$50M Revitalization Plan Aims To Turn El Dorado into Cultural Mecca

by Michelle Corbet  on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 12:00 am  

With a declining population and an unstable job market, the city of El Dorado is investing in quality of life in an effort to boost its economy.

Madison Murphy, president of the Murphy Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving quality of life through the support of education and culture, said there are four things that will bring jobs to El Dorado: education, infrastructure, tax incentives and quality of life.

After the creation of the El Dorado Promise, the Murphy Oil scholarship program, in 2007 and the passage of a 1 percent sales tax for a conference center and other economic development projects, city leaders began an initiative with destination developer Roger Brooks to look into further improving quality of life.

Brooks worked with city leaders from 2009 to 2011 to develop a master plan for the city of El Dorado. His challenge was to take the focus off of El Dorado’s former success in the oil industry and give the city a new identity.

Brooks originally pitched the idea to start a Shakespeare festival, drawing many comparisons between El Dorado and Ashland, Oregon, home of the longest running and most financially successful Shakespeare festival in the U.S.

But El Dorado was a little late to that game since an Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre had already been established in Conway. However, the idea of economic development through arts and entertainment took hold, and El Dorado set out to brand itself as “the festival city” with the tagline “It’s Showtime!”

Out of Brooks’ original 40-page plan, the city chose several concepts to implement, including a multiple-venue district that would allow El Dorado to trumpet a new identity completely separate from its earlier incarnation as “Arkansas’ original boomtown.”

The city and some of its biggest companies are investing in a $50 million revitalization plan. The goal is to arrest the population decline that has plagued the city since major companies like Copper-Standard Automotive and, most recently, Pilgrim’s Pride shut down operating facilities, eliminating hundreds of jobs.

The population of El Dorado dropped 12 percent between 2000 and 2010, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate for 2013 showed that it continued to decline, albeit more slowly, to about 18,500.

Jeremy Stratton, president and CEO of the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce, said that as companies have left and not been replaced, residents have had to move to where the jobs are.

Stratton, who describes himself as “not your typical ribbon-cutting chamber guy,” was brought on board about six months ago to create a budget to operate and market industrial parks. He’s been in preliminary discussions and on visits with companies in China, particularly a wood furniture and flooring manufacturer.

Stratton said he can’t guarantee that bringing the Chinese companies to El Dorado would replace all the jobs that have been lost, but he’s also marketing El Dorado and working on a new economic development website.



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