Justin Tennant got a lot more than he bargained for during Monday’s meeting of the Town and Gown Advisory Committee.
Tennant, a City Council member who serves on the Fayetteville A&P Commission, requested that someone from the Town and Gown committee add a brief discussion item to this month’s agenda concerning the University of Arkansas’ recent request for $1 million in A&P-collected HMR funds to put toward construction of a planned concert hall.
The A&P Commission was set to vote on the UA’s request during last week’s regular meeting, but Tennant asked commissioners to wait another month to give the Town and Gown committee a chance to weigh in.
The 21-member consultative group is made up of city employees, university representatives, Fayetteville residents and one City Council member.
“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.
The item was walked on at the beginning of Monday’s meeting by Chamber of Commerce president Steve Clark, who immediately switched gears.
Clark said he felt contributions of A&P funds to the university should be a regular occurrence, not just something that’s discussed on an as-needed basis.
He estimated that with a rising crop of about 1,500 new freshman each year, the university is responsible for bringing in one new Fayetteville resident almost every six hours. He said assuming each student spends $50 a week, he felt it was clear that the university was a strong economic driver for the city.
“Without that, we wouldn’t thrive,” said Clark.
Plus, he said with the school’s calendar already including about 40 events each month – most of which are free and open to the public – recognition of what the university does for the city of Fayetteville is overdue.
“From the Chamber’s perspective, it is our strong, strong belief that the recognition of the university as being an economic developer is essential and that support should not be about one purpose,” Clark said. “It should be a continuing, ongoing support for the university. A support that is revisited and provided on a semi-annual basis.”
Clark said instead of recommending the A&P Commission approve the one-time $1 million request for concert hall funds, he felt the group should urge the commission to invite the university to apply for $125,000 in reserve funds every six months during its regular funding meetings to help offset costs of existing or new events and projects.
“It seems to me that if the Advertising and Promotion Commission is to award cash to help an entity to continue to stimulate the growth and economy of the city of Fayetteville, there is no better person or group to give it to than the University of Arkansas,” he said.
What followed was a 90-minute discussion that included a debate over whether Clark’s proposal was within the jurisdiction of the committee, an argument over whether a specific dollar amount should be attached to the motion, and question-and-answer sessions with UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart and A&P Executive Director Marilyn Heifner.
Gearhart said if awarded $125,000 every six months instead of the $1 million, he’d likely still put the money toward the concert hall. Heifner reminded the group that the A&P would be voting on a $1 million concert hall award on Dec. 10, not a semi-annual $125,000 request.
The group eventually voted 10-3 to approve Clark’s proposal, but several members – including each city representative – declined to cast a vote.
The city employees said their decision to abstain was not because they don’t believe the university is an economic engine.
“I think we are all 100 percent in support of (the university) receiving something, and as much of something as (the A&P) thinks is feasible,” said Don Marr, the mayor’s chief of staff.
Ultimately, the city employees said they felt like creating a charge they weren’t given was outside the established scope of the committee.
“We can support the cooperation in funding for the university,” said Fire Chief David Dayringer, “but when we get into a specific dollar amount, I think we’re out of our element.”
While the proposal may not have any direct effect on the A&P’s future funding decisions – it is, after all, only a recommendation – Tennant said he was happy the group took the time to discuss the issue.
“To me, the dollar amount of the recommendation is insignificant,” said Tennant. “What I was looking for was whether the committee would support the donation of HMR funds – in any amount – to the university. And it’s clear they do.”
Town and Gown Advisory Committee – Nov. 19, 2012
Fayetteville Town and Gown Advisory Committee
The Town and Gown Advisory Committe was created in July 2012 to be a forum for collaboration between the City of Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas on mutually relevant issues including, but not limited to, campus expansions, the need for student housing both on and off campus, and parking and noise in the areas adjacent to or nearby the campus. The Committee is empowered only to advise and make recommendations on a periodic basis to both the City Council and the University of Arkansas on such issues, and to adopt rules for the conduct of its own business.
City Council member
Mark Kinion – Ward 2 Alderman
Barry Herzog – Ward 1 resident
Diane Warren – Ward 2 resident
Tommy Deweese – Ward 3 resident
Ryan Miller – Ward 4 resident
Will Hansen – University of Arkansas student
Steve Clark – business owner/development community representative
City of Fayetteville representatives
David Dayringer – Fire
Yolanda Fields – Development Services/Community Services
Terry Gulley* – Transportation
David Jurgens* – Utilities
Don Marr – Mayor’s office
Jeremy Pate – Development Services
Greg Tabor – Police
Sharon Waters – Parking
* Only one representative will be considered a voting member at a time
University of Arkansas representatives
Melissa Harwood-Rom – Division of Student Affairs
Richard Hudson – Government Relations
Mike Johnson – Facilities Management
Bev Lewis – Athletics
Danny Pugh – Chancellor’s office
Tori Pohlner – Associated Student Government
Gary Smith – Transit and Parking
Source: City of Fayetteville