Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Friday, July 21, 2006

Baseball for Springdale

Sometimes life throws us a curve ball and by so doing, makes everyone sit up and pay attention.

The City of Springdale’s election on July 11, 2006, had three questions on the ballot and the results made a lot of people pay attention. Voters approved all three, thereby paying off one bond program, starting a new bond program, and building a baseball stadium.

The first two questions regarded funding for street improvements. Not surprisingly, voters gave permission to extend the 1% sales tax to pay for much-needed improvements. Springdale, in general, has been doing a phenomenal job in this regard – much better than some of the other communities in NW Arkansas. Springdale planners seem to understand the need to improve infrastructure. Drivers will be much happier when three east-west connector roads are built, carrying traffic across the north, central, and southern parts of the city to alleviate the congestion on Highway 412.

The surprising thing, I think, was approval of a $50 million bond for land acquisition and construction of a 6,000-seat stadium for a minor league baseball team. Plans call for the stadium to be built in the southwestern part of the city, west of I-540 and south of 412.

If you have ever said something to the effect, “I have only one vote, why bother going to the polls,” you might want to reconsider that in the future. The stadium vote passed by 15 votes: 2408 for; 2393 against. In other words, more than 20,000 registered voters cast less than 6,000 votes!

As a former teacher of American Government classes at Northwest Arkansas Community College, I applaud those who got out to express their opinion on the issue. At the same time, I can’t help scolding those who didn’t bother to vote.

$50 million for a baseball stadium is a lot of money by anyone’s standards. The close vote showed that opinion is extremely divided. Those in favor of the stadium have gained the day, but it's a risky proposition for the city of Springdale. The city may or may not ever directly recoup that outlay. However, the indirect benefits could be immeasurable.

When I first moved to NW Arkansas and former friends asked me about the area, I described it as "suburbia without a central city." Each of the communities, as they formerly existed before the extreme urbanization now taking place, had a particular personality. Fayetteville was the college town and cultural center. Rogers had Beaver Lake (and now the new mall), and Bentonville had the Wal-Mart Headquarters.

Although Springdale had the Tyson Foods headquarters, its identity had largely fallen between the cracks. People frequently described it to me as the "working class" town just north of Fayetteville. As such, it never really had a special identity, except its association with the poultry industry (for example, the "Featherfest" celebration each year) or the site of the Rodeo each July.

It is quite possible that the baseball stadium could help create a special identity for Springdale in the "new" scheme of things in NW Arkansas. Sports, at all levels, are very important – recreationally and economically.

In one sense, the U of A Razorbacks have become such a phenomenon in the area (for all sports) because there were no other sports alternatives. The University fields good teams even by national standards, and there have been some great seasons. For example, back in the mid-90s the basketball team got to the "Final Four" and even competed for the NCAA championship, and the track team is well respected nationwide because of its coach, John McDonnell.

College sports are, in some ways, very exciting because the players are not professionals. School spirit enhances the excitement of the game. Witness, for example, the US Olympic hockey team which beat the Russians about 20 years ago for the first time in years – that team was comprised largely of hockey players from the University of Minnesota. Those guys got a hero's welcome (even a ticker tape parade in the middle of winter) when they returned to Minnesota, and with good reason.

The devotion of the fans (and alumni) here is incredible. It goes beyond school spirit. There are tail-gate parties and other activities, just like for major professional teams in cities across the country. The RV park in south Fayetteville looks like “Razorbackville” on any night before a big game with neon Razorback signs, etc. Cars with Razorback flags fill the streets.

Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, became known for their great sports programs, and although Springdale is hardly Plano, there is something to be said for good sports teams. I have had people relocating to the area who want to live in Springdale because the Springdale High School sports teams have a great reputation, and they want their talented sports-minded children to have good coaching and opportunities.

But professional sports teams frequently have a tougher time of it. It has been widely rumored that The Wichita Wranglers, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, is the targeted team. No contracts have been signed and at this point, it appears the City of Wichita is anxious to keep the Wranglers from leaving. The team’s record is far from stellar, attendance at games has been dropping, the stadium is very old and in need of improvements, but the city fathers don’t want to lose their baseball team.

For a small town like Springdale, gaining a minor league team could be just what a town without an identity needs. As NW Arkansas grows into a major metropolitan area, Springdale could capitalize on its image as the "sports" town and provide alternatives to the Razorbacks. Perhaps a move would also provide the impetus for the Wranglers to improve their performance. Much will depend on attendance at the games.

Just as they have done with roads, the city planners in Springdale are again looking ahead far beyond the present and are to be applauded for their efforts and vision for the future.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The attendance while not stellar at the Wranglers games has in fact been improving.