Walton Arts Center board reaffirms commitment to Fayetteville

Design renderings depict an expanded Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street.

WAC/Boora Architects

Walton Arts Center board members voted Tuesday to finish a $23 million expansion of the center’s Dickson Street campus before raising any funds for a new arts center in Bentonville.

Board chairman Greg Lee brought forth the proposal to recommit to the Fayetteville project after a discussion about proposed changes to the arts center’s governing board.

The changes, which are intended to allow the arts center to operate as a regional entity instead of as an agent of the city of Fayetteville, were approved by the WAC board and the UA Board of Trustees last month.

Voters were shown a detailed expansion plan that included an expanded and reconfigured lobby with a built-in concession and ticketing center, expanded restrooms, and a reoriented staircase plan that would help unify the main and upstairs lobby areas.

WAC/Boora Architects

Fayetteville City Council members, however, delayed the final vote needed to approve the changes last week. Aldermen said they want additional assurances about the center’s planned expansion on Dickson Street to ensure voters receive what they were promised in the campaign for the Nov. 12 bond election, which is expected to generate about $6.5 million toward the project.

One alderman even suggested the changes should only go into effect after the Walton Arts Center has built or raised all the money needed for the renovated Fayetteville campus.

Lee said Tuesday he felt the arts center had already demonstrated its commitment to the Fayetteville facility in a variety of ways. He cited previous board resolutions to renovate the Dickson Street center, and the estimated $1.4 million in planning and design expenses already incurred toward the expansion as evidence of the board’s sincerity.

After hearing the City Council’s concerns, however, Lee said he felt the board should recommit to the project.

“I would like for us to pass this resolution that restates emphatically, and with some even more significant commitment, that we are all about getting this done,” said Lee.

Design renderings showed a renovated Starr Theater that includes a 250-seat space with retractable seats to allow for a broader range of events that cater to dance, music, education and more technical productions.

WAC/Boora Architects

The measure includes assurances that the board will not raise any money “to construct any additional new performance facilities within or outside of Fayetteville without first having funded and completed the construction of the Fayetteville expansion.” Any exception to the commitment, the resolution states, would require approval by the Fayetteville City Council.

The measure easily passed, but was opposed by Fayetteville-appointed board members Bill Waite and Steve Clark.

Waite said while he certainly supports the arts center’s expansion on Dickson Street, he believed Tuesday’s resolution was just an attempt to convince Fayetteville aldermen to pass the governance changes, which he does not support. Waite and Clark also opposed the governance change last month.

Fellow Fayetteville-appointed board member Hershey Garner questioned the opposing votes, and said the measure was not related to the proposed governance changes at all.

“The resolution you opposed says nothing about governance,” Garner told Waite.

Waite said while the language does not specifically mention the changes, he maintained that its intent is obvious.

“This is going to be used to try and seek a change in governance,” said Waite.

Fayetteville City Council members are set to revisit the issue on July 1.

Board-approved resolution

6/24/2014 Resolution #1

“Walton Arts Center (“WAC”) will make every reasonable good faith effort to raise the private monies necessary to fully fund and complete the construction of the Fayetteville WAC Expansion project as it was presented in the 2014 bond issue approved by the citizens of Fayetteville (“the Fayetteville Expansion”). As of June 15, 2014 total project estimates for the Fayetteville Expansion are $23 million. After applying the proceeds of the Bond issue of approximately $6.5 million, the WAC will need to raise from private donors approximately $16.5 million to fund completion of the Fayetteville Expansion. The Walton Arts Center Board will not undertake any additional fundraising projects for the specific purpose of sourcing private funds to construct any additional new performance facilities within or outside of Fayetteville without having first funded and completed the construction of the Fayetteville Expansion. Any exception to the foregoing commitment would require the agreement of the Fayetteville City Council.”