A closer look at Fayetteville’s WAC expansion proposal

After posting the gist of Fayetteville’s official Walton Arts Center expansion proposal yesterday, we promised that some more information would soon follow. So here we go.

Before we get started, keep in mind that this piece was designed to make the very lengthy proposal a little easier to digest. If you’re looking for all of the specific details and would like to bypass our explanations, just scroll on down to the bottom. We’ve posted a link to the entire proposal at the end of this story.

A joint partnership

The City of Fayetteville was not alone in the drafting process. The city partnered with the University of Arkansas for this proposal and made sure to note in the introduction that a city/university partnership was an integral part of making the Waltons’ original arts center vision a reality in the early 1990s. In fact, according to the proposal, the formation of the partnership was a specific suggestion from Helen Walton.

The location

The proposal suggests expanding the arts center at its current location to maintain close proximity both to Dickson Street’s historic and eclectic offerings as well as to the University of Arkansas’ 20,000 students and 1.3 million annual visitors.

The slope of the proposed site is also listed as a plus since the topography lends itself to construction of a large theater, mitigating overall costs.

Accessibility was also taken into consideration. “The site is approximately six minutes from I-540 and two minutes from 71B, a five-lane principal arterial road,” reads the proposal which also outlines access improvements to intersections, streetscapes and wayfinding signage.

The property

The extra 7.04 acres being offered, when combined with the existing facilities and the UA-owned Nadine Baum Studios, would bring the arts center’s campus to a total of 11.58 acres.

The structures that make up the proposed site include the Walton Arts Center, its administrative offices, Nadine Baum Studios, and Grub’s Bar and Grille. The proposal also suggests acquisition of eight privately-owned residential properties.

Parking

The proposed concept envisions two six-story parking decks that would add 1,140 spaces to the 298 existing spaces, bringing the total parking accommodations to 1,438.

One deck is envisioned directly east of the existing facility on School Avenue in what is now a surface lot. The second deck would be constructed at the southeast corner of Spring Street and West Avenue.

Both structures are envisioned to included streetside retail, restaurant or office space.

Bud Walton Arena and Reynolds Razorback Stadium

Bud Walton Arena

In addition to the sites listed in the Dickson Street area, the University of Arkansas has offered to make Bud Walton Arena and Reynolds Razorback Stadium available for Walton Arts Center programming. With seating capacities of 19,000 and 69,500, respectively, those facilities would add possibilities for large concerts that the city says could draw audiences from as far away as Dallas and Kansas City.

Such performances would provide an additional revenue stream for the performing arts center complex.

Funding

The City of Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas will contribute funding through multiple avenues, according to the proposal. The city will initially pursue funding through the A&P Commission with an estimated bonding capacity of $5-6 million. The university is also willing to provide funding for the construction of a shared 600-seat theater.

The total amount being offered to the construction of the expansion is over $33.4 million.

In addition, both parties expect a significant number of private donations and fundraising efforts initiated by community leaders.

The concepts

Aside from simply suggesting a location, the proposal outlines multiple design concepts as well as some proposed construction phases.

One concept envisions a performing arts center row along West Avenue, a second proposes exploring art through nature by incorporating an existing underground stream, and the third suggests merging the arts with the city’s existing trail system.

The committee

Mayor Jordan and UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart assembled a committee of leaders from the arts, business, labor, university and philanthropic communities who are all patrons of the Walton Arts Center. According to the proposal, all say they are willing to commit time and effort to ensure that an expansion is funded and completed according to the designated timeframe.

Walton Arts Center Expansion Proposal Committee

Leslie Belden Ann Henry Dede Peters
Hope Bradberry Greg House Berta Seitz
Hugh Brewer Dennis Hunt Julie Sill
Steve Clark Hugh Kincaid Lindsley Smith
Carl Collier Bill Mitchell Steve Smith
Nelson Driver Don Pederson Billie Jo Starr
Denise Garner Neal Pendergraf Debbie Walker

Billie Jo Starr

Also submitted with the proposal was a letter from Billie Jo Starr, a long-time supporter and philanthropist for the Walton Arts Center and regional fund-raising chairman for the original WAC facility. Starr began her letter by stating that she would only support expansion in Fayetteville.

“The Center is situated within steps of the University of Arkansas campus on a street with a rich history and is a place celebrated by both Helen and Sam Walton from groundbreaking to ribbon cutting,” she wrote. “Moreover, the site has been designated as an entertainment district with colorful cafes, a nearby award-winning library, and a thriving downtown district within walking distance. This expanded site should remain the Walton Arts Center with changes that only reflect the success that has made it a national model for educational and cultural programming in the last 20 years.”

» Download the full proposal (PDF)

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