Walton Arts Center busy with growth plans

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 94 views 

Expansion and growth plans are in full swing at the Walton Arts Center regarding expansion in Fayetteville, a new facility in Bentonville and a new home for the AMP.

Just two weeks ago, the WAC announced plans for a $20 million expansion to its Fayetteville campus that should be complete by 2015. The expansion will include approximately 30,000-square-feet of new space including an expanded lobby and plaza on Dickson Street, plus additional seating and a dedicated entrance for Starr Theater.

There are also plans for a 2,000-seat performance hall in Bentonville but officials said Wednesday (Oct. 10) that the exact location has not been finalized. They hope for something close to downtown, said Beth Bobbitt, public relations manager for the Walton Arts Center. That center should cost an estimated $160 million and open by 2018. The plans also include a $20 million endowment.

Kalene Griffith with the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau said that WAC has “committed to coming to Bentonville” and that the new performance center would “be a great asset.”

Bobbitt said WAC officials plan to have a single campaign to support all the endeavors.

“We think it would be better to have one campaign,” she said.

Officials hope to have a firm plan in place for the Bentonville location before launching a public fundraising campaign, she added.

Many factors affect the exact timeline for both expansions, including what the City of Fayetteville decides this month about the location of a new parking garage. If it is constructed in the parking lot across the street from the center, it won’t affect the plans much. If the garage goes up where the center has its administration offices, that will potentially accelerate the plans.

“There’s a lot in play, a lot in question,” Bobbitt said.

Walton Arts Center is also responsible for the Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP), which was in the parking lot at the Northwest Arkansas Mall for several years but when the lease on that location fell through, the WAC moved the AMP to the Washington County Fairgrounds a year ago.

They recently signed another one-year lease for that location while a more permanent location is determined, Bobbitt said. The City Wire’s content partner KFSM reported Oct. 2 that the location might not even be in Fayetteville.

“We’re considering all options at this point,” Bobbitt said Wednesday.

The fairgrounds location has been a good choice for the AMP, despite some logistical challenges including difficult street access. If that becomes the permanent location, arrangements to improve access would probably be necessary, she said.

In early July, a severe storm destroyed the well-known tent at the AMP and it will not be replaced at this time, Bobbitt said. After it was destroyed it worked well to have events “under the stars” and it would not be a wise financial investment to purchase a new tent when officials don’t know where the AMP’s long-term home will be next year.

The expansion plans were discussed briefly during a press conference at the WAC on Wednesday. The press conference was to announce results from the Arts & Economic Prosperity Study IV conducted by Americans for the Arts in 182 regions across the country.

The study shows that in Northwest Arkansas, the arts and culture industry had a $46 million impact on the economy in 2010. With these expansion plans moving forward, the impact and potential for more tourist dollars increases.