Thursday, February 19, 2015

Arkansas Arts Center announces study for new building

Posted By on Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 3:56 PM

click to enlarge IT'S OFFICIAL: Study of new facility for Arkansas Arts Center is underway.
  • IT'S OFFICIAL: Study of new facility for Arkansas Arts Center is underway.

The pieces keep falling in place for a move toward a new facility for the Arkansas Arts Center, currently in a Little Rock-owned and governed building in MacArthur Park, but displaying work owned by the private nonprofit Arkansas Arts Center Foundation.

We've been reporting on a plan under study by North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith to raise the city sales tax temporarily and use a portion of the money, plus private contributions, for an arts complex on the Arkansas River between Main Street and the Verizon Arena.

The news today is a statement from Bobby Tucker, a Stephens Inc. executive who is chair of the Foundation board. The Arts Center distributed this e-mail from Tucker:

From: Bobby Tucker
Subject: Press Release

February 18, 2015
Arkansas Arts Center Foundation
Board of Directors Meeting

“ In response to the Arkansas Arts Center ( AAC) strategic planning, the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation ( AACF) will pursue proposals for a new and visionary building.” AAC Executive Director Todd Herman to engage a firm to do an analysis for space needs for the AAC.

Leslie Peacock foretold this development last week. The Arts Center needs more space and there are concerns about conservation of the collection in the existing facility. Little Rock officials aren't happy about a potential move of the center, but have yet to step forward with a concrete proposal of any sort. Joe Smith, at last report, said he still hadn't gotten official results of a private poll, arising from the tight circle of Arts Center backers including the Foundation and other high Stephens executives, that have been leading discussions about the idea. I've written that I expect the results to suggest a closely split electorate on a tax proposal to build an arts complex and also pay for public service improvements.

The concrete news today reminds me of the headline on a Feb. 11 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial:

Non-story of the week
Much ado about an arts center.

The editorial commented that everybody was talking about something that "isn't news but only rumor, speculation,  the usual free-floating scuttlebutt." It was a story with "no there there," the editorial said, this talk of a cultural center in North Little Rock  "... it turned out there was nothing to all the talk except talk."

The talk now includes hiring a firm to analyze space needs and pursuit by the Foundation of proposals for a new building for the Arkansas Arts Center.

UPDATE: Mayor Smith called. He confirms now that the polling was done by the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation. He says he has no copy of results to give and limited his comment on it to this:

I've seen a lot of polls in my day. I think after seeing the results of this poll the citizens of North Little Rock are ready to support this project.

He said he couldn't recall all the specific numbers, saying, "I can only give you my evaluation of what I believe the numbers mean."

What's next? For now, nothing. "The Foundation needs to figure out what its options are." Smith said he'd support whatever the Foundation decides on a location, though naturally prefers his North Little Rock site.

"It sounds to me like the Arts Center wants to do big things and I certainly support their visionary approach as they consider what their long-term options are. My hands are tied until they decide what to do."

He said he'd wait for Tucker to call with what he believes to be the next step.


It takes time to plan an election, Smith said. For example, an August special election would need to be set by the City Council by the preceding May. He said a special election would best be held in a non-general-election year, either 2015 or 2017. But he said it was important not to delay too long and he thought there was a possibility that the proposal could go forward this year.

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