Redfield officials eying vacant lab for its potential


REDFIELD — Christmas 2012 may turn out to be a great Christmas for this Jefferson County town.

Mayor Tony Lawhon said Charles River, a Massachusetts research firm, has indicated it is interested in donating the company’s 87,600-square-foot lab, mothballed in 2009, and 40 acres to the city of Redfield.

Jim Dailey, former Little Rock mayor and a representative of the Little Rock commercial real estate firm Flake and Kelly, confirmed Friday that there have been preliminary discussions about Charles River donating the property to the municipality.

Both Dailey and Lawhon stressed that negotiations are in the very early stages and no firm agreement has been reached.

Kourosh Malek, a major Redfield residential property developer, has offered to donate seven acres in Cabot, Lawhon added, and he already has a potential buyer for the latter property.

Malek has a major apartment complex and single-family dwellings subdivision southeast of the Interstate 530-Sheridan Road interchange in Redfield, Lawhon said, and plans to open a second residential subdivision west of I-530 as soon as water and sewer lines can be extended west of the four-lane highway.

“I admit I would rather have the 120 jobs lost when the lab closed, but the property has a number of potential uses,” Lawhon said. “We are doing it one step at a time to do it right.”

If negotiations progress as anticipated, the city may be able to acquire the lab “by the end of February,” the mayor said.

Several firms expressed an interest in acquiring the lab for research projects with the National Center for Toxicological Research and the Pine Bluff Arsenal, but no agreement was reached, Dailey acknowledged earlier after a tour of the facility by Redfield officials.

At one point Charles River discussed demolishing the structure, constructed in 1983, because of potential liability issues, Lawhon said, but agreed to put off any demolition plans for a year.

City officials have discussed relocating municipal offices to a new city hall, and Lawhon noted Friday the first floor of the three-story structure has more than adequate space for that purpose, with the potential for renting all or a portion of the top two floors to commercial venture.

There are three smaller buildings near the lab, classified as a large animal research facility that could be used for storage.

An ad hoc task force opposed to the proposed closure of Redfield Middle School has discussed petitioning the Arkansas Board of Education for authority to operate a charter school in Redfield if the existing school, constructed in the 1930s, is closed.

The task force has also discussed petitioning the state board for permission of the Redfield area to withdraw from the White Hall School District.

Lawhon said use of the Charles River facility as a school is just one possibility for the city.