Sunday, February 17, 2008

Last One Leaving, Turn Out the Lights

Is Downtown Fayetteville about to become a ghost town? It seems of late that every major institution is moving on out. More room is needed, and it would be cheaper to build somewhere else, we are told. There are other costs to our community, besides just the price of new construction, that must be considered.

It started a few years ago when the Fayetteville Youth Center Board of Directors, led by Republican businessman Jeff Koenig, decided to build the new Boys and Girls Club out west of I-540. Mayor Fred Hanna abetted that bad decision by kicking in over $800,000 of taxpayer funds, and we are still paying thousands each year in transportation costs and pumping out the carbon to get students from town out to Rupple Road. It wasn't long afterwards that the Fayetteville School Board followed by closing Jefferson School and building Owl Creek in the same remote area at the urging of Superintendent Bobby New.

Washington County Judge Jerry Hunton and the Quorum Court hired an out-of-state consultant for $95,000 to help them get a grip on space needs. The report says it would be cheaper to build a new courts building down south of town by the new jail for $27 million instead of remodeling the current
Courthouse for $35 million. What a deal.

Walton Arts Center is also complaining about needing more space and a bigger theatre, and its Board has hired out-of-state consultants to study expansion plans. Rogers Mayor Steve Womack said he has talked with the consultants and would welcome relocation to his city, and Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin suggested that the WAC would provide synergy with the Crystal Bridges art museum in his city. Bill Ramsey, President of the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds, said, “I would shudder to think what the positive future of Dickson Street would be without the Walton Arts Center.”

Mr. Ramsey, however, is all for moving Fayetteville High School out of town and away from its current proximity to the Walton Arts Center and the University, as is Republican businessman Jeff Koenig. There is money to be made, and they don't think that sentimental history and a sense of community should be allowed to get in the way of another opportunity for developers to cash in on sprawl. They are trying to tell us that remodeling and expanding the current location would be disruptive, which could also be said about the courthouse and the Walton Arts Center expansions. Then they try to tell use it would be cheaper to build a new plant out near Wheeler, but that might not be quite right either. To paraphrase Bobby New, they make money on sprawl for a living.

So, when the cheaper and newer crowd prevails and downtown Fayetteville loses the Courthouse, the High School, and the Walton Arts Center, there will be lots of free parking downtown. There just won't be any reason to go there.

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