Fall special election could decide funding help for arts center, regional park plans

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

Flyer photo

Months of discussion over whether to use taxpayer money to help fund Walton Arts Center renovations and a regional park in southwest Fayetteville could come to a head this fall.

City Council members are considering a Nov. 12 special election that would ask voters for permission to extend HMR bonds originally approved 16 years ago to build the Fayetteville Town Center.

With the debt winding down, it’s time to decide whether to pay off the bonds completely or to continue using them to fund more tourism-related projects.

The plan

The proposed idea, brought forth by the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission, is to extend the bonds another 25 years to generate enough money to help the Walton Arts Center expand its Dickson Street facility and to get construction started on a long-planned, but un-funded regional park in southwest Fayetteville where the SouthPass mixed-use development was to be constructed.

Like the original Town Center bonds approved by voters in 1997, the new debt would be paid for using a portion of the commission’s half of the city’s 2 percent HMR tax added to hotel stays and food purchases in Fayetteville. In other words, approval of the bonds would not result in a tax increase, and denial would not lower taxes.

The proposed special election would consist of three ballot questions:

1. Should the estimated $1.5 million in remaining debt be refinanced to clear the way for new bonds?
2. Should $6.9 million in new bonds be issued to help fund Walton Arts Center expansions?
3. Should $3.5 million in new bonds be issued to help fund the regional park?

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

Walton Arts Center money

The Walton Arts Center money would go toward a construction project at the center’s Dickson Street campus, which calls for 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.

The arts center would still need about $13 million in donations and other funds to complete the project. A&P Commissioners gave $600,000 to the center in May to help fund the design of the expansion.

Park money

The park money would help begin construction of a 200-acre sports and recreation park where baseball, softball and soccer fields are planned, as well as: basketball, tennis and volleyball courts; playgrounds, trails, pavilions, a great lawn, a splash park and a concert amphitheater to attract touring artists.

At least $20 million would still be needed to fully complete the park, which is set to be built in several phases. The city has set aside about $4.5 million of its share of HMR tax collections for the park over the last 11 years. Voter-approved bond money would specifically fund the baseball, softball and soccer fields, plus any related facilities.

Aldermen are scheduled to begin an official discussion on the issue at the next City Council meeting on Aug. 6. City attorney Kit Williams requested that council members wait until at least the Aug. 20 meeting before making a final decision about the election.