Voters will decide whether taxpayer money is used to help fund Walton Arts Center renovations and a planned regional park in southwest Fayetteville.
Fayetteville City Council members on Tuesday approved ballot language for a Nov. 12 special election that will ask voters for permission to extend HMR bonds originally used to build the Fayetteville Town Center.
With the debt nearly paid off, commissioners and council members have been exploring ways to refinance the current debt and issue new bonds to help the Walton Arts Center expand its Dickson Street facility and to get construction started on a long-planned, but un-funded regional park near Cato Springs Road.
If the proposal is approved, the bonds would not raise taxes. The new debt would be paid for using money already collected from the city’s 2 percent HMR tax added to hotel stays and food purchases in Fayetteville.
Voters will be asked three ballot questions on Nov. 12:
1. Should the estimated $1.5 million in remaining debt be refinanced to clear the way for new bonds?
2. Should $6.9 million in new bonds be issued to help fund Walton Arts Center expansions?
3. Should $3.5 million in new bonds be issued to help fund the regional park?
The Walton Arts Center money
The Walton Arts Center money would go toward a construction project at the center’s Dickson Street campus, which calls for a new facade and entryway at the corner of West Avenue, a larger lobby, an expanded Starr Theatre, additional backstage space, and a re-configured Rosen Memorial Rose Garden.
Terri Trotter, chief operating officer for the arts center, said no major renovations have taken place at the arts center since it first opened in 1992. Aside from expanded facilities, she said the center is in need of many technological improvements.
Additional space, Trotter said, will help bring in new events that the center currently has no room for. For example, she said that the center’s cramped backstage sometimes leads to the smaller Starr Theater being used as a dressing room for the main auditorium. More backstage space, she said, would mean more programming in Starr Theater during weeks where large Broadway shows are in town.
Trotter said more events means more people on Dickson Street which means more money invested into the community.
The arts center would still need about $13 million in donations and other funds to complete the project. A&P Commissioners gave $600,000 to the center in May to help fund the design of the expansion.
The park money
The park money would help begin construction of a 200-acre regional park where sports fields, trails, pavilions, a splash park and a concert amphitheater are planned.
Connie Edmonston, the city’s Parks and Recreation director, said the $3.5 million would be added to the $4.5 million the city has set aside for the park. The combined $8 million would provide a home for the city’s youth soccer program whose 1,500 child participants would otherwise be without fields to play on once the University of Arkansas reclaims its Lewis Park complex in 2018.
Edmonston said the plan is to build six soccer fields, three baseball fields, concession stands, a great lawn, a playground and all necessary infrastructure like parking, road access, electricity, water and sewer lines.
Marilyn Heifner, director of the A&P Commission, has estimated that the potential economic impact of the park could reach as much as $4 million each year through the addition of 10 new youth baseball, soccer and softball tournaments hosted in Fayetteville. Another $2 million could be generated once tennis courts, a disc golf course, and an amphitheater are completed.
At least $20 million would still be needed to fully complete the park, which is set to be built in several phases. Edmonston said the city is seeking donations and is exploring the idea of naming rights if a major donor steps forward.
Aldermen call for the election
City attorney Kit Williams last week asked aldermen to consider waiting until at least the Aug. 20 meeting before making a final decision since he was planning a personal vacation for this week, but it was clear Tuesday that the council members were ready to send the issue to voters.
Ward 3 alderman Justin Tennant, who also serves on the A&P Commission, said the proposal had already been thoroughly reviewed by the commission over several months and that it was time to move forward.
“I’m ready to put this in the people’s hands,” said Tennant.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan, who has served on the council for 12 years as mayor and alderman, said it was high time a decision be made.
“We’ve talked about the regional park since 2001, and we’ve talked about renovating the Walton Arts Center and making expansions down there for almost that long,” Jordan said.
“We know that this park will help our youth in this city, and if we make any kind of investment, it should be in those children,” he said. “And the Walton Arts Center, being 20 years old, it needs the upgrades.”
Aldermen voted 8-0 to call for the special election.
“Here we go,” said Jordan.