LR port becomes OK to buy at $2.2 million

The Port of Little Rock is acquiring a building on its property for $2.2 million so it can be converted into a multi-use space for port tenants and the surrounding community whose precise function is yet to be determined.

The Little Rock Port Authority board of directors heard a presentation on the proposed purchase last week, but Stan Hastings and other board members said they wanted more time to consider the proposal.

The board was more receptive when port executive director Bryan Day relaunched the proposal during a special Friday morning meeting held via an online meeting platform.

“We want to purchase this building and work with council and other community members to develop a harbor resource center,” Day told council members. “What it looks like today, I don’t know.

He cited a plethora of uses for the acquisition.

“I envision creating a revenue stream from the people who rent it out,” Day said. “It could be a police station, it could be a catering service, it could be an employment office, it could be temporary office space for our industrial partners, training space, healthcare.

“Again, the first step would be to get together and schedule it, do some surveys with the port and the community to see what is needed.”

A multipurpose space has been on the port’s radar since the development of its 2015 strategic plan, which included it as an action. A 2020 update specifically focused on a multi-purpose facility, cited a void in port amenities as well as industry trends as reasons to continue pursuing it.

The feasibility study cited the Port of Catoosa Marine Education Center in Tulsa, which is described as a free exhibit facility featuring interactive video kiosks and the port’s history and impact on the economy; Regional Shopping Center at the Port of Caddo-Bossier in Shreveport, a 34,000 square foot facility that cost $14 million; and the Fairfield County Port Authority Manpower Training Center in Ohio.

The proposed facility for the Port of Little Rock was originally envisioned as a new building that would be built near the port’s main office, but Day told last week’s meeting that construction costs made that option unfeasible.

It doesn’t hurt that Delta Dental is willing to help fund the deal with a five-year interest-free loan.

Under the proposed contract, the Port would pay Delta Dental $200,000 at closing. Then the port would pay $100,000 in the first year, $200,000 in the second, $300,000 in the third, $400,000 in the fourth, and $1,000,000 in the final year.

Day said it would cost around $100,000 a year to maintain the building and provide utilities and wouldn’t rule out hiring an additional employee to run the building.

The building has been on the market for just under three years with no price quoted. The two-story structure contains 40,000 square feet and sits on nearly 5 acres at 7773 Sloan Drive. It is approximately 2.5 miles from the main port office at 10600 Industrial Harbor Drive.

The building was built in 1994 and used as the headquarters of Georg Fischer Ltd., a Swiss manufacturer with a port facility. Delta Dental acquired the property in 2008 for $1.8 million and spent several million dollars upgrading it.

Hastings’ motion to approve a resolution authorizing Day to enter into the contract met with no opposition. Board member Tamika Edwards said her membership on the Delta Dental board constituted a conflict and precluded her from participating in the purchase discussion or voting on the resolution.

The sale agreement must still be approved by the Little Rock Board of Directors before it can be executed.

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