Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

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

Friday, April 25, 2008

Employment/Unemployment Picture in NW Arkansas

With all of the doom and gloom about the economy in the media, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the employment/unemployment picture in NW Arkansas---

Benton and Washington counties are alive and well compared to a host of other communities throughout Arkansas and the U.S. in general.

The unemployment rate for the country as a whole was 4.8% in February – a drop of one-tenth of one percentage point.

For the Fayetteville Metropolitan Statistical Area, the drop was six-tenths of one percentage point – from 4.8% to 4.2%. Fayetteville MSA, as defined by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, includes Washington, Benton, and Madison Counties in Arkansas and McDonald County in extreme southwest Missouri.

For sake of comparison, Little Rock MSA saw a drop of three-tenths of one percentage point – from 5.2% to 4.9%. Fort Smith MSA dropped to 5.1%, and Pine Bluff MSA dropped to 7.7%.

The overall unemployment rate for the State of Arkansas was 5% in February.

Looking at it from a different perspective, Benton County with a total population of some 196,000 people, had approximately 99,000 employed in February. Washington County figures are similar. The population there is estimated at 186,500 and 98,950 people were employed in February.

All in all, these figures are somewhat encouraging. For example, nine Metropolitan Statistical Areas in California are suffering with unemployment rates in excess of 10%. We hear a lot about Detroit these days and no wonder. The unemployment rate for that MSA is 8.5%. It’s disheartening to know that throughout the U. S., 42 Metropolitan Statistical Areas have unemployment rates of 7% or higher!

Things could certainly be better but after reading many facts and figures about the employment/unemployment picture, I know it could be much worse than it is in NW Arkansas.

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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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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Professional Baseball in NW Arkansas

Play Ball! That’s a phrase many baseball fans have been waiting to hear. At 6:00 p.m. Thursday, April 10, the familiar phrase will be heard at the brand new Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Arkansas.

Things have progressed right on schedule since voters narrowly approved spending $50 million in 2006 to buy land and build a ballpark on empty land near I-540.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals will call the new stadium home. They are the Double A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and will be playing in the Texas League.

Tickets to home games are almost impossible to buy because sales have been so brisk. Indeed, everyone in NW Arkansas wants the Naturals to be successful. The other cities of NW Arkansas are happy to have the ballpark near their cities. It is another amenity that enhances quality of life for the entire area – just as Fayetteville’s Walton Arts Center does and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will do when in opens in 2010 in Bentonville.

There have been various comments made that the ballpark will improve Springdale’s image, currently known as a ‘blue-collar’ town. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with being a blue-collar town. It’s the working men and women who make this country the success it is.

The city fathers aren’t so much concerned with image as they are in making a financial success of the entire project. Commercial development must occur to provide increased sales tax revenue. Retail stores, hotels and restaurants, office space, and other entertainment venues are all seen as serious possibilities to replace pastures where cattle now graze.

To prepare for that, the city has been rezoning agricultural land near the park to commercial.

The city has spent more than $3 million to build water and sewer lines in the area so as be ready for future development.

They have also been working on building new roads and widening some existing roads. The ballpark is just a short distance from I-540 but as of today, the only access is by 56th Street, which is a two-lane road.

In the not too distant future, the new John Tyson Parkway will open, hopefully with an exit directly off I-540. The parkway will be the major east-west corridor across the southern part of Springdale.

With opening day just a day or so away, I would have to say the City of Springdale deserves appause for bringing this project in on time. It’s a very attractive asset to the community.

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