Q&A on moving the Arkansas Arts Center to North Little Rock | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Q&A on moving the Arkansas Arts Center to North Little Rock

Posted By on Tue, Feb 3, 2015 at 11:45 AM

TALK OF A NEW LOCATION: For the Arkansas Arts Center.
  • TALK OF A NEW LOCATION: For the Arkansas Arts Center.

Our item last night
about an idea to raise $100 million in public and private money to build an arts complex on the North Little Rock riverfront, with a relocated Arkansas Arts Center as its centerpiece, has spurred quite a bit of conversation.

As detailed here, the tentative idea — mostly from confidential sources — would be for $60 million from a 10-year, one-cent sales tax, half devoted to police and fire needs in North Little Rock and at least $40 million from private sources, specifically the Stephens family of Little Rock, long the major patrons of the Arkansas Arts Center. North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith has confirmed the financial scope of the project, but not specific players.

I learned late last night that another tentative piece of the idea to create a multi-building "campus" devoted to the arts and tourism could be a move of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre from Main Street in Little Rock. Under this idea, the Arkansas Arts Center children's theater would combine with the Rep's effort for children in the old facility. Robert Hupp, The Rep's director, hasn 't returned my call. And, again, all this  is just a concept at this point. (UPDATE: I talked with Hupp. He said he can't comment.) But I have confirmed that the conceptualizing is about more than the Arkansas Arts Center. A few of the questions that have arisen as I've talked with a wide variety of interested parties:

Why move the Arts Center?

The building needs a lot of work. It has leaks. It needs a new boiler. It is reaching the limit on storage space. Conservation of its world-class drawing collection is an ongoing concern. The city of Little Rock, though it has increased support for the city-owned building, can't in its current financial situation provide greatly enhanced funding. Or perhaps there's a belief it won't. Many people believe it is easier to get things done with North Little Rock's mayor-council government than with Little Rock's blended form of government —  a city manger and a mayor with limited powers and a board that's a mixture of ward and at-large representatives.

Has anybody thought about the consequences of vacating the Arts Center? At least a little. It was expanded by a $30 million private campaign some years ago. Could there be a creative process to come up with an interesting re-use.? Ideally, in this way of thinking, it would be an institution like a college or public school with bonding capacity for conversion.

Will patrons support the Arts Center in North Little Rock?

Don't laugh. The image of "Dogtown" dies hard among old-timers and, particularly, old money in Little Rock. Some people simply see the river as a barrier. I happen to think that if people will travel across the country to Bentonville they will cross a river from Little Rock, particularly if the plan were to be sold around the concentration of arts, entertainment and public facilities now becoming a solid nucleus in the core of the city, from the Clinton Library to the under-renovation Robinson Center. Also, if influential people say it's OK, this should influence others. A major investment by someone of Warren Stephens' stature would mean something to some people.

Are North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith and private supporters thinking big enough?

Again, don't laugh. $100 million is a lot to you and me. But in terms of building and maintaining major public facilities it's not a lot. Verizon Arena cost $80 million 16 years ago, when the dollar was worth more. It built an 18,000-seat arena, which is nice, but not as sophisticated or as design-important as magnetic arts facilities could and should be.

Indeed, a project not big enough to excite the imagination sufficiently might spell death of the idea before it is born. I looked the other day at details of a performing arts center project in Kansas City, underwritten by the Kauffman family and designed by the architect who designed Crystal Bridges. The family put almost $500 million into the project, including a $40 million maintenance endowment. The only city taxpayer contribution was $47 million — for a parking garage.

What about Little Rock?

Little Rock can be expected to make an effort to keep its art institutions. Leaders are rankled at North Little Rock's angling for them. The county tax on Verizon Arena was a cooperative venture, with the understanding that athletic facilities would go to North Little Rock, but exhibit halls would be Little Rock's purview. That tax helped the Little Rock convention center expansion.

Little Rock only assesses a 2-cent hamburger tax. North Little Rock assesses three. An added Little Rock penny could be imposed and dedicated to arts institutions, including providing for some elements of the Arts Center on the Main Street creative corridor. Think a "teaser" building aimed at directing people to the Arts Center in MacArthur Park.

There are also some legal questions about taking the Arts Center collection to a non-Little Rock location — a city commission governs the Arts Center — though the city apparently transferred ownership from the museum to the private foundation many years ago.

What are the chances of anything happening?

A wise man today put them to me at 20 percent.

On balance — whatever your feelings on the specifics — I'd rather be debating a $100 million cultural investment in the community than responding to a disaster.

Has anybody suggested that floating this idea was meant to spur a greater LR investment in the Arts Center? 

Yes.

UPDATE: Leslie Newell Peacock has new information on Eye Candy about Little Rock leaders' cool reaction to the idea, including an interview with Mayor Mark Stodola.

UPDATE II: The Arts Center Foundation has weighed in with a "not at this time" statement, but …...



Tags: , , , , ,


Sign up for the Daily Update email
Favorite

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • LR charter school application withdrawn for this year

    Friendship Aspire Academy has withdrawn its request to move up plans to open a charter school in Little Rock by a year to take advantage of a vacant building being remodeled by the Walton Family Foundation for another charter operator that withdrew.
    • Jun 20, 2018
  • Another prison death under investigation

    John Howell, 58, who was serving a life sentence for capital murder in Garland County, died shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday after being found unresponsive on the floor of his barracks at the Cummins Unit, a spokesman said.
    • Jun 20, 2018
  • With Trump, of course, there's a catch

    So the heroic Donald Trump proposes a compromise to tearing families apart - jailing them indefinitely.
    • Jun 20, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Trump immigration protest at LR: Quick and fierce

    It was not even 24 hours ago that Sophia Said, director of the Interfaith Center; City Director Kathy Webb and others decided to organize a protest today of Donald Trump's executive order that has left people from Muslim countries languishing in airports or unable to come to the US at all — people with visas, green cards,a  post-doc graduate student en route to Harvard, Google employees abroad, families. I got the message today before noon; others didn't find out until it was going on. But however folks found out, they turned out in huge numbers, more than thousand men, women and children, on the grounds of the state Capitol to listen to speakers from all faiths and many countries.
    • Jan 29, 2017
  • Greenbrier's paddling of student protester goes worldwide

    The paddling of Greenbrier High School students who joined in te national school walkout Wednesday has produced headlines worldwide.
    • Mar 17, 2018
  • Campus gun bill clears committee

    The so-called compromise amendment that will allow anyone 25 or older with a training certificate carry a concealed weapon on public college campuses was approved in a Senate committee this afternoon.
    • Feb 21, 2017

Most Recent Comments

Slideshows

 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation