FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas is asking the Fayetteville Advertising & Promotions Commission for $1 million, payable over three years, to help convert its historic field house into a much-needed performance arts facility.
The request, submitted by letter from UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart, is the last item on the agenda for Monday’s (July 9) meeting of the A&P commission.
Gearhart first mentioned plans to retrofit the 1930s field house at a meeting of the Walton Arts Center Council in February. It’s unknown whether the university’s plans would change the Walton Arts Center’s intentions to develop a hall of the same size.
The chancellor's recent letter to the commission outlined plans for the field house's new life: “a stunning 700-seat, state-of-the-art venue for musical and theatrical performances.” he estimated cost of $17 million. The A&P’s $1 million would go toward offsetting construction costs, which would aid in the project’s timely progress, he said.
The commission collects a tax on hotel, motel and restaurant receipts, then uses the money to draw tourists and business travelers to the city. In recent months, perhaps longer, the commission has been transfixed on ways it can cash in on the cultural boom in Northwest Arkansas.
Gearhart recognized that the A&P’s “investments in the promotion of Fayetteville, in support of our city's cultural and recreational assets, and in assisting a host of activities and events have contributed significantly to Fayetteville's present success and bright future.”
The venue is necessary to accommodate music rehearsals and performances displaced by other events and performances at the Walton Arts Center, which operates in a partnership with the university. The 20-year-old arts center is operating past capacity and has been looking at expansion plans since at least 2008.
“There’s not enough days on the calendar for us to have all we want here in the Walton Arts Center,” Gearhart said at the February meeting
“We could use a venue every day,” he said back then. The old men’s gym, which Gearhart called “iconic,” is located between Silas Hunt Hall and the student union on campus. Gearhart said the UA has simply outgrown its only existing performance arts facility, Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall, which holds just 238, as well as the 250-seat University Theater. Both were built in the UA Fine Arts Center more than 60 years ago, when enrollment was about 5,000, a fraction of what it is today.
“This situation hinders student and faculty recruitment, particularly for our music programs, since many colleges and even high schools have more impressive performance venues,” Gearhart’s letter said. “The facilities, by virtue
of their size and quality, also hamper the university's ability to increase public attendance and support for its cultural and entertainment programming.”
Parking at the renovated hall would not be an issue since two large-capacity parking garages already are located within easy walking distance of the field house.
The university anticipates hosting 175 to 200 events annually in the performance hall, increasing the number of visiting acts and concerts by approximately 75 to 100 events during the center's inaugural years, Gearhart said. At least 40 of these performances will feature large ensembles, collectively involving more than 600 students, bringing the students' parents, siblings, grandparents,and friends as well as general audience members to Fayetteville.
Other benefits of the new performance hall were too many to mention here.
Watch The City Wire for coverage of the upcoming A&P commission meeting.