is all but filled up.

The port has an estimated 800 acres available of a 1,525-acre development located in the northeast corner of Interstate 440 and the Arkansas River.

In 1964, Little Rock voters approved a 1.85-mill property tax increase to finance a $4.3 million bond issue for the port and industrial park.

The city used $3.15 million of the bond issue to buy 1,200 acres of farmland and develop industrial sites near the Arkansas River.

Missed Opportunity

The city of North Little Rock had visions of converting the sprawling Maumelle Ordinance Plant into an industrial haven back in the 1960s.

That dream faded away along with the city's industrial development group, formed to attract new companies to North Little Rock.

"There was nobody to push and try to get industry in over there," says former North Little Rock mayor Casey Laman.

The city actually did go so far as to rebuild part of the railroad system in Maumelle. However, interest of community leaders dwindled, and thoughts of aggressively pursuing industrial development were never followed up on.

While trying to convert the Maumelle acreage into cash, city fathers tried to set up a sales agreement that could allow North Little Rock to reclaim control of the land through annexation.

The unsuccessful plan was to negotiate a first right of refusal arrangement TABULAR DATA OMITTED with the buyer, make some money on the sale and acquire a 50-foot strip of land to link the western city limits of North Little Rock with Maumelle.

Any future hopes for annexing Maumelle would hinge on the issue of contiguous property.

On Jan. 14, 1966, the city finally sold the land for $1 million to Jess Odom Enterprises with no strings attached.

"If you can sell a piece of property for a profit, that's good," says Laman. "But I really hated to let it go."

"(Maumelle is) really booming now, and I wish we could've worked things out to keep that in the city."

Laman's wishful thinking is augmented by 20-20 hindsight.

The 1,200-acre Maumelle Industrial Park is home to a dozen companies covering more than 2 million SF of plant space and a dozen companies employing more than 1,500 workers.

"The location was ideal," says Laman. "It has a railroad, highways and the (Arkansas) river. Plus it wasn't near any residential neighborhoods, which might cause problems.

"What more could you ask for in an industrial site?"

That's what drew companies like Champs Distribution, Ace Hardware Distribution Co., Kimberly-Clark, Molex Inc., BEI Electronics Inc. and Carrier Corp. to the Maumelle Industrial Park.

North Little Rock boosters have no intention of trying to replicate the scale of Maumelle's industrial efforts.

They would dearly enjoy attracting a portion of that industrial tax base and job growth, though.

No one would admit it either, but if North Little Rock's industrial base happens to expand at the expense of its sister city south of the river, so much the better in terms of civic rivalry.

Besides, what's good for North Little Rock's economy is good for Little Rock's, right?
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Title Annotation:North Little Rock gears up to build 262-acre industrial park
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 24, 1992
Previous Article:The Wright move.
Next Article:Putting it in writing.

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