Bond proposal could fund arts center expansion, regional park and amphitheater

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

Todd Gill

A plan to help the Walton Arts Center expand its Dickson Street facility has grown to include funding for a 200-acre regional park and a possible permanent home for the Arkansas Music Pavilion.

The Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission will soon discuss a proposal from A&P director Marilyn Heifner to seek nearly $24 million in voter-approved bonds to invest in a plan that could bring in millions of additional tax dollars each year for the foreseeable future.

The idea, according to Heifner, stemmed from studying ways the commission could grant a request from the Walton Arts Center that includes $6.5 million in extended Town Center bonds to help renovate the its Dickson Street campus.

“In investigating potential funding for the project, I also (began) looking at other longterm needs for the tourism industry in Fayetteville,” wrote Heifner in a Feb. 6 memo to commissioners.

Additional projects

Heifner focused on two projects that she believes would have the biggest impact on tourism tax collections in Fayetteville – a park large enough to host regional sports tournaments and a concert amphitheater to attract touring artists.

A conceptual rendering shows what an expanded Walton Arts Center could look like at the corner of Dickson Street and West Avenue in Fayetteville

Courtesy graphic

The park – a long-planned, but un-funded project in southwest Fayetteville where the SouthPass mixed-use development was to be constructed – would be built in several phases to include baseball, soccer, softball and multi-use fields; plus basketball, tennis and volleyball courts; playgrounds, trails, pavilions, a great lawn, water features and an amphitheater.

Expanding plans for the amphitheater to include a permanent home for the Arkansas Music Pavilion is part of Heifner’s idea to help keep the venue from leaving town.

Walton Arts Center officials began the search for a new home for the AMP after negotiations to construct a permanent facility at the Northwest Arkansas Mall fell through in January 2012.

Since then, the Washington County Fairgrounds has served as a temporary location for the venue. The arts center’s lease at the fairgrounds is good through the 2013 season, but beyond that, the future of the facility remains uncertain.

Heifner said with amphitheater construction included in the regional park, and a longterm lease with the Walton Arts Center, the AMP could stay in town and continue to provide tax proceeds and entertainment for residents.

A boost in tax collections

Heifner said numbers provided by the Arkansas Parks and Tourism department show that visitors spend an average of $246 during an overnight stay for tourism-related events.

Using those figures, preliminary estimates show that the potential economic impact of a regional park could reach as much as $4 million each year through the addition of 10 new youth baseball, soccer and softball tournaments.

Heifner said another $2 million could be generated once tennis courts, a disc golf course and an amphitheater are completed.

» Download Heifner’s full proposal

Source: A&P Commission

Funding ideas

Voters approved a $7 million bond issue in 1997 to build the Fayetteville Town Center. The A&P Commission uses a portion of its half of the city’s 2 percent HMR tax to make payments toward the debt, which is expected to be paid off in 2015.

According to Heifner’s memo, preliminary figures show an extension of those bonds could generate about $11.3 million.

If a portion of city Parks and Recreation funds – which come from the other half of the HMR tax – are included, another $12.3 million could be generated on top of the $4.5 million the city has set aside in reserves for the park.

Next steps

When reached on Thursday, alderman and commission member Matthew Petty called the plan “a good start,” but said a host of details would still need to be worked out before he’d be in full support.

For example, additional capital and operational funds would still be required for the plan to come to fruition, considering the park alone is estimated to cost about $27 million.

Options could include dipping into city reserves, using parkland dedication fees, or seeking private funds from donations or naming rights.

The commission’s next meeting is Monday, Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. inside the Town Center conference room on the downtown square.

A&P Funds

Legislation created the Advertising and Promotion Commission in 1977 with the passage of the Hotel, Motel, Restaurant (HMR) tax in Fayetteville. The 2 percent tax is split equally between the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and the A&P Commission. The parks money is used for parks maintenance, operations and for capital improvements. The self-reported numbers do not include retail or liquor sales.

» See recent collection totals