by Arkansas Business staff on Monday, Dec. 27, 2004 12:00 am
Economic Development, Commercial Projects, Richardson Trial Also Grabbed Readers' Attention
No. 1 — Clinton Presidential Library Opens
It was the biggest news story out of Little Rock since Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992: On Nov. 18, the Clinton Presidential Library was dedicated in downtown Little Rock.
A miserable cold rain notwithstanding, the crowd on hand neared the 30,000 expected and included more celebrities than Little Rock has ever seen at one clip: the current and three former presidents, international political leaders, movie stars and past-their-prime TV faces.
The site for the library, on the south bank of the Arkansas River just east of Interstate 30, was announced in 1997 — after Clinton began his second term as president and before the impeachment that would become the most controversial display in the finished museum. The price tag is generally quoted as $165 million, although where that comes from is unclear. The building permits — for the futuristic "Bridge to the 21st Century" and the renovated Choctaw Station — totaled $110 million, making it the largest building project in the city's history. And those dollars are a slice of the more than $1 billion in building and renovation spent in the River Market area since the library project was announced.
Knowing that the eyes of the world would be focused on our home, if only for a day or two, prompted a typical Southern reaction: Let's clean this place up. Long-delayed maintenance projects were rushed to completion. The River Rail trolley system was completed in time, as were hundreds of new or updated hotel rooms in the downtown area. Preliminary surveys indicate that hotel collections were up about 66 percent during the library opening week as compared with the same period in 2003.
Whether the Clinton Presidential Library becomes or can remain a true tourist draw remains to be seen, but the early indications are promising: More than 21,500 people toured the exhibits during Thanksgiving weekend, when the admission fee was waived in a gesture of thanks to the local community. And favorable reviews of the library and Little Rock have continued to pop up in newspapers around the country.
No. 2 — Auto Industry Discovers Arkansas
Several events, all related, make the growing number of auto parts supply companies coming into Arkansas a major story — one that many are counting on to culminate with the coming of a large auto assembly plant.
Earlier this month at a luncheon for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Gov. Mike Huckabee said he remains confident Arkansas will land an auto assembly plant within the next few years.
Early last month, the day before Election Day, Toyota Motor Corp. said it was considering a seventh auto plant in North America. The next day, Arkansans gave a wide margin of support to constitutional Amendment 2 on the ballot, allowing the Legislature to issue general obligation bonds for "super projects" — of which an assembly plant would certainly be one.
There is no doubt the state is on the radar screen of several automakers looking to build a future assembly plant, but such an undertaking could be years down the road. In the meantime, the state is doing a not-too-shabby job of landing auto parts plants, particularly in the Delta, which is in desperate need of those better-paying jobs.
In July, Hino Manufacturing U.S.A. Inc., a subsidiary of Toyota, broke ground on its auto parts plant at at Marion's Railport Industrial Park, the major site talked about when the conversation comes around to an assembly site.
The 400,000-SF Hino plant will cost $160 million to build, initially employ about 280, and produce parts and components for Toyota vehicles. Production is expected to begin in October 2006.
The Hino plant is the third automotive supplier to locate in eastern Arkansas since Toyota Motor Corp. chose San Antonio over Marion for its next manufacturing plant.
Denso Corp. announced it would build a $35 million, 217,000-SF plant at Osceola, employing about 500. And Sakae Riken Kogyo Co. and its American subsidiary, Eakas Corp., announced plans to build a factory at Wynne that will eventually employ 250.
Both Denso and Eakas, like Hino, are suppliers for Toyota, which auto industry analysts say indicates Toyota wants to build an auto assembly plant in Arkansas.
Hino develops, manufactures and markets mid-size diesel trucks and buses, and it could be that Hino builds an assembly plant at Marion next to its parts plant.
What is known is that Toyota chairman Hiroshi Okuda said his company is considering a new plant in North America in the next several years to meet future growth.
Also known is that the reason the auto parts plants have located in the state is because of how the state courted Toyota for the truck assembly plant that went to San Antonio.
Economic development officials have been given all the tools they asked for — the "super projects" amendment from the people and the 2003 Comprehensive Incentives Act from the Legislature. The wording of the amendment was criticized, but most Arkansas voters were willing to trust the Legislature to make the measure work to broaden the tax base and create jobs for Arkansans.
The basic point of Amendment 2 is that it gives the Legislature the authority to issue general obligation bonds of up to 5 percent to state revenue for economic development projects that plan to invest more than $500 million in capital expenditures and to hire more than 500 new employees.
Those bonds would be used to pay for infrastructure needs such as land acquisition, site preparation, road and highway improvements, rail-spur construction, water service, wastewater treatment, employee training, environmental mitigation, training and research facilities, and possible other needs.
Backers of the measure said it's the final piece of the puzzle to put Arkansas on a level playing field with neighboring states, which can quickly issue general obligation bonds to fund up-front costs to make a suitable site ready for construction.
Amendment 2 leaves it to the Legislature to work out many details, and the lawmakers would have to adjust the state budget to cover repayment costs.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute for Economic Advance-ment released a study that showed the arrival of a major automotive assembly plant in Arkansas could generate more than 12,000 jobs and add $1.5 billion to the gross state product. It would also generate $44 million in state tax revenue per year.
No. 3 — Banking Industry Expands
The number of individual bank charters in Arkansas continued to decline in 2004, thanks to occasional mergers, but the number of individual bank branches continued to explode. And the number of brave souls intent on starting new banking operations — particularly in northwest Arkansas — showed no sign of slacking.
Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 21, 54 new bank branches were established in the state, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. The undisputed leader in the rush to bankify every intersection in the state is Bank of the Ozarks, the publicly traded Little Rock bank, which added seven branches in a swath stretching from Van Buren to Cabot. CEO George Gleason announced in May that BOZ had a five-year plan to open 40 new branches in Arkansas.
Gleason may be the most aggressive, but he is certainly not alone in investing in new brick and mortar: The other 47 new branches this year belong to 35 different institutions. The tens of millions of dollars being spent on new branch locations run counter to the conventional wisdom of the mid-1990s that banking would re-quire fewer physical locations as more customers plug-ged into Internet banking and dialed up call centers.
In terms of residents per bank branch, Arkansas ranks No. 6 with a bank office for every 2,000 or so residents. And when the measuring stick is deposits per branch, only two states — Idaho and North Dakota — have a lower average.
Those numbers are strongly influenced by the rural characteristics of the state, small population growth and an increased number of new banking ventures during the 1990s.
And that pioneering spirit hasn't stopped. In 2004, seven new or renewed banking ventures were announced:
• L. Walter Quinn and his Rock Bancshares Inc. purchased underperforming Heartland Community Bank, sold its flagship Camden office to Farmers Bank & Trust Co. of Magnolia and moved the charter to Bryant with plans to move to Little Rock next year.
• Little Rock lawyers Steven "Gene" Cauley and Joe Giroir and a relatively inexperienced management group an-nounced plans — as yet unfulfilled — to buy Pine State Bank of Kingsland and move it to Little Rock. If approved by regulators, the new venture is to be called Centennial Bank.
• Joe Mills, former president of Simmons First Bank of Northwest Arkansas at Rogers, and a group of investors picked up a leftover charter from the former Bank of Pocahontas (which had been acquired in June by First National Bank & Trust of Mountain Home). They turned it into Pinnacle Bank of Bentonville, making new use of a name abandoned when BancorpSouth Bank of Tupelo, Miss., bought into the Little Rock market in 2002.
• Portland Bank, a 104-year-old charter from southeast Arkansas, moved to the northwest corner and was re-established as Parkway Bank of Rogers by Jerry Carmichael, a former executive vice president of Arvest Bank.
• Generating the most excitement — as measured by some $40 million in investor capital — is Signature Bank of Arkansas at Fayetteville. The startup led by Gary Head, former president of Arvest's Fayetteville operation, has hefty backing from both Community First Bancshares of Harrison and Home Bancshares of Conway, the holding company of First State Bank. Signature is buying the charter of First Bank of South Arkansas at Camden, which is being collapsed into a sister bank in the Harrell Bancshares family, Calhoun County Bank at Hampton.
• Legacy National Bank is the name poultry mogul Gary George of Springdale chose for his new hometown bank. He hired to run it Don L. Gibson and Patrick H. Swope from Bank of America and Danny Dotson from First Security Bank at Springdale (formerly First National Bank of Springdale). A true de novo institution, Legacy filed for a national bank charter in October, and the application was still pending as of mid-December.
• Two executives from The Citizens Bank of Batesville, Woody Castleberry and David Hidy, announced in November that they had resigned to start a new bank in the same town. Whether it will be a new charter or will seek to build on an existing charter is not clear, but they hope to scare up $10 million in capital from investors.
No. 4 — Banner Year for Sports
It was a banner year for sports — in central Arkansas, anyway. (Fayetteville was another story entirely.)
After having secured more lucrative college and high school basketball regular and postseason action at Alltel Arena, North Little Rock city officials announced in October elaborate plans for a $25 million minor league ballpark to be built for the Arkansas Travelers on a 22-acre north shore site.
The prime waterfront real estate lies just east of the Broadway Bridge, where Little Rock financier Warren Stephens offered up his 11 acres and North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays contributed 11 city-owned acres to the project.
Rumors about the AA Texas League team abandoning 72-year-old Ray Winder Field have been circulating for years, but it wasn't until October that an official site was picked and plans for funding took off. Hays said his city is exploring various alternatives to pay for the ballpark, including both public and private sources of capital.
Little Rock city officials and economic development groups have been trying for years to locate a site on the river's south bank for the Travelers' new home. Mayor Jim Dailey said after the announcement he was concerned about the sensitivity surrounding the reuse of Ray Winder Field once the Travs have moved. But Bill Valen-tine, the ballclub's longtime general manager, said the park would not just simply be abandoned, adding that the stadium could be used for other sports such as soccer, track and baseball.
Terry Hartwick, president of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, said Stephens and the city have hired two consulting firms to help with the design and planning of the new development. Aside from a state-of-the-art stadium, plans also include the construction of retail space and residential housing.
Advocates of a new ballpark argue that attendance would rise and more people would also be attracted to the downtown areas on both sides of the river, which have both seen a fair share of economic development and revitalization in recent years. The last time the Travelers drew more than 200,000 fans in a single season was 1996.
Aside from the planned new baseball complex, downtown North Little Rock has made a name for itself by attracting a handful of major sporting events in the last few years. Alltel Arena set new attendance records for both the 2003 Women's Southeast-ern Conference Basketball Tournament and the 2004 Arkansas Activities Association High School State Basketball Finals. The high school finals are secured for 2005 and 2006, and the SEC women's tourney will return in 2009. In 2008, Alltel Arena will host a regional in the men's NCAA Tournament, which consists of four first-round games and two second-round games during what is dubbed as "March Madness."
Arkansas' first-ever professional basketball team, the Arkansas Rim-Rockers, also began play at Alltel Arena this fall. The American Basket-ball Association franchise is averaging nearly 4,000 fans for home games, due in part to its roster consisting largely of former Razorback stars.
And as if that isn't plenty of action to keep sports fans from leaving the state while luring in that many more, Hot Springs landed a big catch of its own this summer.
Lake Hamilton will be the site of the $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship to be held July 13-16, securing an economic impact on the state estimated at $50 million.
No. 5 — Health Care Industry in Flux
One of 2003's biggest business stories was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that seemed to breath new life into Arkansas' frustrated attempt to open closed health insurance networks to "any willing provider." But the Patient Protection Act passed by a near-unanimous General Assembly in 1995 remains in suspended animation as an appeal by the party with the most to lose, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, ends 2004 stuck in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis.
While Arkansas' health care industry awaits the outcome of AWP, there has been plenty of other activity:
• More than $400 million worth of hospital construction was going on around the state in 2004, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences at Little Rock announced a building plan with a price tag of nearly $170 million.
• Meanwhile, other facilities were finding it hard to keep the doors open.
De Queen Regional Medical Center has been courting various saviors, voters in DeWitt piled a sales tax on themselves to save their hospital, and Gravette Medical Center is feeling the pinch. Eastern Ozarks Regional Health System in Ash Flat suddenly shut down in November, and its 110 employees didn't even receive a final paycheck.
• A joint venture between Sparks Health System of Fort Smith and Trial Hospitals Inc. of Plano, Texas — more than a year in the making — was suddenly abandoned in October. A victim of "business factors and timing," the joint venture was supposed to build a $139 million, 260-room hospital in Fort Smith to replace Sparks Regional Medical Center.
• Growing discontent with the reimbursement rates ABCBS pays doctors — and frustration over the insurance company's unwillingness to negotiate — led 128 doctors at Fort Smith's Cooper Clinic let their provider contract with ABCBS expire at the end of September. "Any willing provider" could change their fate.
No. 6 — Arkansas Stocks Rebound
In a nice rebounding year for Arkansas public company stocks, trucking companies and penny stocks were among the most bullish.
As of last Monday, the share prices of seven Arkansas public companies had risen at least 50 percent since January's open. And only five of the state's publicly traded companies have shares priced less than they were in January.
Investors salivated over J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell and USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren, as their quarterly income started matching annual income from just a few years ago. On Monday, USA Truck was up 67 percent for the year to $16.29, and J.B. Hunt was up 63 percent to $43.82.
Stock in Arkansas Best Corp. of Fort Smith, which has lately been routinely breaking 52-week highs, saw a 41 percent increase since January.
But it was a pair of Arkansas penny stocks, whose sharp gains might soon allow them to shed that label, that had the largest percentage gains.
This time last year Cytomedix Inc. of Little Rock and Delta Systems Inc. of Rogers stock could be bought with the kind of money that jingles; now it takes the kind that folds. Stock prices for both more than doubled since the January open, with shares of Delta Systems jumping 150 percent to $1.25 and Cytomedix jumping 122 percent to $2.55.
Another penny stock, ThermoEnergy Corp., had a 67 percent boost, although the 16-year-old company still hasn't reported any revenue.
Rogers-based Delta Systems has continued to expand its customer base in Europe and has added more than 30 customers in the last two years. The automation and motion control software company trades on the Canadian Venture Exchange but reports financial information in U.S. dollars.
Cytomedix, the Little Rock biotechnology company, has grown on the success of its wound-healing therapy, both in the lab and in the courtroom.
Recently, a U.S. District Court entered a consent judgment in favor of the company and ruled Little Rock Foot Clinic and its owners had infringed Cyto-medix's patent on a wound-healing therapy.
Other winners this year include Little Rock's Acxiom Corp., whose stock price rose nearly 40 percent since January; Bank of the Ozarks, whose price rose 50 percent; Deltic Timber Corp. of El Dorado, whose price rose 41 percent; and Dillard's Inc., whose price rose 57 percent.
In its first three quarters the information technology company Acxiom had already matched last year's net income of $46 million.
Bank of the Ozarks has rewarded investors with 15 straight quarters of record net income and earnings per share.
Deltic Timber's stock has been spurred by a monster third quarter, during which net income increased 1,152 percent from the same time last year to nearly $4.2 million, or 34 cents a share.
November's news of a Sears-Kmart merger has only helped shares of Dillard's, pushing its stock well into the mid-twenties. That's quite a boost from where Dillard's was trading at the end of 2003, in the mid-teens.
No. 7 — Commercial Develop-ment Picks Up Steam
Commercial real estate development became a statewide phenomenon in 2004, thanks in part to the final shelving of long-planned Summit Mall in west Little Rock and excitement over the unforeseen possibilities of the state's "tax increment financing" law.
The concept of TIF — using future tax dollars for development infrastructure — was approved by voters statewide to encourage the redevelopment of blighted areas, but cities across the state — including some that are among the most economically vibrant — have jumped on the TIF bandwagon.
At Jonesboro, developers broke ground in September on the new $100 million The Mall at Turtle Creek by Belz Burrow Development Group, which managed to talk the city into approving a TIF district despite the mall's location at a rapidly developing commercial intersection.
In Hot Springs, the Highway 270 Bypass has been the spark that ignited development on that end of town with the 450,000-SF Cornerstone Market Place, an outdoor mall, and restaurants and other smaller mall developments. Recent public and private investments at Fort Smith amount to $411.2 million. The biggest is a $180 million water supply expansion project at Lake Fort Smith. There's also been a $25 million Marriott Courtyard hotel, a $10 million health science building at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and other projects.
Commercial development in Benton County kept growing, particularly along Rogers' Interstate 540 corridor with the Pinnacle Group's more than 400 acres and with the BOS Group and Charles Reaves developing the 345-acre Pleasant Crossing.
The price of real estate in northwest Arkansas continues to increase. Creek-side Development LLC paid more than $106,000 per acre in January for
its 90-acre site off New Hope Road in Rogers. Realtors say raw, undeveloped residential land was selling for as much as $45,000 per acre this year.
In central Arkansas, there's some $300 million in projects moving toward completion in west Little Rock. Among the larger projects are the $60 million The Village at Brodie Creek at the northwest corner of Interstate 430 and Col. Glenn Road; Glenn Ridge Crossings south of the Rave Motion Pictures project at 18 Col. Glenn Plaza Drive; Shackleford Crossing, with a combined 1 million SF of retail and office space; the $75 million The Promenade at Chenal at the southwest corner of Chenal Parkway and Rahling Road; and the $65 million Pleasant Ridge Town Center.
In downtown Little Rock, Moses Tucker Real Estate plans a 17-story, $45 million residential tower near the River Market District.
Across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, the big news was the announcement of a $25 million ball park complex for the Arkansas Travelers that will also include retail space and residential housing.
Big-box retailers such as Best Buy and Furniture Row have joined Wal-Mart in moving from Sherwood to new sites along East McCain Boulevard in North Little Rock. But the proposed $80 million Shoppes at North Hills — another candidate for TIF financing — remains on hold at the wetland site near the Interstate 40/30 junction in North Little Rock.
In simple terms, a TIF is a tax incentive tool that allows local governments to make infrastructure improvements that would otherwise be paid for by private developers. Collection of property taxes in the area covered by the districts is frozen at current levels, but new property tax revenue is used to pay for the improvements.
The end result is that school districts, which rely primarily on property taxes for revenue but have no say in the creation of the TIFs, miss out for years to come on the increase in property tax dollars that generally accompany real estate development. The scheme was sold to voters as a way to encourage development in blighted areas where development wouldn't otherwise occur, but most of the use made so far has been in areas where development is already in high gear.
The state Legislature will probably curtail some of the abuse of TIFs when it takes up the issue in the next session.
No. 8 — School Consolidation Begins
After a prolonged legislative battle, the General Assembly tossed out Gov. Mike Huckabee's bold consolidation plan and under intense pressure approved a measure that resulted in the consolidation of 59 school districts with fewer than 350 students.
The bill was part of the state's effort to address the Lake View School District ruling by the state Supreme Court that declared the state's education system inequitable and inadequate. The court had given the Legislature until Jan. 1, 2004, to fix the system.
Legislators also approved academic reforms and raised the state sales tax to 6 cents last year to fund $370 million in improvements, teacher pay raises and expanded preschool programs.
The legislators didn't meet the Jan. 1 deadline, and what they finally adopted was called weak and ineffective by the governor. But he allowed the bill to become law because he did not want to be an "obstructionist" to the Legis-lature's "best effort."
The governor said he might take his school plan that would have consolidated about two-thirds of the state's 308 districts by setting a minimum enrollment of 1,500 directly to voters in November, but that never happened as it became apparent that it wouldn't fly with the voters. Even the modest amount of consolidation that was done was met with strenuous objection and even some legal challenges.
The state Supreme Court issued an order resuming control of the Lake View school funding case and appointed former Supreme Court justices Bradley D. Jesson and David Newbern as special "masters" to examine the public school system and recommend ways to bring it up to constitutional standards. They eventually ruled that the Legislature's efforts were good enough.
But part of the state's education reform package also called for a look at the schools' facilities — an effort that took much of the year.
The report's bottom line was this: It will cost an estimated $2.3 billion to rehabilitate the 85.3 million SF in 6,569 classroom buildings, field houses and labs located on 1,571 campuses to meet court-ordered standards. Another $586 million is needed to enlarge classrooms and fund other renovations to ensure all buildings meet an "educational suitability" standard. And the total jumps to $4.5 billion as enrollment growth and upkeep over the next five years is figured in.
With the completion of the Arkansas Statewide Educational Facilities Asses-sment, another round of consolidation started to look inevitable. The issue likely will dominate the coming session in January.
One idea for generating an additional $85 million a year to help pay for the massive building project is off the table. A referred question on the November ballot would have raised the required minimum property tax for school maintenance and operations from 25 to 28 mills in each of the state's remaining 258 districts. But the proposal went down in flames — even in places like Pulaski County, where the school districts already levy well over the 28-mill minimum.
No. 9 — Virgin Islands Offer Tax Refuge
Despite going virtually unnoticed by other news organizations in Arkansas, the mounting pressure on Arkansans who sought a tax haven in the U.S. Virgin Islands is one of the biggest business stories of 2004.
It could be even bigger in 2005 if the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration makes public any information on the investigations it is conducting into the propriety of this particular tax-avoidance vehicle.
Between April and August, Arkansas Business confirmed the names of 20 Arkansans who either claimed residency in the U.S. Virgin Islands or were involved with companies certified by the USVI Economic Development Commission. As the New York Times noted when it took up the story in September, EDC certification gives resident shareholders and officers of those companies tax breaks equal to 90 percent of the federal income taxes they would pay stateside.
Of just over 100 EDC-certified companies, at least three are operated by people from Little Rock.
Vague laws and regulations governing the tax breaks have created legal questions. The Internal Revenue Service has been involved in a wide-ranging investigation of USVI residency claims and has convicted one Massachusetts man of tax evasion for improperly sheltering income in an EDC-certified company.
The IRS has forwarded to the Arkansas Depart-ment of Finance & Admin-istration the names of some 300 people who formerly paid state income taxes in Arkansas but who are now claiming residency in the Virgin Islands or other Caribbean tax havens.
Audits of two of those names began in 2003 and more than 10 investigations have been launched, DF&A officials confirmed, but no prosecutions or any other results have been made public.
At least one private citizen has filed suit, however. Daniel B. Hamby Jr. of Naples, Fla., sued CPA Lance Talkington and attorney Theodore C. "Teddy" Skokos Jr., both of Little Rock, saying they misled him about tax breaks he could receive by investing in their USVI partnership, Clearwater Consulting Concepts LLLP.
Hamby said he believed Talkington and Skokos' brochure that said, among other things, "You may be asking 'so what is the catch?' There is none." But he never received any tax benefits in exchange for his $250,000 investment, according to the complaint he filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court in November.
As it happens, Arkansas Business' interest in USVI residency questions was initially piqued by the fact that Teddy Skokos' father, attorney Ted Skokos, had resigned as chairman of the Arkansas State Bank Board because he had moved his residency to the USVI island of St. John. The elder Skokos was in the news because his former tax attorney, Bobby Keith Moser of Little Rock, was indicted for helping Skokos evade capital gains taxes on the 1996 sale of Cellular One. Ted Skokos has not been indicted.
No. 10 — Razorbacks Program on Trial
In July, U.S. District Judge William Wilson ruled against former University of Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson in his racial discrimination lawsuit against the university.
Although Richardson is appealing Wilson's ruling, the decision marked the culmination of a two-year ordeal many UA reputations could have done without. The trial itself proved to be the epicenter of a shaky year for Razorback sports.
Richardson was fired in February 2002 after a press conference in which he insinuated that UA, local media and the state itself were racist and invited the university to buy out his contract. Richardson walked away with about $6 million in buyout money and Razorback Foundation funds, but 10 months later he filed a $9 million lawsuit alleging the university discriminated against him because of his race and violated his right to free speech.
In addition to damages for lost wages, harm to his reputation and mental and emotional distress, Richardson wanted his job back — even though the former coach said he would never again work for the college's athletic director, Frank Broyles.
The trial that began in May 2004 did not help Broyles win fans. The former Razorback football coach admitted to lying about Richardson. And KATV-TV, Channel 7, sports anchor Paul Eels testified that he heard Broyles use a racial slur.
Razorbacks Football Coach Houston Nutt took testified during the 18-day, nonjury trial that he did not see racial discrimination against Richardson. It was the best defense Nutt provided for the university all year, as the football team went 5-6 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in Nutt's tenure.
The team was hindered by the loss of 28 lettermen. Five of them became part of a growing trend of underclassmen leaving college early for the pros.
The Hogs also failed to end the season on a high note as Nutt suffered his first loss in Little Rock the day after Thanksgiving. Nutt's team could've become bowl eligible with their elusive sixth win but were instead blown out by Louisiana State.
Broyles further disappointed Little Rock fans when he juggled next season's football schedule to have perennial cellar-dweller Mississippi State play at War Memorial Stadium instead of the more competitive South Carolina, who will instead play in Fayetteville.
Richardson's successor as basketball coach, Stan Heath, was spared from testifying, but his 2003-04 basketball team were regular sacrificial lambs. With a 12-16 record, the hoops team missed not only the 2004 NCAA Tournament but also a trip to the consolation NIT Tournament for the second consecutive year.
Now in his third year, Heath and his Hogs are faced with a must-win season or their young coach could be on the chopping block. Fortunately, the team is off to its best start since 1994's National Championship squad.
Perhaps the lone bright spot for Razorbacks sports this year, the Arkansas baseball team made a College World Series appearance in June, though it was too brief to distract everyone from the Richardson saga.
After two quick losses — including one to nemesis Texas — the team was done. And only a few weeks later Wilson released his colorful ruling in favor of the University of Arkansas but offered a far from favorable commentary on the program.
Richardson did, however, manage to squeeze out one win in the courthouse this year. In June, Wilson dismissed a countersuit against the coach from the Razorback Foundation, the fund-raising arm of the university's athletic department.
The foundation alleged Richardson had not made adequate attempts to find work under the terms of his contract. But Wilson ruled the former coach had made the proper inquiries, and the Razorback Foundation will continue to pay Richardson $500,000 a year through June 2008.
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