Thursday, May 22, 2008

Like a Frog in Boiling Water

Mayor Dan Coody said last week that there is no way to estimate how much money might be needed for an expansion project necessary to keep the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. Yesterday, we found out. The Arts Consulting Group says it will be $180 million. The consultants also recommended three acres of land for the 106,000 square feet of buildings and 10 acres for parking.

The next phase of the consulting study will recommend the best location, but everyone at yesterday's meeting and not smoking crack knew what is coming. They've already hinted that a location near the Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville would be nifty. They will keep the Fayetteville facility open as a substation as long as it isn't too expensive and can pay its own way selling tickets for the table scraps from the larger main facility.

It is about the money. A bond salesman told the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission last week that they could try to refinance the debt on the Town Center for another 25 years and get maybe $5.8 million to spend on the Walton Arts Center. The
Northwest Arkansas Times praised Mayor Coody for inviting the bond salesman to the meeting. That leaves only another $175 million left to raise, assuming that there are no "hiccups" or surprise cost overruns, but Executive Director Marilyn Heifner says bond payments and staff salaries are already so high that the A&P Commission doesn't have even $35,000 to support the Fayetteville Arts Festival.

The University of Arkansas is also a founding partner and a principal beneficiary of having the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, but UA Vice Chancellor
Don Pederson said he was unsure what the university would choose to do should the center's board opt to move out of Fayetteville. For some reason, the UA seems much more interested in raising student tuition and spending $60 million to buy the Fayetteville High School campus than in addressing the immediate needs for funds to keep the Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street.

Private money, as always, is what is driving the decision to move the main facility to Benton County. While most people attending performances at the WAC are from Washington County, the business community in Benton County contributes three times the amount of corporate contributions to support the center's operations as received from Washington County. The local
Cowbirds have not been of much help to anyone except themselves on this public-private partnership.

So, we did nothing and lost the United Way offices to Benton County. It now looks like the main facilities for the Walton Arts Center will be going north. And tomorrow is the deadline for proposals to the Site Selection Committee of the Northwest Arkansas Science Center
for the proposed museum.

Regardless of what happens, don't blame Mayor Coody or the Cowbirds for a failure of community leadership. They might dismiss you as an "extremist" trying "to set the city heading backwards in its development." So just keep quiet and don't even think about requesting a citizen forum to explore possible solutions on the Government Channel. The PTB don't want the opinions or help of ordinary citizens. They know what is best and will take care of it.

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