WITH POLL: Just buy the building | Art & Power

A&P Commission director Marilyn Heifner (right) leads commissioner Bob Davis (center), Fayetteville Underground board president Cathy Bass (left), and other commission members on a tour of the old post office building in January.

Staff photo, Fayetteville Flyer

Today, the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission considers the purchase of the Old Post Office after learning the 1911 building appraised at less than 50 percent of the asking price.
Owner Ron Bumpass’s $1.5 million asking price is ridiculous. The Old Post Office was recently appraised at $730,000.

Ridiculous can still be a starting point for negotiations.

We’re at a critical moment. I implore the commission to buy the building, literally in the middle of the city square and virtually vacant since Urban Table Bar & Grill closed in late 2008. Please put it to civic use.


Bumpass’s offer should not be accepted as is. Negotiations must continue and commissioners should err on the side of purchase, not thrift. The thought of that silent building roaring to life with new civic purpose is too viable a dream to give up on without a fight.

I want to own part of that building along with all of you.

Unfortunately, a shadow hangs over the entire affair. The commission’s executive director, Marilyn Heifner, lied to Northwest Arkansas Times reporter Joel Walsh about receiving Bumpass’s latest offer. Her lie denied the public a full view into how their money might be spent.

Heifner violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act, yet the commission voted 4-2 to reinstate her. Notably the two dissenters were elected officials, Mayor Lioneld Jordan and Alderman Justin Tennant. They are both strong proponents of the city’s effort toward transparency in government.

Commissioner Bob Davis offered this curious and slightly offensive “City of Second Chances” excuse as an explanation for reinstating Heifner.

I think Fayetteville has proven itself to be a different type of city. A city that understands that in our pursuit of honesty, integrity, ethics and results, we all sometimes fail. We all fall short of perfection … there are people in positions of leadership in this city who have made serious and very public mistakes. People who have stolen money from taxpayers and been allowed to cover up, people who have taken things that were not theirs to take, and we as a city have determined that those people were not beyond being given a second chance. In fact, considering some of our city’s most visible and prominent leaders, you could say that Fayetteville is a city of second chances

Davis’s statement is odd in that it holds up our city’s leaders as criminals to provide evidence of our strong belief in redemption. Huh?

It’s not as politically tone deaf as former commission chair Pat Gazzola’s famed 2009 comment about Dickson Street being unsafe (which led to his resignation), but Davis’s words certainly don’t promote the city in a good light.

We must move forward from the entire Heifner affair. We should not let that shadow deter from the important task at hand – buying the building.

Don’t let this opportunity to take a building which has been in private hands for several decades slip away. No one wants to look back in five or ten years and wonder what could have been if the Old Post Office were a home for the Fayetteville Underground, an indoor expansion to the Farmer’s Market or a civic center in the very heart of the city.

The commission readily gave a $500,000 grant to the Walton Arts Center in September to help that entity – whose future in this city still remains in flux – to complete a $4 million upgrade to the live music venue, the Arkansas Music Pavilion, or AMP. That upgrade is currently on hold since the AMP lost its lease at the mall and moved to the Washington County Fairgrounds.

Commissioners, loosen the purse strings of our money again to ensure we can make the Old Post Office a public building that will serve the entire community, not just concertgoers.

Another potential distraction is Gina Scarpino and Richard Berquist’s offer of the Scarpino building to the commission. It’s a nice building and they are nice people. The offer is for more than 6,000 square feet close to Dickson Street with a $990,000 price tag.

Not bad, but compare that to Old Post Office’s 14,278 square feet at $1.5 million and add in the historical significance, the prime location and the emotional affection people have for the building, and you see there’s no comparison between the two.

Commissioner Davis told the Northwest Arkansas Times recently that he was comfortable with the commission’s initial offer of $1 million for the Old Post Office, but felt that the $1.5 million price was too high.

I agree. Let’s negotiate. Davis said Scarpino is not the location he prefers. Again, I agree.

“The OPO would be my first choice, because, not only is it a historical facility, but it’s important to the community,” Davis told the Northwest Arkansas Times. “You don’t have that at the other location.”

No, Commissioner Davis, you don’t.

Negotiate for us with our money, commissioners. Know that we support your purchase. Try to get us the best price possible so we can move into the Old Post Office as soon as possible.

Christopher Spencer
Art & Power is written by Christopher Spencer of Fayetteville. It represents his personal opinions on the intersection of arts and politics. Spencer is an employee of the University of Arkansas and serves as the president of the nonprofit Creative Economy Action Group Inc. He’s previously worked for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Northwest Arkansas Times. You can always find him on Twitter at cspencer75 or by e-mailing [email protected].