Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Walton Arts Center Expansion

Yesterday was the deadline for proposals related to the expansion plans for the Walton Arts Center. Here's the weak proposal from the Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce, and here's the even more insulting one from the Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce. Then there is the poor one from the Springdale Chamber of Commerce that brags about the availability of billboards, but at least they tried, unlike the smug drivel submitted by Bentonville and Rogers. There were also numerous suggestions from people wanting to sell their real estate.

The joint proposal from the City of Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas is awesome. Totally awesome. It presents a thoughtful and detailed narrative instead of the glib representations from the other applicants. It addresses each issue and provides both specific plans and helpful designs. It includes funding mechanisms for parking decks and theaters. It throws in bigtime concerts in Bud Walton Arena and Razorback Stadium. No other proposal can touch it, and the others should slink away in shame. However, if you want to hear the opinions of local residents who don't like anything about the current Walton Arts Center or the joint proposal for expansion in Fayetteville, drop by to read the comments on the Fayetteville Flyer, here and here.

Will the Fayetteville-University proposal be accepted, or will the Walton Arts Center Board decide to build the huge theater expansion project in what one local leader dubbed "a big field in a dry county"? We will soon know. We will know soon whether Peter Lane and the WAC Board were seriously seeking strong proposals or running a charade as cover for decisions already made elsewhere. We will know whether it is called the Walton Arts Center because it honored the role of Helen and Sam Walton among the founding forces of the Fayetteville institution, or whether it is called that because the Walton Family Foundation can wield its checkbook and demand that it be built in Benton County.

Either way, the Fayetteville-University proposal smokes them all on merit. Congratulations to Mayor Jordan and Chancellor Gearhart on an excellent proposal.


  1. Springdale as Walton Arts Center destination. That's a howler. They won't even support the admirable Shiloh Museum nor the Arts Center of the Ozarks.

    Perry Webb and gang have outlived their usefulness. The baseball park is just that and nothing more. Never will be. They don't even have a decent N S road to the joint.

  2. Thanks Dave. I had forgotten how appealing billboards are to a fine arts community.

  3. Pardon me for being a pixel hog but this LTE is in NWA Newspapers (Aug 3) and will soon disappear so I'm posting it in entirety. It sums up some events...

    "There seems to be confusion about what the Walton Arts Center is and what their plans are.

    The WAC is the organization that has a contract with the city of Fayetteville to operate the facilty on Dickson Street. This facilty is and has been the premier performing arts center for the entire region since it was built. It is the linchpin of the entertainment and cultural hub of Northwest Arkansas and had much to do with the rebirth of central Fayetteville.

    Its importance as an economic draw and quality-of-life resource for the city is unquestioned.

    What the WAC erroneously calls an expansion is in reality a replacement. The new facilty will be the premier performing arts center for Northwest Arkansas.

    It has been established that Northwest Arkansas is not large enough for two major performing arts centers. The new facilty will be the only major performing arts center for the region. The current facilty will be a second-rate venue that diminishes Fayetteville’s standing as Northwest Arkansas’ entertainment and cultural hub if the new facilty is built away from the city.

    WAC officials have attempted and in large part succeeded in framing this discussion in terms favorable to their position. Using words like “expansion” and phrases like “Fayetteville is the WAC’s home and always will be,” they have managed to divert attention from what is actually happening - the probable removal of the region’s premiere performing arts centerfrom Fayetteville.

    If the decision is to build the replacement facility away from Fayetteville, then it is essential that the WAC organization not be allowed to control the present facility. I believe their main goal in keeping control of the present facilty is to eliminate competition for ticket sales and financial support for the new facilty.

    Fayetteville needs to be free to attract whatever events it can to the center on Dickson Street and not be restricted by what an organization that abandoned the city allows. Between the city of Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas, a new, exciting start can be had for the present facilty and a new sponsor found.
    DANIEL MANER / Fayetteville"

  4. LTE = Letter to the Editor

    There is very comprehensive and in-depth coverage, along with a great deal of commentary on Fayetteville Flyer.

    Not trying to take anything away from The Iconoclast here, which has been a source of opinion and singular perspective for quite some time--but the crew at the Flyer have become, in the view of some (me included) probably the best NEWS source in NWA.

  5. L: Really appreciate the LTE. Saw it & am glad others will now as well.
    *Charade* of smoke indeed.
    At least the southerly proposals will call the Board out as you say.
    But in terms of the *way we've always done it,* prob. a done deal long ago. & we ain't gonna be part of it.
    Time for some new thinking.
    As to Springdale: (forget get your ass out of town by sundown) their new sign should read: CURSED BY DIVERSITY.

  6. What is a "major" or "premiere" performing arts center" as here conceived, if not a very big venue for very big musicals? Aren't there other forms of "performing arts"? What performing arts won't fit into the buildings already on Dickson Street? I do see that we aren't talking about local talent, of which there is plenty, nor about UA performances, nor about small high quality concerts, plays, etc. that can be booked, we're talking about traveling extravaganzas. Is Fayetteville so resource-less that it can't prosper without another performance of Les Miserables? Do we really have to gut downtown Fayetteville for a few more tourist dollars? Have we overbuilt and overpermitted to such an extent? One thing's for sure, most comments about the plans show keener interest in economics than in arts.

  7. Whoa 11:09.
    You must be a dog person, because it is clear you do not like

    Is it not more a matter of attracting those (few) who have the means to pay for extra=vaganzas, as you call them?
    Has not the intent always been to make Dickson a comfort zone for our local new-faux richies?
    And certainly there are always a few under-employed contractor / developers who are willing to bid for those guvmint $$.

  8. Man,
    I want some extra
    vaganzas. I'm a little short right now.

  9. The iconoclast is a working man's volunteer effort.
    The Flyer is a profit-making commercial publication. So they have the time and motivation to do all they do. And that is good. The newspaper conglomerate hasn't figured out how to pay their reporters and provide an internet site of significance.

  10. .

    "The newspaper conglomerate hasn't figured out how to pay their reporters and provide an internet site of significance."

    Save for the Arkansas Times. You will find politics, art, entertainment and local development in abundance, sometimes even some NWA reporting.


  11. @L.
    Re: The Arkansas Times--

    Just wish they'd stop letting Richard Drake embarrass Fayetteville, and themselves, by writing that "Street Jazz" blog.

    They are better than that. At least I thought so.

  12. Do you remember when the Arkansas Times was a sweet little slick magazine, certainly not the New Yorker, but very special for our state?
    It may be more significant now but it is sad that owner of the former Palmer newspapers couldn't keep the newspaper war a continuing reality after he shut down the Gazette. The Donrey papers never even tried to compete. Never wrote an editorial with a discernible opinion and never allowed a reporter to investigate anything.
    Nice to have the Arkansas Times today.

  13. Couldn't agree more, Aubrey. It'll be a sad day in Arkansas when Max suffers that big coronary...it'll be like the second death of the Gazette. State repukians are probably drooling just thinking of it.
    Long like Brantley, but he needs to get Warick Sabin back just for backup.

  14. Ok children, back in your seats! Its clear that no one can focus after 1pm on a Friday. Topic at hand is the WAC expansion and the potential for further gutting of downtown Fayetteville.

    Does anyone know whether making the UofA a partner in this venture would allow for the taking of private property via eminant domain?

  15. The U of A and the city are both entities that have the power of eminent domain.

    I was impressed by the joint proposal by the city and the U of A. It is a product that clearly took a lot of thought, work, creativity and coordination...and it is persuasive. I honestly didn't think we had it in us. All of those involved with this proposal deserve a thank you.

    If the Walton Foundation has their hearts set on splitting the WAC into different sites, I would hope that the same momentum that inspired this latest proposal would allow us to consider doing it alone without them.

  16. Interesting to note the music stage at 1st Friday in Bentonville is sponsored by the Walton Arts Center. The music for 1st Thursdays in Fayetteville is not.

  17. Don't underestimate the trainwreck that is The Cosmo (thanks John Nock) in being an additional factor causing WAC to move. How embarrassing is it for WAC to put troupes up there. The Waltons are building a fancy hotel up in Bville, and when they move WAC up there, that's where the traveling shows will stay.

    Also, back in June, Bentonville had basically the Fayetteville Fine Arts Festival (remember that ?) up on their square. There was a schedule of performances and events over a couple of days, in the newspaper. It had WAC all over it, had local acts, etc. Daniel Hintz, former Exec Dir. of Dickson St/Downtown Entertainment District now does the same thing, except up in Bville. I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist, and I hate to break it to you folks but...

    Everything that was, or is, good about Fayetteville's arts and cultural scene, including the WAC, is ultimately going to be transplanted up to Bentonville, such that over time, Bentonville will be the cultural and artistic focal point and Fayetteville will be a has been.

    Rome was not built in a day. Over time Bville will have in place...Crystal Bridges, fancy hotel, Bville Fine Arts Festival, First Friday, WAC. In the last phase will be some nice restaurants, coffee houses/dessert places around the theater, and before you know it viola, the transplanting will have been complete.

  18. Anonymous 4:27 PM--

    There are two reasons why the total transformation you envision will not happen. First, the University of Arkansas is not in Bentonville. Without a local cooperating institution of that magnitude, there will be no underlying arts framework to attach such an endeavor to.

    Second, the citizenry of Bentonville-- particularly while it is shot through with transient vendor paper-pushers who are worked to death-- will never provide the support for the arts that Fayetteville already has. Even if the Waltons tell them to.

    A cultural and artistic focal point doesn't operate in a vacuum. An equally likely scenario is one in which the expanded facilities are in Fayetteville, with other people's names all over them.

  19. David,
    With all due respect, that's why this move is happening... the vendor community (except for P & G) which underwrites so much of the programming is in Bville, Rogers, Lowell, etc, and they and the other moneyed supporters up north are tired of having to make the long trek south for an evening's entertainment.

    Hard as it may be to believe, the University isn't nearly as powerful as the money that flows in from the vendors and other wealthy people up north.

  20. I will also support the view that the UofA isn't nearly as powerful, or supportive of the WAC, as they would have us believe. First, the UofA really does nothing to create an "underlying arts framework". It has its framework that works for it, and the WAC has its own. Not a whole lot of cross-pollination there, however much was promised when the WAC was being developed.

    Second, if the UofA was so hugely important in this, why didn't they commit any monetary support? Only a maybe on that and the use of the two big venues.

    Third, the citizenry of Bentonville and surrounding area already support the arts and the City's efforts to create an arts- and entertainment-based event environment. Witness a 1st Thursday in Fayetteville. Then go to 1st Friday in Bentonville. Absolutely no comparison. In Fayetteville? Maybe 350 people, no band (a DJ playing hip-hop), few artists (outside the Underground) and not much happening. In Bentonville? About 3,000 people, it starts around lunchtime and has a great band (last Friday it was jazz), a cool theme every month, lots of arts vendors, food vendors, fun stuff for kids (let's get them exposed to art!) and a very fun atmosphere.

    And the WAC sponsors the music stage in Bentonville, along with having a booth there.

    I encourage anyone who has doubts to visit the event.

  21. Who cares?
    It is ridiculous for anyone to drive more than 20 miles to see a show that can be available nearby. All the talk about trails for bikes and walkers and joggers and obsessing over having a monopoly on entertainment that will ensure that people will have to fight endless rush-hour traffic to attend.
    Where is the logic?

  22. Anonymi 7:07 and 9:22 PM--

    Thank you for the rebuttals. Once I am back down there, I will have to do more investigating, for it sounds like Bentonville has come a long way in a short time.

    My reference to the University was not so much to the administration as to the faculty, staff and students, who create synergy through attendance, participation, and through related arts activities.

    Certainly the use of facilities seems a token contribution, until you consider the retail value of the use, plus the savings from not building facilities that would be relatively little-used. (Large performance halls tend to be very expensive to build, own and maintain, and the slow rate of return on investment should be a red flag to any group-- for profit or not.)

    This measure would allow the expanded Arts Center to develop a gravity and reputation that might warrant construction in the future when the economy is presumably better, appropriate acts more available and potential donors more impressed.

    I'd be eager to see how scheduling works out against the athletic schedules, and if adequate set-up, rehearsal/runthrough and performance time can be allotted without great swaths of unavailability.

  23. Ah, Northwest Arkansas Culture Wars. Thirty years ago who would have thunk it? Then Along Came Alice...

    Perhaps Dickson Street's WAC could become a compliment to Razorback Nation. Say an opry-land style showplace and it could draw more regulars from Benton County than Fayetteville could ever provide. Don't forget Gospel Singings on Sunday afternoon so that it becomes the envy of Springdale!

    Think of the bidness in sliver belt buckles and Western art prints. The smell of green is gettin me all warm and fuzzy.

    Drake Field is a perfect site for NWA's own NASCAR venue and a perfect compliment the WAC-Split Ends Review. Ol Ray would fit right in.

    Play that fiddle down, boy, play that fiddle down!

    High brow may be good but it don't spend if it ain't there.

    August 8, 2010 2:13 PM

  24. Oops. While you're transforming Fayetteville and WINNING the culture war don't forget the potential of Mt. Sequoyah.

    The Methodists have been losing a boat-load of money on that retreat up there for years and simple bond issue would take it off their hands. Transform the thing into a real testament to Jesus' love. Tear down that dinky metal cross and put up a 120 ft statue of Jesus that can be seen from Eureka Springs. Make a Passion Play to end all Passion Plays with glowing Angels suspended from the skies. Do it with real class and conviction. Trumpets of Resurrection could become a world class score if the sound system is grand enough. Noise. Nay. It would be covered with a Dan Coody bubble-dome. Shirley we remember that proposal. If a Coody Bubble-Dome could cover the Square it could cover Sequoyah JesusLand.

    Please say that I'm not the only visionary who sees the potential of WAC/SPLIT ENDS-RazorBaby Nation-NASCAR-Sequoyah JesusLand synergy just blowing away all others in the region INCLUDING BRANSON.

    Another great direction by L. given to your fair city free of "consulting charges." Just do it and grow rich.

  25. Monroe Jesuser, Jr.August 8, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    Mr. Franks--

    I understand your University reference, however I'm not sure the faculty, staff and students do much to remove themselves from their insular world. And the few times it seems they have tried they appear to have been slapped back. Until recently, there truly was an "us and them" mentality between the town and the school.

    You're right about the economics of constructing facilities for very large events. That's why you don't see any stadiums or other large venues that are used for only one purpose (except on college campuses). But don't think for a minute the University will be out any money for the use of those venues. Every cost will be covered by the user, whether it be WAC or some other promoter. "Retail value" doesn't exist. There is no "retail" for venues such as these. There is only what the owner will charge, on any given day, for any given event. And it changes all the time. So, no, the University's "contribution" of the use of the venues really doesn't have any great value. Especially when one considers that to fill Razorback Stadium an event (read concert) will have to draw from locations that already are established with large venues (Little Rock, KC, Tulsa, Dallas, OKC, etc.) and are on the tour routes.

    Fayetteville is just a provincial stopover. A middle-of-the-week routing date. And always will be. Fayetteville still has less than 100,000 people! It doesn’t even draw from Springdale and it certainly doesn’t draw from Benton County. There is no “regionalism” and no one has tried to create any. Look at the promotional campaigns from the A&P and the Chamber. “Fayetteville IS Northwest Arkansas” was one. THAT’S real regional (said with great sarcasm). For crying out loud, Fayetteville can’t even keep a decent full-service hotel in town.

  26. MJJr--

    Of course Fayetteville doesn't draw from Springdale. The rodeo is in Springdale.