With new security measures in place at War Memorial Stadium after a potential gun threat a week ago, state Parks and Tourism director Kane Webb said he’s still looking for forensic evidence and legislative solutions to the scare.
Webb, appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, said officials have yet to find evidence that a gun was actually pulled during the Salt Bowl football game, the annual matchup between the Benton Panthers and Bryant Hornets that drew 38,000 to this year’s game.
“The investigation’s ongoing now and what we do know is luckily what didn’t happen. There were no major injuries; thank god, no fatalities. And everyone was reunited with their families and they were safe and sound,” said Webb, whose agency has oversight on the Little Rock stadium. “We definitely know people heard people say, ‘Gun, gun.’ We have that on video. We have no evidence of a gun. We have no evidence there wasn’t a gun. It’s just kind of a big ‘what-happened-where’ situation right now. Certainly, the fear of a threat contributed to the mass exodus, we know that much.”
Webb thinks guns should not be allowed at school functions like the Salt Bowl to prevent another similar event from occurring.
“Should there be a law that prohibits guns at a school function like this, even when it’s off-campus?” Webb was asked.
“You know, frankly, I think, yes. Speaking for me, I think that when you get a crowd that size, yeah. This could’ve happened not just anywhere in Arkansas, I think it could’ve happened anywhere in the country. And it’s the first time it’s happened at a stadium that I can remember,” Webb said.
“I think the legislators that I’ve heard from are concerned about security, for sure, as they should be, as we all are. How do we prevent this from happening? How do we raise confidence that something like that could not happen? So, we’re looking into that,” he added.
In the wake of the scare, Webb said stadium officials have put three new security measures in place for future games and events at War Memorial Stadium. They include:
- A clear bag policy to allow for quick searches of belongings when patrons enter the stadium;
- Security wands on every visitor to the stadium to check for weapons; and
- A no loitering policy to deter potential arguments or conflicts in the concourse area of the stadium
More security efforts may be forthcoming, he said.
“We are looking at what some security upgrades would cost us. We were in the midst of going ahead and upgrading security, some other updates for the stadium that we had some grant money set aside for, and we’re going to speed those up a little bit,” Webb said. “We’re going to look and see what we need to do in the near future to make that a more secure facility. It’s a 70-year-old stadium and it has 70-year-old issues, and we need to bring it into the 21st century.”
TOURISM IN THE AIR (AND ONLINE)
The fall tourism season is about to kick in as Labor Day weekend comes to a close. Webb said the state is gearing up to continue its record-setting tourism efforts. Arkansas has seen a record number of visitors and tourism spending in the last several years as annual growth continues to exceed previous years collections.
Webb said the state is embarking on a new digital advertising campaign that will include short six-second pre-roll clips across the Internet and other social media platforms. It aims to communicate a message in the limited amount of time that new research suggests consumers will pay attention to advertising.
“We’re [also] gearing up a road trip campaign, because more and more people are traveling in the car for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to go to the airport, check your bags, you’ve got to wait there, you’ve got to wait to get your bags. You’ve got the flexibility in the car of packing what you want, stopping along the way. So, we’re seeing a huge spike in the number of people who are hitting the road and driving. Eight hours is nothing. And Arkansas is primarily a drive-to state and we think we can take advantage of that,” he said.
Webb said the new state parks web site has also been overhauled – arkansasstateparks.com. It requires less technological savvy, according to Webb, and he says there are already results being seen by navigators of the product.
“Industry partners can get their customers where they need them more quickly, and we’re seeing the data on that already. We’re seeing reservations spike on the state park side because it’s easier to navigate,” he said.
Webb is holding off taking a position on a potential casino amendment that will likely be on the November ballot. The measure would expand gambling at Oaklawn and Southland and add a casino to Jefferson and Pope counties, if local voters choose.
“As an old horse racing fan at Oaklawn, I am excited about even more purse money attracting even better horses there. I think that would be good for the racetrack, but I’m still kind of digesting it at this point,” Webb said.
You can catch Webb’s full interview in the video below.