WITH PHOTOS: Fayetteville A&P moves forward with old post office lease agreement

A&P Commission director Marilyn Heifner (right) leads Fayetteville Underground board president Cathy Bass (left) and a group of commission members on a tour of the old post office building before the A&P’s regular meeting Monday afternoon.

Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

The Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission is one step closer to being the newest tenant in one of the city’s oldest buildings.

Following last month’s vote to seek rental of the old post office building in the middle of the downtown square, commission members today unanimously agreed to execute a lease.

Under the terms of the agreement with owner Ron Bumpass, the commission will rent the building for $5,000 per month beginning Feb. 1, with an option to buy it for $1 million after one year.

By leasing the old post office, the commission aims to solve a couple of problems that Fayetteville’s downtown is facing while reserving space for a possible local museum.

Wall murals, main floor

Dance floor, basement

Side room, basement

Bar, basement

Office space, third floor

Renovation of the former Cosmopolitan Hotel has displaced nearly 10 month’s worth of expected downtown business meetings, weddings and social events.

“If we can’t provide meeting space for groups that come to Fayetteville, we will lose business,” said A&P director Marilyn Heifner. “Those groups will go to other cities and thus HMR taxes will be decreased.”

By converting the main floor of the old post office building into meeting space, Heifner is confident the commission will not only help keep some of those tax dollars in Fayetteville, but she also expects to recover the $60,000 investment by the end of the first year in event rentals alone.

Scheduled events such as the Arkansas Living History conference (March 2-3), the annual Arkansas High School Coaches All Star Games and Clinic (June 17-22) and nearly a dozen weddings are already listed as being displaced and will likely use the old post office once the commission has the keys to the building.

Once hotel renovations are complete, the commission will either continue using the main level for events or it will convert the space to some type of local museum.

Another plan for the building is to sublease downstairs space to Fayetteville Underground artists who have been looking for a new home since October when the non-profit collective announced its lease had not been renewed by East Square Plaza owners Ted and Leslie Belden.

Commission members in November asked Heifner to explore available downtown properties that it could acquire and then lease to the artists in an effort to keep Fayetteville Underground near the square.

“I think it’s vital to the city of Fayetteville, especially on Thursday nights,” said commissioner Bob Davis. “It’s kind of a driving force to get people down there and if it’s not there, I think First Thursday would fall off some.”

The commission expects to rent about 10 spaces to artists who will have 24-hour access to their studios and who will collectively help manage full-time gallery spaces which are planned for the side rooms and entry lobby of the building. Similar to their previous setup inside East Square Plaza, the artists will be charged commission on any art sold.

Hank Kaminsky and Leilani Law, two longtime local artists and members of the Fayetteville Underground, both praised the commission for its efforts on Monday.

“I have been in Fayetteville since the early 80s and it has always been my goal and desire to see a recognition of the fact that artists are significant contributors to the quality of life here,” said Kaminsky. “You are doing something that it going to bloom.”

The commission hopes to have renovations complete and artists in the building in time for the beginning of the 2012 First Thursday art walk season on April 5.

» View the A&P’s proposed business plan

About the Fayetteville Underground

The Fayetteville Underground is a nonprofit community arts organization. In its former home inside the basement of East Square Plaza, it included four galleries, 16 working studio spaces, and monthly art openings and shows featuring resident and guest gallery artists. The organization also helped launch the popular First Thursday monthly art walk event. The Fayetteville Underground Board of Directors will soon transfer their 501c3 status to the A&P Commission who will then elect a new board to set policies and evaluate current bylaws.

About the old post office

The old post office is a familiar landmark located in the center of the Fayetteville downtown square that served as a U.S. Post Office from 1911 until 1963. The original cost of construction was $60,000.

The fate of the building was in jeopardy when in 1974, it was slated for demolition by the Urban Renewal Plan for the downtown area. A group of citizens began a petition drive to preserve the Neoclassical Revival structure as a historic landmark. Eventually the ruling was reversed and the building was saved.

In August 1974, the building was placed on the National Historic Register. Two years later, the building was purchased by Donald and Edna Bumpass. In 1977, a project began to convert the old post office into an upscale restaurant and club. Original features preserved include the building’s native marble frieze panels, classical dentals, and solid brass door handles. The electrical system, with copper fuses and fuse boxes enclosed within beveled glass, was designed by Thomas Edison.

The property is encumbered with a Historic Preservation Easement dated June 18, 1978. The easement has a term of 40 years. This agreement requires the owner or successors of the subject property to maintain and administer the property so as to preserve its historical character for the 40-year term. The agreement also gives the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program the first rights of refusal if the owner shall wish to sell the property. The Arkansas Department of Historic Preservation has twice declined to exercise the right of refusal.

In the past 15 years, the old post office has housed various business including Hog City Diner, Stogie’s Fine Cigars and Tobacco, Sodie’s Fountain and Grill, Jammin’ Java, and Urban Table. The property is currently vacant except for Ron Bumpass’s use of the upper level’s western portion for his legal practice.

Source: A&P Commission