WAC board votes to move Arkansas Music Pavilion to Rogers

Walton Arts Center president Peter Lane discusses the proposed new location of the Arkansas Music Pavilion during a meeting of the WAC board held Tuesday afternoon inside the center’s Starr Theater in Fayetteville.

Photo by Todd Gill, Flyer staff

The Arkansas Music Pavilion’s 2013 season will be its last in Fayetteville.

Members of the Walton Arts Center’s board of directors voted Tuesday to move the outdoor music venue to undeveloped land across Interstate 540 from Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers, ending the AMP’s nine-year run of concerts in its hometown.

Officials began the search for a new home for the AMP early last year after lease negotiations fell through at the Northwest Arkansas Mall and the venue was moved to a temporary site at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

Rumors of an AMP move to Benton County, coupled with hints from WAC president Peter Lane that Fayetteville wasn’t the only city being considered, came to a head last week when leaked documents sent to board members suggested a near-done deal for the new Rogers location. Those documents also mentioned a May 28 special board meeting where the new location would be discussed.

A rendering by Rogers-based Core Architects shows what a new Arkansas Music Pavilion would look like in Rogers off I-540 near the Pinnacle Hills Promenade.


Included in the documents were memos from Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and a Fayetteville-appointed WAC board member. In the memos, Clark questioned the short notice of the meeting and wondered why no sites had been discussed in detail, including a potential location at a planned regional park in southwest Fayetteville near I-540.

Lane said Tuesday recently gifted land and several key donations prompted the decision to move on the new site, which he added was the only location that met the board’s list of must-haves for a permanent AMP home.

The criteria, Lane said, included donated land with no existing, competing uses in place; close proximity to I-540, including at least two access points for ingress and egress; availability to construct permanent infrastructure; and enough space for a canopy-style venue with permanent facilities like a stage house, restrooms, concessions and parking.

Lane said the southwest Fayetteville location was considered, but with questions over how the regional park would be funded and no guarantees in place for infrastructure, he said the area “has never been a viable site.”

Lane said after reviewing the original master plan for the park, officials discovered several other factors which removed the location from their short list, including competing use issues surrounding planned regional sporting events, a lack of adequate parking, and a lack of planned multiple interstate access roads. Overall, Lane said the site was “clouded with uncertainty.”

Other sites were also considered, Lane said, including an area near Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, but only the Rogers site met all the criteria and offered the combination of required financial and land donations.

Lane said 91 percent of the estimated $11 million needed to build the new concert venue is already accounted for and includes a $1.5 million gift from the Walker Foundation; a $2.5 million gift from an anonymous donor; a $3 million interest-free loan plus donated land from Johnelle Hunt; a $500,000 pledge from the city of Rogers; and about $1.5 million in pending gifts, naming rights donations and expected sales of box seats. Cash reserves and a $1.5 million loan from Arvest Bank would round out the funding for the new venue.

Fayetteville-appointed WAC board members Hershey Garner (left) and Steve Clark were at odds Tuesday during a discussion over whether the group should approve a proposal to move the AMP from Fayetteville to Rogers.

Photo by Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Despite receiving answers to some of his inquiries, Clark said too many details were left up in the air and pressed the group to consider waiting a few weeks until the next board meeting before jumping to approve the proposal. More time to process the details of such a major vision, he said, would make for an easier road to fruition.

“If you look at the end before you get to the means, you sometimes find those means become torture,” he said. “Where’s the fire?”

Bill Waite, owner of Dickson Street Liquor and another Fayetteville-appointed WAC board member, agreed with Clark, but the two were alone in their cause.

Board member Hershey Garner, a radiation oncologist and longtime local philanthropist who was also appointed by Fayetteville officials, said the proposal should be looked at on its merits, not its process.

He called the proposal a “no-brainer” that fits perfectly in with the arts center’s regional, multi-campus strategy that was put in place when the board voted to build a second performing arts hall in Bentonville.

With that strategy in mind, Garner called Clark’s questions about why Fayetteville wasn’t given more consideration an unproductive use of time and said the news articles and editorials which followed Clark’s inquiries to the board might’ve created an unnecessary controversy.

“When we have questions, we should talk about them together,” said Garner.

Garner called the discussion a “self-inflicted wound” that could ultimately make fundraising more difficult at a time when the arts center hopes to gain support in Fayetteville for a $12 million bond issue that would help expand its Dickson Street facility.

“48 hours after we received the confidential board packet about this agenda, three media pieces appeared, which appeared to be single-sourced, misinformed pieces that I think, as a city of Fayetteville representative, injured our city, injured our arts center, injured the board, and injured our state staff,” he said.

Garner motioned to end the discussion and immediately put the proposal to vote. The 20-member group approved both motions with Clark and Waite casting the only “no” votes.

The new venue, Lane said, will hold over 6,000 people and will include 3,000 covered seats and a stage house large enough to accommodate most touring acts on the road today.

“This new outdoor amphitheater will attract bigger acts and position Northwest Arkansas alongside major concert markets,” he said. “A new venue will also mean tourists travel here for concerts, instead of the other way around.”

Lane said final designs for the new facility should be completed sometime next month and that construction would likely begin in August. If all goes according to plan, the new AMP will be open by late June 2014, just in time for next year’s season.