the Little Rock City Council will meet Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. to establish the agenda for the regular meeting of the Board of Directors for the following week and the question of buy property from the financial empire Stephens Inc. for a city-funded parking to serve Stephens and the Marriott Hotel is back for discussion.
As we reported, the city – or at least some in the city – wants to buy half a block of a razed Stephens Inc. subsidiary of historic buildings to provide more parking for its employees in their high-rise. Sky across 2nd Street between Louisiana and Center.
Stephens paid $4.4 million for the land, but it’s worth much less without buildings. Except to the city, which is apparently willing to pay what the Stephens empire has in it, plus clearance costs, to build a 600-space parking lot that would cost around $15 million.
The project is led by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau to help the Marriott with parking. As it was originally built, it was connected to a parking lot. But that whole bridge is now controlled for use by tenants of the Stephens building. The Marriott uses flat land between 2nd, 3rd, Main and Scott and also uses the main street parking lot, about a block from the hotel, for parking.
The proposal failed to reach the necessary six votes on March 15, with five votes in favor, two against and two votes present, as a no.
Billionaire Warren Stephens usually gets what he wants downtown despite the deleterious effect of bulldozing buildings to create more parking in a city that’s overcrowded with parking. The endless stream of sales tax revenue from the hotel/burger tax has made the convention bureau a major downtown real estate investor, from an office building to an auditorium, pavilion and l River Market Amphitheater has several car parks, with another apparently on the way.
The chances of a serious discussion about discouraging concentrated development by bulldozing buildings and offering taxpayer-subsidized parking to people fleeing to the suburbs on widened taxpayer-operated highways are slim. I’m probably still beating a dead horse, but here are some questions to answer about the deal:
How much will the city pay Stephens for the land? Has it been appraised (in addition to the $2.3 million appraisal on the county tax assessor’s books)?
How much will the deck cost? At least $15 million for the structure depending on an architect selected for the project, but a separate contract will be required for management controls. And $726,000 in design fees.
How many millions of bonds will be sold to pay for the project?
What will the bondholder do on the transaction?
What will the bond attorney do about the agreement?
How much interest will be paid to withdraw the bonds sold to pay for the game?
How much parking will be guaranteed for Stephens, the Marriott and the public in this new bridge?
What will be the rental price for the spaces on the terrace?
Has anyone studied the potential traffic impact of the 600 seater bridge? (Have you ever driven around the e-Stem Charter School on the east side of Louisiana in the same block) during school opening and closing hours?)
What are the running costs for the terrace?
What revenue will be promised to repay the bonds?
Is it expected that sales tax and other general revenue will support the bonds?
Should rental fees cover more than operating costs? Is there a financial plan where tenants pay the full cost of construction and financing?
Why has there been no discussion about this before? This project was launched in 2020, without discussion, but delayed by the pandemic and accelerated in October with requests for submissions for the design and underwriting of the project. It all happened quietly even though some city planners had objected to the Stephens affiliate bulldozing the half block to make it a car park. More parking does not contribute to the quality of life downtown, they observed.
The mayor promised an accountable and transparent municipal government. Here is a good opportunity to deliver.