Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

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

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Walton Arts Center - Grow or Go?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the future of the Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. Has it outgrown its current facility? Can it be enlarged? If a larger facility is needed, will it be in Fayetteville or possibly Benton County?

Along with those questions, the lack of sufficient parking spaces in Fayetteville inevitably surfaces. The city often talks about the need to build a parking garage on the site of the WAC’s current parking lot.

Parking has been a major problem in Fayetteville as long as I can remember.

WAC opened in 1992 and since then has hosted myriad performances such as Broadway shows, YoYo Ma, Bill Cosby, ballet, musicals, ad infinitum.

Fayetteville and Washington County residents have been huge supporters of WAC – there’s no argument about that fact. But, so have Benton County residents and businesses. Attendance at WAC is nearly equal between residents of the two counties, which would indicate WAC would be successful in either county.

Individual contributors are fairly evenly split between the two counties. However, donations by Benton County’s many corporations outpace Washington County donations by a 3-1 margin.

The City of Fayetteville and University of Arkansas jointly own WAC and the city considers it a jewel. WAC was a major impetus in revitalizing run-down Dickson Street and Fayetteville does not want to lose the Walton Arts Center. The University of Arkansas performs multiple shows and concerts in it each year and prefers to have it remain near their campus.

Given all that, there is no doubt that Rogers or Bentonville would be more than happy to see a new, larger WAC more to their area. They have land available with easy access to I-540 and they understand, as does Fayetteville, the economic benefits of a regional arts center.

The first of three feasibility studies has been completed and results indicate NW Arkansas could support a facility of approximately 2,500 seats. The current facility has only 1,200 seats. That makes it much too small for large shows that must sell many tickets to be financially feasible.

Enlarging WAC at its current site would be difficult – but not impossible.

Meanwhile, WAC’s board says it is not planning to move and will make no decisions until after the studies have been completed later this year. No matter whether they choose to grow or go, fund raising would be the next logical step.

So, while all the studies and plans are completed, the subject of a parking garage remains on the table.

Here’s my take on the situation: If, perish the thought, a new and larger WAC is built outside of Fayetteville, the current facility will still be there undoubtedly hosting events that require a concert hall of its size. Additionally, something is always happening on Dickson Street. Parking is a problem now and as the city continues to grow, more parking will be needed.

Let’s not talk the parking garage to death; let’s get started building it.

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