Since opening in 2014, the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP) has been a primary amenity driving Northwest Arkansas’s growing arts and entertainment economy. In the past five years the Walton Arts Center, which owns the AMP, has sold more than 781,000 tickets to 165 concerts or community events at the AMP. In 2018, more than 200,000 patrons attended a combined 31 events at the venue just off Interstate 49 in Rogers.
“It’s been pretty amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Walmart AMP Vice President Brian Crowne said. “We have a great team, but we are always looking for opportunities to do things better.”
Friday (Nov. 2) morning, details of those opportunities were announced. More than 100 supporters gathered inside a tent in the backstage area of the AMP to hear information about a $13.9 million expansion. The announcement was led by Crowne and Walton Arts Center CEO Peter Lane.
CDI Contractors, with offices in Little Rock and Fayetteville, will lead the construction, which isn’t scheduled to begin until November 2019 so it won’t interrupt any concert seasons. Work is scheduled to be completed in seven months, in time for the start of the 2020 Cox Concert Series.
“We created a master plan for the development of the Walmart AMP, something that would serve as a blueprint for what the venue can and should look like for the next 10 to 15 years,” Lane said. “We knew we wanted to capitalize on the elements that make our venue unique —providing concerts that you would expect to see in a larger market with the amenities of a boutique venue.”
The expansion project, designed by Core Architects of Rogers, will increase capacity by 1,000 and bring the total capacity to 11,000. It will also add several amenities to the venue designed to enhance the concert experience, including a new box office, expanded entry plaza, reconfigured entrances, additional tiered seating and concession stands and more restrooms. Specifically, the number of concession windows will triple from 5 to 15, and the number of restrooms stalls will more than double, from 72 to 165.
A 15,000-square-foot covered plaza will also be built at the top of the lawn, offering flexible viewing and event space as well as private restrooms. The area can also be used for private events during shows.
Lane said 94% of the money needed for the expansion has been raised. Included in that amount is a gift from Rogers developer and philanthropist Johnelle Hunt that retires the AMP’s existing debt, a little over $3 million, Lane said. Hunt is a longtime and indispensable supporter of the AMP. She donated the land where the venue was built.
“She has always jumped in with two feet,” Lane said. “She’s not a toe-dipper. There are very few people like her. Her vision for what she sees in Northwest Arkansas inspires a lot of people. It inspires me and I know it inspires others like Walmart, General Mills, Tyson Foods.”
Lane also announced a new five-year partnership with ticket seller and event promoter Live Nation, making them the preferred promoter at the Walmart AMP. The partnership goes into effect for the 2019 season, with Trevor Noah as the first announced Live Nation show of the new season.
“After our first few shows in 2014, it became clear that Northwest Arkansas is not only a great market for business but also entertainment,” Bob Roux, president, U.S. Concerts, Live Nation Entertainment, said in a statement. “Live Nation looks forward to our new partnership and bringing even more first-class entertainment to one of the fastest growing regions in the country.”
In addition, Walmart extended its financial commitment for the naming rights to the venue to 2044. General Mills also extended its sponsorship of the lawn through 2035, Tyson Foods extended its sponsorship of concessions buildings through 2028 and Procter & Gamble extended its sponsorship of the box office through 2028.
Lane said additional development to address artist amenities and other “back-of-house” needs have been identified but will be funded and addressed at a later date.
He also addressed a topic that has been popular following news that Topgolf will start construction of its Rogers location next spring — parking. The 11-acre site where Topgolf will build is now used for parking by patrons attending concerts and events at the Walmart AMP.
The effect of losing the field starting next year as a parking option for hundreds of vehicles will be minimal, Lane said. He mentioned the other numerous paved parking lots in close proximity to the AMP — lots used in the day for employees at the Hunt Tower, Embassy Suites and other nearby office and retail buildings — that are generally empty and available for evening concerts. He also said there are plans to build an additional paved lot in the vicinity, but did not provide specific details.
“We have a plan [for parking] that is equal to or better than last year,” he said. “Next year we will have plenty of parking [spaces] to use.”
The AMP traces its roots back to 2005 when it first began offering shows in the parking lot of the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville.
The Walton Arts Center bought the AMP from Crowne in 2011. After holding events at the Washington County Fairgrounds the next two years, the AMP moved to its permanent home in Rogers. It opened June 7, 2014, with a concert by Blake Shelton and Hunter Hayes.