Thursday, June 14, 2012

State Fair to stay put in Little Rock

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 10:28 AM

FAIRGROUND LIVES: Elvis is no longer in the building, but Barton Coliseum will remain an anchor of the Arkansas State Fair, which is staying put in Little Rock.
  • FAIRGROUND LIVES: Elvis is no longer in the building, but Barton Coliseum will remain an anchor of the Arkansas State Fair, which is staying put in Little Rock.
Good guess by me last night. (It was a guess informed by what insiders had been telling me.)

The State Fair will stay put in Little Rock. David Koon is covering the Fair Board meeting and will have more details before long.

Offers of land in North Little Rock and Jacksonville seemed tempting, but came with no construction money, which would have been in the tens of millions. And the fair's own consultants said the fair couldn't expect much better than break-even results financially at even a new, freeway-friendlier site with additional facilities.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola has pitched several ideas for expansion of existing fairgrounds for more facilities and included some fair money in the city's recent sales tax increase spending plans. He's talked, too, of a direct highway link to Interstate 30 south of the grounds, though this would be an expensive undertaking.

The fair's current location, amid a faded neighborhood, has been a long concern.


Stodola has pledged $300,000 a year for 10 years, with the ability of the fair to make a "draw" against the larger amount for renovations and bigger projects. Plan is to build a pedestrian bridge running parallel to the south side of the Roosevelt Road viaduct and over the railroad tracks — construction beginning in 2013 — so the fair can extend west. City and fair in negotiations with the railroad to move the spur immediately adjacent to the fairgrounds so the fair can extend west immediately, though changes definitely wont be in place by October.

You can see a larger version of the detailed map of the expansion plan on the jump.

The vote was a foregone conclusion. It came with an already-assembled press packet that said the Little Rock plan of more acreage plus a total $3 million commitment was the critical factor.

Said Association Chairman Ned Ray Purtle in a prepared statement: "Much to our surprise, in the end, a giant door opened with the exciting prospects of expanding right where we are — and without the price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars! One of the great side benefits will be that we are going to be the catalyst to rebuilding and growing this Little Rock neighborhood that we've called home all these years."

Here's the city's detailed proposal, which includes promises to try to steer more events to the Fairgrounds (a recent decision to put the high school basketball tournament there has been panned by state sportswriters, though Barton remains a decent basketball facility) and to attempt to line up naming rights deals on facilities. The city also said it was in the process of demolishing decrepit homes nearby and will commit to adequate police coverage of the area.

The city's promise to work to acquire land to the east of the Fairgrounds has already drawn an unhappy response from Dr. Anika Whitfield, who's also active in the community group fighting condemnation of residential property for the Little Rock Technology Park. She her letter to city officials on the jump.

ALSO: Housing Authority Commissioner Kenyon Lowe said the housing agency, which owns a significant chunk of the land east of the State Fair underneath the Sunset Terrace housing project (see map on jump), is committed to rebuilding that project. He said the mayor had not spoken to the authority about use of that property and that it would "behoove" the State Fair to look west and south for new land rather than east. He said it was a matter of commitment to residents for the Metropolitan Housing Alliance to continue with that rebuilding plan.

EXPANDED GROUNDS: Fair General Manager Ralph Shoptaw shows map of expanded grounds.
  • David Koon
  • EXPANDED GROUNDS: Fair General Manager Ralph Shoptaw shows map of expanded grounds.



Mayor Stodoloa, City Manager Moore, and the members of the City Board of Directors,

I just heard about the AR State Fairground Board's decision to stay in LR.

According to today's post on AR,
"Little Rock promised to help acquire about 51 acres east of the current site and work to merge two sets of railroad tracks north of Wright Avenue, which would free up roughly 34 acres just west of the fairgrounds for expansion."

I hope that the city recognizes that "51 acres east of the current site" are primarily homes of people who have raised generations of children that have paid city taxes and helped provide the resources from which our city has been able to grow and sustain itself. The residents in this area and community are predominately Black and retired people.

"Acquiring 51 acres east of (the AR State Fairgrounds) the current site" means taking people's homes. People are not property and should not be treated or disregarded as such.

Homes are not places you can replace by relocating people. Homes are places where people share personal, private, monumental, treasured moments that are priceless.

This is another instance that I believe the city has failed to "see" the citizens perspective in "promising to help acquire 51 acres east of the (AR State Fairground's) current site...", but has "seen" an opportunity to "sell" the people and their homes who have helped build and develop the cities revenue from their hard earned tax dollars for financial gains of the city of Little Rock. The city's position to "help acquire 51 acres east of (the AR State Fairgrounds) the current site" is equivalent to selling the health and livelihood of some for the financial gains of others.

Little Rock does not need to become the city known as "Big on Slavery" (treating people as property rather than as humans by selling people out and displacing them from their homes and communities for financial gains and profit without regard to their human rights).

Unfortunately, many people who are in power and privileged by wealth have the misconception that power and wealth equals dominance and control rather than acknowledging a higher level of responsibility and accountability to those who have less among them.

We need our city and state government elected officials to find better ways of growing the city and state to provide economic, educational, and community stability and growth for the citizens that live here, pay taxes here, and elect public officials to serve and protect them here.

I hope that you will clear up any misunderstanding or any incorrect usage of your words or plans to assist the AR State Fairgrounds in making people lose their homes to expand the fairgrounds in Little Rock. I hope you will encourage Governor Beebe and the AR State Fairgrounds Board to not use eminent domain and wrongfully evict, displace, and destroy neighborhoods for the sake of making more money for our city. I hope you and Governor Beebe and the AR State Fairgrounds Board can find a suitable location that exits off 630, 30, or 430 that will not displace people from their homes and communities.

In building a better Little Rock, people should matter, residents should matter, and tax-payers should matter.

I urge you to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." No one has threatened the loss of your home or your family member's home for the sake of expanding the AR State Fairgrounds.

My grandparents lived in that neighborhood for years and raised their 6 children in Little Rock paying city and state taxes and serving the least of these working as a nurse, teacher, life insurance agent, carpenter, and landlord. They helped people with their health care, home care, and life essential needs sacrificing their gifts, talents, time, and resources. My parents and uncle still live in the area east of the AR State Fairgrounds and are continuing the legacy my grandparents left behind by caring for my uncle and neighbors in the community.

Please don't dishonor my grandparents legacy and take my family's home. Please don't destroy our family history, family home, and break up our community just to make more money for the city.

Homes are where the heart is. Please don't put this community on life support by removing their hearts (homes) from them.

I would appreciate your response to this letter and hope that you will share your comments publicly as well.

Peace and Blessings!

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