A decision on whether to contribute $1 million to the University of Arkansas to help with construction costs of a planned 700-seat performing arts hall was delayed until December by the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission on Monday.
The decision to table the issue came after Ward 3 Alderman and A&P commissioner Justin Tennant requested the group wait for advice from the newly formed Town and Gown Advisory Committee.
The 21-member committee, which is comprised of University of Arkansas staff, city officials and residents, is set to hold its next meeting on Monday, Nov. 19.
“I feel like this is, by definition, what the Town and Gown committee should look at, which is things that are going to affect the City of Fayetteville and its citizens, as well as the University of Arkansas,” said Tennant.
Several university representatives were in attendance on Monday to field questions from commission members who wanted to know what the community could expect to gain from the new facility, besides possible tax revenue from hotel/motel stays and restaurant sales (HMR).
Ronda Mains, associate chair of the UA’s music department, said even though the university would hold at least 200 events annually in the new concert hall, there would be plenty of days left each year for community access to the facility.
“We really don’t want to see dark days in the hall,” said Main, who added that most of the availability would likely come in the summer months or during the holiday break between semesters.
The $1 million request is not on the Town and Gown Advisory Committee’s published agenda for this month, but Tennant said he felt like the item could be walked on either before or during the meeting.
Tennant said he welcomes added advice, especially at a time when both the commission and the City Council are making multiple decisions on UA-related agenda items.
“We are, in my opinion, bending over backwards as a city to help the University of Arkansas expand,” said Tennant. “They’ve said multiple times, ‘We’re growing and we can’t build any more dorms, please help us.’ So we’re having to go into neighborhoods and say, ‘You’re about to have an apartment complex or a parking lot here.’”
Tennant wouldn’t say specifically which side he was leaning toward, but told the group he didn’t believe the majority of Fayetteville residents would approve of a $1 million contribution to help the university build a concert hall.
“If this went to the city of Fayetteville to get voted on by the citizens, I believe it would be soundly defeated,” said Tennant.
Commissioner Bob Davis said that might be because people don’t understand the annual impact the university has on the city’s economy.
Davis said tax figures have shown that Razorback home football games last year had an economic impact of $49,526,694.
Those numbers came from an email sent to commissioners by A&P director Marilyn Heifner last month at the request of commission chair Maudie Schmitt. In that email, Heifner said UA campus food service provider Chartwell’s – the largest single HMR tax contributor – collected $47,000 in 2011. Heifner said Sodexho, which runs the UA concessions, collected over $18,000.
“Regardless of whether we give something to them or what we give to them, that’s something we need to consider,” said Davis. “They are the engine of the community.”
Tennant agreed, but said his vote would be focused elsewhere.
“If we’re just going to give money to the University of Arkansas because of all of those things…then let’s call it for what it is,” said Tennant. “But I’m not being asked to help with those things. I’m being asked to fund a fine arts building.”