Council to A&P: Ask residents before considering Walton Arts Center request

Walton Arts Center officials have requested $8.5 million in HMR funds for help with a planned $20 million renovation to the center’s Dickson Street venue.

Boora Architects / Walton Arts Center

A decision on whether the Advertising and Promotion Commission will give $8.5 million to the Walton Arts Center will likely be delayed by at least a couple of months.

City Council members last week agreed to seek a partnership with the commission on a survey asking residents how to spend HMR funds gained from a possible extension of bonds used to finance the Fayetteville Town Center.

Extending the bonds, which are set to be repaid in 2015, could generate as much as $6.7 million for a tourism-related capital project.

Walton Arts Center CEO Peter Lane last month requested the bonds be extended to help renovate the arts center’s facility on Dickson Street.

A sign noting the future home of a regional park stands at Judge Cummings Road just off Cato Springs Road in southwest Fayetteville.

Todd Gill

Lane’s plans include 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.

Some A&P commissioners, however, have suggested using the money to help develop a planned regional park in southwest Fayetteville off Cato Springs and Judge Cummings roads where the SouthPass development was to be constructed.

While SouthPass was never built, the city eventually received 200 acres promised by the developers and plans to use the land for baseball, soccer, softball and multi-use fields; basketball, tennis and volleyball courts; playgrounds, trails, pavilions, a great lawn, water features and an amphitheater.

State law requires any bond extension to first be passed by the A&P Commission, followed by the City Council, and finally by voters in an election.

Instead of moving forward with consideration of the arts center’s request, two City Council members who serve on the commission – aldermen Matthew Petty and Justin Tennant – would first like to ask residents what they think.

“If we were to take a specific proposal to the voters straight away, we’d be playing an all-or-nothing game,” said Petty. “But if we ask for public input first, we can design a proposal based on their priorities to help ensure success at the ballot box.”

Letter from Marilyn Heifner

Petty said the plan is to spend up to 90 days collecting ideas from council members and commissioners on how the money should be spent and then allow residents to comment on each idea before beginning an official survey process. He also suggested the city split the cost of the survey with the A&P Commission at up to $10,000 apiece.

“I think it’s money well spent,” said Tennant. “The more people that know about this and the more people that give their input, that does nothing but help us.”

Both Mayor Lioneld Jordan and A&P Executive Director Marilyn Heifner have signed off on the idea.

“I don’t think you can ever go wrong when hearing from the people,” said Jordan.

The council voted unanimously to approve the plan. The A&P Commission is set to weigh in on the idea during its next regular meeting on Jan. 14.