Walton Arts Center officials will have to wait at least another month for a decision on a plan that would help fund an expansion of the arts center’s Dickson Street facility.
The seven-member Advertising and Promotion Commission lacked a quorum on Monday, meaning the group couldn’t vote or give formal direction to executive director Marilyn Heifner regarding any of the items on this month’s agenda. The commission must have four members in attendance to represent a quorum.
Only commissioners Bob Davis, Matthew Petty and Ching Mong were present for the meeting. Commissioners Bill Lyle, Maudie Schmitt and Justin Tennant were absent. Newly selected commissioner Matt Behrend was in attendance, but his appointment hasn’t yet been ratified by the City Council.
The group was scheduled to consider Heifner’s recent proposal that would not only help pay for Walton Arts Center renovations, but also provide funding for a 200-acre regional park and a possible permanent home for the Arkansas Music Pavilion.
Heifner’s plan is to ask voters to approve a joint bond issue that would extend A&P bonds used to build the Fayetteville Town Center and issue a second bond using city funds. The two bond issues – totaling $23.7 million – would be repaid using both the commission’s and city’s share of Fayetteville’s 2 percent hotel, motel and restaurant tax.
Despite a lack of quorum, the commission devoted nearly 45 minutes to a discussion of Heifner’s plan and a related request from Petty who wants the group to partner with the City Council on a survey asking residents for their input on the issue.
Petty, who is also a City Council member, shared the results of an automated telephone poll some Fayetteville voters received in January, just two weeks after the commission voted to table his survey proposal.
The anonymous poll asked residents several questions, including if they would support using bonds to pay for the arts center renovation or the regional park.
“I think we need to find who conducted the survey and get that information,” said Davis.
Petty said he knew who commissioned the poll, but refused to release the person’s name and said doing so would “betray their trust.” Mayor Lioneld Jordan, Marilyn Heifner, Walton Arts Center officials, Chamber of Commerce president Steve Clark, and University of Arkansas political scientist Janine Parry have all denied any involvement with the telephone poll.
Petty said the results showed that only 40 percent of respondents would support using bonds for the Walton Arts Center renovations. He said that percentage was unchanged when paired against the regional park, and that only 22 percent favored the park while 18 percent were interested in the development of a third option.
“What this says to me is that any vanilla proposal isn’t going to pass,” said Petty. “We need to go to the voters and ask them open-ended questions…so we can get their input and develop something that will pass. Otherwise, we’re spinning our wheels and, frankly, being extremely presumptive about what the voters think.”
Petty, Davis and Mong each expressed concerns with Heifner’s suggestion to use parks funds for bond repayments and how that might limit the city’s ability to operate a new 200-acre park while maintaining its existing parks.
The long-planned regional park is set to include baseball, soccer, softball and multi-use fields; plus basketball, tennis and volleyball courts; playgrounds, trails, pavilions, a great lawn, water features and an amphitheater.
“It’s one thing to build something this large,” said Mong. “But how much money will it cost additionally each year to maintain the park?”
Petty called Heifner’s plan “a great start and a great conversation starter,” but suggested the commission emphasize caution before forwarding any proposal to the City Council and then to voters.
“If we were to pass this proposal right away, we’d really be gutting the rest of our development plans from our other parks to pay for this,” said Petty.
Walton Arts Center CEO Peter Lane said he understood he’d have to wait for any official decision, but pressed the commissioners for a show of support for his request which includes $6.5 million in bond money and $2 million in A&P funds.
Lane said he needs an overarching “statement of intent and expressed good will” from the commission to use as leverage before beginning a campaign to secure the remaining funds needed for the estimated $20 million renovation project.
Each member said they’d personally favor helping the arts center in some way, but couldn’t speak for the commission as a whole without a quorum.
The group thanked Heifner for bringing forth the plan and asked that she consider working more closely with city and parks staff to fine-tune the proposal before the next regular A&P meeting in March.
Partial poll results
Matthew Petty, a member of both the A&P Commission and City Council, released the results of three questions from an anonymous, automated telephone poll that asked Fayetteville voters their opinion on a potential bond issue. Petty would not say who commissioned the poll. He, Mayor Lioneld Jordan, Marilyn Heifner, Walton Arts Center officials, Chamber of Commerce president Steve Clark, and University of Arkansas political scientist Janine Parry have all denied any involvement with the poll.
Do you support the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission giving $2 million from its operating reserves to the Walton Arts Center?
Yes – 42%
No – 36%
Undecided – 22%
If the bond election were held next month, would you vote to approve the $6.5 million bond issue to renovate the Walton Arts Center?
Yes – 40%
No – 36.7%
Undecided – 23.3%
Some people have suggested that the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission funds should go to build a new regional sports park instead of funding the Walton Arts Center renovations. Would you prefer:
a) funding for the regional park development, – 22%
b) funding for the Walton Arts Center renovation, 40.4%
c) support for other projects to support culture and the arts – 18%
d) none of the above – 19.6%