Little Rock City Board has downtown parking deck back up for discussion. Many questions need answers.

The Little Rock City Board will meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday to set the agenda for the regular board meeting the following week and the matter of buying property from the Stephens Inc. financial empire for a city-financed parking deck to serve Stephens and the Marriott Hotel is back up for discussion.

As we’ve reported, the city — or at least some in the city — wants to buy a half block a Stephens Inc. subsidiary razed of historic buildings to provide more parking for its employees in their skyscraper on the other side of 2nd Street between Louisiana and Center.

Stephens paid $4.4 million for the land, but it’s worth far less cleared of buildings. Except to the city which apparently is willing to pay what the Stephens empire has in it, plus clearing costs, to get ground to build a 600-space parking deck that would cost an estimated $15 million.

The project is being driven by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau to help the Marriott with parking. As originally built, it was connected to a parking deck. But that entire deck is now controlled for use of Stephens building tenants. The Marriott uses a flat lot between 2nd, 3rd, Main and Scott and also utilizes the Main Street parking deck, a block or so from the hotel, for parking.

The proposal fell short of the needed six votes on March 15, with five votes in favor, two against and two voting present, same as a no.

Billionaire Warren Stephens generally gets what he wants downtown despite the deleterious effect of razing buildings to create more parking in a city overbuilt with parking. The unending flow of sales tax revenue from the hotel/hamburger tax has made the convention bureau a major real estate investor downtown, from an office building to an auditorium, to the River Market pavilion and amphitheater to multiple parking decks, with another seemingly on the way.

The odds of a serious discussion about discouraging concentrated development by razing buildings and providing taxpayer-subsidized parking for people who flee to suburbs on taxpayer-widened freeways are slim. I’m probably beating a dead horse again, but here are some questions that should be answered about the deal:

How much will the city pay Stephens for the land? Has it been appraised (besides 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 according to an architect chosen for the project, though a separate contract will be necessary for management controls. And $726,000 in design fees.

How many millions in bonds will be sold to pay for the project?

What will the bond underwriter make on the deal?

What will the bond counsel make on the deal?

How much interest will be paid to retire the bonds sold to pay for the deck?

How many parking spaces will be guaranteed for Stephens, the Marriott and the public in this new deck?

What will the rental rate be for spaces in the deck?

Has anybody studied the potential impact on traffic from the 600-space deck? (Ever driven around e-Stem Charter School on the east side of Louisiana in the same block) during school opening and closing hours?)

What are the operating costs of the deck?

What revenues will be pledged to retire the bonds?

Is it anticipated that sales tax and other general revenue will support the bonds?

Are rental fees expected to cover more than operating costs? Is there a financial plan by which rentals pay the entire cost of construction and financing?

Why has there been no discussion of this previously? This project was set in motion in 2020, without discussion, but delayed by the pandemic and revved up against in October with requests for people to bid on designing and underwriting the project. This all happened quietly even though some city planners had objected to the Stephens affiliate’s razing of the half-block for a parking lot. More parking lots do not contribute to downtown quality of life, it was observed by critics.

The mayor has promised an accountable and transparent city government. Here’s a good opportunity to deliver.


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