The crowds for Walton Arts Center press events are becoming a lot larger lately.
Tuesday’s announcement was no exception.
In fact, both Mayor Lioneld Jordan and Chief of Staff Don Marr were seated in the back row.
But with many Fayetteville residents waiting on pins and needles to hear where the arts center plans to expand its facilities, the large turnouts seem pretty fitting. After all, a 2008 feasibility study named Bentonville as a possible location. That’s about three cities and 21 miles north of Dickson Street.
Walton Arts Center president and CEO Peter Lane began by reminding the audience that the arts center has been operating at near capacity for the past few years. “Simply put, we need more seats and more theaters in order to expand and continue to be Arkansas’ premiere arts and entertainment complex,” he said.
To meet its needs, Lane says the center needs at least two additional facilities, including a 2,100-seat hall and a 600-seat multi-use venue. These new facilities would help bring in touring broadway productions as well as large comedy and rock music performances that the current facilities don’t have room for.
Expanding, not moving
Lane took a moment to stress something he says he’s been repeating a lot lately. “We are not moving,” he said. “The Walton Arts Center is not moving.”
Any new facilities, Lane said, will be complementary to the current arts center and not a replacement.
“Whether the expansion is across the street or somewhere else, we envision the Walton Arts Center managing multiple halls and we see the possibility – potentially – of a multi-campus,” he said.
The 15 criteria
Board Chairman Jeff Schomburger unveiled a series of selection criteria approved by the board Tuesday which was designed to aid the board and staff in choosing a location for the planned expansion.
Each of the 15 criteria were prioritized and defined as either critical, important or moderately important when considering the new site.
Among the list of critical criteria are site size, parking and ease of access from I-540.
Now accepting proposals
Schomburger said the board will be accepting proposals from anyone interested in suggesting potential sites for the expansion.
“We’ll be reviewing all sites, including those reviewed originally in the feasibility study and will be meeting with municipalities, cities and chambers to discuss,” he said. “We’re committed to working with whoever is interested in proposing sites to be considered by the board.”
A site proposal form is available for download on the Walton Arts Center’s website. The deadline for proposals is March 15.
Timeline of the expansion process
“Our goal is to have primary and secondary sites identified by early summer and to have a final decision by late summer,” said Schomburger.
According to a chart released during the press event, construction of the new facilities could begin as early as spring 2012.
During the Q&A session, officials were asked if the existing Dickson Street location would meet the criteria for an expansion site – specifically the ease of access off I-540 requirement.
“I think at this point, commenting on specific areas is probably inappropriate,” said Lane. “I think there are solutions in many, many cities to the issue of access, but in the big picture, we just know that it is one of the top criteria.”
Lane then took a moment to acknowledge and thank Mayor Jordan and the City of Fayetteville for being “incredible partners” during his tenure at the arts center. “(Mayor Jordan’s) passion for the arts and his commitment to see the Walton Arts Center continue to thrive is appreciated by all of us,” said Lane.