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

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

Allison Parker, general manager of global communications for Murphy, said the 140 Murphy Oil employees who are currently working in El Dorado will move to the new building when construction is complete.

The company as a whole has added jobs, she said, but it isn’t known whether additional employees will be hired in El Dorado with the completion of the new building.

From Boomtown to Showtime

El Dorado has a well-established arts and entertainment community on which to build its new economy: The city is home to Arkansas’ oldest symphony, South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, and the South Arkansas Arts Center.

The city also hosts a multitude of festivals, including the flagship MusicFest, a two-day event in historic downtown El Dorado. In its 27th year, the event has been named Festival of the Year five times by the Arkansas Festivals & Events Association.

The city’s many festivals and performances have primarily been produced by either Main Street El Dorado, a nonprofit established in 1989 with a mission to stimulate downtown economic development, or the South Arkansas Historical Foundation.

In 2011, a new nonprofit, El Dorado Festivals & Events Inc., was created to oversee an effort to establish an arts and entertainment district between South Arkansas Community College and the historic Union Square.

“For the past few years we’ve worked to rebrand the city into a cultural performance mecca,” said President and COO Austin Barrow. “El Dorado has a very unique situation that we’ve created for ourselves — looking at arts and entertainment as a way to boost our economy.”

In 2012, the El Dorado City Council gave unanimous support to the plan and designated $9 million in economic development funds. A week later, the Murphy Foundation committed $5 million.

While most organizations create a plan and then work to secure funding, El Dorado Festivals & Events got a head start: Its executive committee consists of Madison Murphy; Edwin Alderson, the founder of Noalmark Broadcasting Corp. and a former county judge; and Claiborne Deming, chairman of Murphy Oil.

Barrow said fundraising for the district is about 80 percent complete. Although there is fundraising to do, the gap is narrow enough that the city should be able to start construction soon and El Dorado can “start seeing some real progress,” he said.

“When you start getting that much money in your coffers raised,” Barrow said, “we decided to put a pause on everything and do one final gut check.”



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