Walton Arts Center moving forward with expansion plans

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 115 views 

Expansion plans are moving forward for the Walton Arts Center and officials still expect to have the Fayetteville portion of the project finished by 2015.

Last fall, the WAC announced it would soon be expanding its Fayetteville facility to include 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.

Several issues including funding and the City of Fayetteville’s plans to construct a parking garage required the WAC to wait before moving forward with the expansion. In December, the Fayetteville City Council voted to build the new parking deck at the corner of northwest corner of Spring and School, which means that the WAC’s current administration building will be demolished.

David Jurgens, utilities director for the City of Fayetteville, said earlier this week that the plan is for meetings on demolition to begin later this month, with demolition planned for later in the year. City and WAC officials will be meeting on a regular basis to plan their construction projects together to make sure that the buildings do not interfere with each other.

“We expect to be going out for construction plans this summer or early fall,” he said.

The 6,000-square foot parking garage is projected to cost $6.18 million and the project is in the design process, he said. When the Fayetteville WAC expansion and the new parking garage are complete, they will back up to each other, which is what made it even more necessary for WAC officials to know Fayetteville’s plans for the parking garage before moving forward with the expansion plans.

“We have to be designing and planning both projects at the same time otherwise, it will be a construction zone for three years,” said Jodi Beznoska, vice president of communications for WAC. “The WAC and city have to work closely to make this happen.”

This is the point when funding becomes vital, Beznoska said. With an $8.5 million funding request before the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotions Commission, the WAC is hoping to start its public fundraising campaign that will fund major growth and expansion plans.

In a meeting Monday (Jan. 14), the A&P Commission passed a resolution directing executive director Marilyn Heifner to research ways that the A&P can help fund the request. Of the $8.5 million requested, $2 million is to support planning, design and preconstruction. The remaining is for the actual construction costs, which are expected to total $20.6 million.

“That was definitely a positive outcome,” Beznoska said.

Heifner said Thursday (Jan. 17) that the next part of the process is to discuss the issue with the A&P’s bonding agent that manages their bonds for the Fayetteville Town Center. She also expects there to be a public survey to determine how residents feel about potentially using hotel sales tax money to buy bonds.

“There’s a lot of how-to questions to be answered right now,” she said.

As the WAC raises the money and develops plans for the expansion, it is also in the process of educating the public, especially its constituents, about the expansion. This will help in raising the additional money necessary for the Fayetteville expansion and other growth plans.

“Our biggest challenge is lack of awareness (and) communicating the need for the expansion,” said WAC spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt.

WAC officials see the Fayetteville expansion as the opportunity to create a state-of-the-art campus that will attract some of the world’s best artists. Beznoska said that much of the Fayetteville’s campus has not been updated since it opened in 1992. For example, the lighting systems.

“Replacing that makes a big difference in the kind of shows we can attract,” she said.

Although the Fayetteville campus will be considered the central campus, there are hopes to expand the WAC’s reach into other communities.

The first major step in that plan is to construct a performance hall in Bentonville. The 2,000-seat performance hall is being planned for somewhere in downtown, preferably close to downtown. A final location has still not been finalized. That center should cost an estimated $160 million and open by 2018. The plans also include a $20 million endowment.

The WAC also operates the Arkansas Music Pavilion, which is currently housed on the Washington County Fairgrounds. It will continue in that location for the next season while officials look for a permanent home for the venue.