The Fayetteville Advertising and Promotions Commission voted unanimously Monday to commit $500,000 in hotel, motel and restaurant (HMR) tax proceeds to help fund a renovation of the Walton Arts Center’s newly purchased Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP).
The funding will be distributed in two installments of $250,000, one in Q4 2011 and one in Q1 2012.
The decision came after a request presentation from Walton Arts Center CEO Peter Lane who outlined the expected economic impact an expanded, 6,400-seat outdoor concert venue would have on Fayetteville’s HMR revenue.
Citing a commissioned 2005 study by Americans for the Arts, Lane said patrons who attend art events spend an average of about $25 each in the community, excluding the cost of their ticket. Non-local attendees, said Lane, spend nearly double that amount.
With an AMP attendance of 44,000 people per year, and with 80 percent of patrons coming from outside Washington County, Lane said he believed the estimated economic impact could grow to as high as $1,250,000 per year.
“I think from an economic ROI, you have a pretty good shot of getting any kind of an investment back pretty quickly,” said Lane.
Aside from the A&P’s money, the remainder of the roughly $3.7 million price tag would be funded with private gifts and loans, said Lane.
“There’s two reasons why we’re asking for your support,” Lane told the commissioners.
“First of all, we know that once we can get your support on this, it helps leverage us to get the last bit in,” he said, adding that it would allow the arts center to have that Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
“The second thing is, we don’t want to lose the season,” said Lane. “This is our 20th anniversary and we need to be in the ground by October and we want to be done by the end of May.”
Commissioner Bob Davis was on board immediately.
“In my years sitting on this commission, this is one of the few things we’ve been asked to be involved in that I can assure you we’ll see a return of dollars,” said Davis, adding that he believed Lane’s estimates were too conservative. “I feel like you’ll do more than that,” he said.
Commissioner Justin Tennant, who also represents Ward 3 on the Fayetteville City Council, agreed.
“From a cultural and entertainment aspect, I think it’s a no-brainer,” said Tennant. “From a tax basis, we have to be cognizant of what we do with these tax revenue dollars and I think it will come back tenfold.”
Tennant said he was pleased to finally have what he sees as a solid commitment from the Walton Arts Center to the city of Fayetteville.
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said Tennant. “There was a lot of talk about why did (Walton Arts Center) move to Bentonville. Well, they’re not moving to Bentonville. This proves that the Walton Arts Center is still committed to this city and I think we could be committed to them.”
AMP manager Brian Crowne was recently in Nashville to speak with who he called “major players” in the music booking industry and said they were excited at the possibility to begin considering Fayetteville as a stop.
He said they told him Fayetteville is the perfect routing spot between Dallas and Oklahoma City or Kansas City and that they’ve been wanting to find a venue in the region that could support larger tours.
“It’s going to make it easier for us to attract these artists,” said Crowne.
A&P director Marilyn Heifner said by distributing half of the request now, and the other half next year using reserve funds, the commission’s regular biannual event funding would likely be unaffected, even after replenishing its reserves.
“You could pull $250,000 now and $250,000 next year and you probably wouldn’t even see a blip on the radar,” said Heifner.
As of July 31, the commission’s reserve funds totaled about $2.2 million, according to agenda reports furnished by Keith Glass, the commission’s accountant.
With the exception of Brandon Karn, who was absent Monday, the commission voted unanimously to fully support the special request.
“This changes the game for Fayetteville from an entertainment perspective,” said Tennant after the vote. “This makes so much sense.”