Fayetteville Chamber president questions AMP move

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 95 views 

The Arkansas Music Pavilion is preparing to move to its third location since it was purchased by the Walton Arts Center in 2011.

The first move took the AMP from Northwest Arkansas Mall to the Washington County Fairgrounds. The latest announced move will have the AMP leaving Washington County for Pinnacle Hills, according to a press release.

Construction for the new location in Rogers' fastest-growing area is scheduled to begin in August of this year with a targeted opening date of June 2014.

Even though the project, first leaked to the public about a week ago and approved by an 18-2 vote of the Walton Arts Center Board of Directors yesterday (May 28), appears to be ready to go, one of the board members to vote no said the project came out of left field.

"I just couldn't figure out why there was a necessity to do something in seven days," said Steve Clark, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and a Fayetteville-appointed member of the board.

Clark said his vote against the project had nothing to do with its location.

"I've always been committed to the notion that for the Walton Arts Center, we have a regional footprint and should have in the regional footprint at least three kinds of entertainment venues – the kind we have here (in Fayetteville), the second (being) The AMP and a third (an additional performance hall to be built in Bentonville)," he said.

According to Clark, he would have liked to have waited until more information was known on the project.

"I was just simply saying I have questions and the following day I sent about 47 questions back to the Walton Arts Center and the board," he said. "I did get an answer to those questions at 1:30 and our meeting began at 4:30. Prior to that, there were none of the answers to these questions."

Clark's pleas for caution come less than a year after The City Wire reported on another proposed Benton County amphitheater that was never completed.

The Osage Creek Amphitheater was billed as a must-visit music venue in rural Benton County that would rival Tulsa's BOK Center in seating capacity, but the project never saw its proposed July 2011 opening date. Instead, developer Greg Smith said, "Mother nature didn't cooperate with us."

In reality, prominent real estate broker Kirk Elsass revealed that Smith was "highly leveraged" and was dependent on billionaire investors who had visited the site last year to complete the project.

Now just a short drive from Smith's failed project, the re-located Walton Arts Center-owned amphitheater is set to be built.

The final, announced project dictates a permanent location for the AMP between exits 82 and 83 along Interstate 540 in Rogers, the Walton Arts Center's CEO and President Peter Lane said in a press release, adding that the project had been in the works for some time.

"Over the last year, Walton Arts Center officials have met with municipalities and developers all over the region in search of a new location that had proximity to I-540, multiple access points, ample parking and a supporting infrastructure," he said. "Not only does the Pinnacle Hills site have all the characteristics for a permanent venue, it also includes a generous land donation from Hunt Ventures, Inc."

Lane continues, saying that 91% of the $11 million needed for the project has already been pledged, including support from the Walker Foundation and Johnelle Hunt, widow of the late J.B. Hunt, and co-founder of Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services.

"This Rogers site is ideal for a regional outdoor amphitheater with visibility from I-540 and central location in a commercial district with restaurants, shopping outlets, hotels and entertainment."

Even though much of the details for the Rogers re-location appear to be worked out, Clark said it was all very sudden, which was part of his opposition to the plan.

"We spent half of (the last two years) talking about an AMP at the Northwest Arkansas Mall and the other half about making a temporary site at the Washington County Fairgrounds," he said. "To get it on seven days notice seemed short, just too short."

At the board meeting yesterday, Clark spoke for more than 15 minutes on his concerns, urging the board to wait to vote until its regularly scheduled June meeting. But his pleas went no where.

And while there has been vocal opposition to the actions taken by the Walton Arts Center in announcing the addition of the Bentonville location and yesterday's decision to re-locate the AMP to Rogers, Clark is confident the Walton Arts Center will continue to be dedicated to the Fayetteville arts community.

"Before all the discussion on the AMP yesterday, the board voted unanimously to raise the $20.6 million needed to remodel our existing (Fayetteville) facility. They showed their good faith and willingness to act."

While he was defeated yesterday, Clark said it would not stop him from working to do what he believes is best for the Fayetteville community. He said he has re-applied with the city to be re-appointed to the Walton Arts Center board. His term will expire in June.

"My intent is to continue what I have done, which is contributing every way I know how and I explained to the board yesterday that the fact that I asked some questions that some believed are difficult or are framed in what I call a forthright manner and some call boarding on offensive, I'm going to continue to do that. It's a public facility. I don't think transparency hurts the Walton Arts Center. I think it helps it. The Walton Arts Center, from my perspective, like any good organization, has members of the board who ask the questions that haven't been asked before. The board makes the best decisions when fully informed."

Clark, a former Arkansas Attorney General, said as far as he was concerned, the Walton Arts Center fell under the Freedom of Information Act and therefore should be more open regarding its operations and decisions, such as the re-location of the AMP.

More information on the now-approved Rogers AMP location, from Lane's press release:
• Seating capacity for more than 6,000+ people (3,000 comfortable seats, protected from the weather; 3,000+ lawn seats with improved sight-lines);
• Convenient location right off I-540 (20 minutes from anywhere in NWA and centrally located to accommodate the 35% of our ticket purchasers who come from outside of Washington & Benton Counties);
• Ample parking with easy access in and out;
• Entry plaza and drop off area (with wheelchair accessibility);
• Upgraded concessions and air-conditioned restrooms;
• 5,590 square foot stage house that can accommodate most touring acts on the road today;
• Upgraded technical capabilities including advanced video, lighting and audio; and
• An artist lounge, dressing rooms, production offices and storage.

The AMP will continue to operate at the Washington County Fairgrounds this summer, the release said.