Members of the Walton Arts Center’s board of directors may soon vote to locate yet another facility outside its hometown of Fayetteville.
The long-rumored move of the Arkansas Music Pavilion to Benton County could come to a head when members of the arts center’s board gather for a special meeting on Tuesday, May 28 to discuss moving the outdoor concert venue across Interstate 540 from Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers.
Officials have been searching for a new home for the AMP since early 2012 when lease negotiations fell through at the Northwest Arkansas Mall and the venue was moved to a temporary setup at the Washington County Fairgrounds.
Peter Lane, president and CEO of the arts center, has hinted on several occasions that Fayetteville wasn’t the only city being considered.
“We will also look at a few other Northwest Arkansas sites that are highly accessible and meet the needs of a major outdoor concert venue,” said Lane in October.
Lane made similar comments to board members last fall. “We have been approached by some cities and mayors about an alternate location,” Lane said.
With the board’s recent decision to build a new, larger performing arts center in Bentonville, a move of the AMP to Rogers might not come as surprise, but it would certainly be disappointing to some city officials. The Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission voted unanimously to donate $500,000 towards a planned renovation of the AMP at its original location before it was moved to the fairgrounds.
“The city of Fayetteville has, for years, done whatever they could and almost whatever they were asked to accommodate the Walton Arts Center, including the AMP,” said commissioner and former alderman Bobby Ferrell, during a discussion on the future of the venue.
“I think the Walton Arts Center has an obligation to the city of Fayetteville,” said commission director Marilyn Heifner. “The city of Fayetteville stepped up 20 years ago and the citizens voted for a sales tax just for the Walton Arts Center. I think they ought to look to some place inside the Fayetteville city limits to keep (the AMP) here, especially if they’re going to build a 2,200-seat theatre in Bentonville.”
Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and a WAC board member, said he could not recommend moving the AMP without at least discussing some of the details of the proposed Rogers location.
In a memo sent Wednesday to fellow board members, Clark questioned how a proposal could be ready for final consideration without first making its way through the board’s facilities and finance committees.
Clark mentions documents sent to board members on May 21 asking for their support of the Rogers move, which indicates that expenditures and design planning work have been ongoing for several weeks or months, without board approval.
“We are being asked to forego any discussions of the specifics of this proposal,” said Clark. “I believe this is bad practice for too many reasons to enumerate.”
He also questioned why other sites, including Fayetteville’s planned regional park, were no longer an option.
Plans for the park, set to be built in southwest Fayetteville near I-540, call for sports fields, playgrounds, trails and an amphitheater that A&P commissioners had hoped would become the permanent home for the AMP.
Beth Bobbitt, public relations manager for the Walton Arts Center, declined to provide a copy of the May 21 documents sent to arts center board members.
“That memo contained confidential donor information,” said Bobbitt. “As a non-profit 501(c)3, Walton Arts Center relies on the ongoing support of our community to raise more than 50% of our annual operating budget from donations and donor confidentiality is critical to building trust.”
Timing of the AMP’s abandonment of Fayetteville, if approved on Tuesday, could prove to be unfortunate for Walton Arts Center officials who hope to gain support of Fayetteville aldermen and residents for a $12 million bond issue that would, in part, help the arts center expand its Dickson Street facility.
Bobbitt said she felt the AMP and the expanded Dickson Street plans were unique enough to stand on their own.
“Both fit into a multi-campus expansion strategy to bring more arts and entertainment to the region and position Northwest Arkansas as a cultural destination in the mid-south, drawing people to our state,” said Bobbitt.
The Walton Arts Center’s board is set to meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 28 inside the arts center’s Starr Theatre.
Update: Officials released a rendering and a few details on Friday about the Rogers proposal which indicate the $11 million facility would hold over 6,000 people, including 3,000 covered seats. If approved, construction would begin this summer, and the venue could be open and ready for concerts by June 2014. Arts center president Peter Lane said he’s already received 91 percent of the necessary committed funds for the project.