Walton Arts Center Expansion Moves Forward

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 12:00 am  

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan went door to door in an attempt to persuade voters to approve a $6.9 million bond issue to help pay for the expansion of the Walton Arts Center.

Jordan was confident that the bond issue would be approved in the Nov. 12 special election, perhaps with as much as 70 percent in favor, but he was “significantly” surprised when the vote came in.

Fayetteville voters passed the bond issue by an even wider margin than Jordan expected, with 84.5 percent of the vote.

“We made it happen,” Jordan said. “The Walton Arts Center is certainly one of the crown jewels of our city. It’s a huge driver in downtown.”

Now the $20 million expansion project has moved into the next phase. Center COO Terri Trotter said officials are accepting applications from contractors to do the work and expect to start interviewing prospects early this month.

Trotter said the center would like to have a contractor in place by the end of the year with construction expected to begin in the summer.

“We are really ramping up our fundraising efforts,” Trotter said. “We’re in the design development phase right now, so we’re beginning to make the more detailed decisions.”

The facility opened April 26, 1992, as a cooperative effort between the University of Arkansas and the city. The university wanted an arts center and the city wanted a community performance center, and the Walton Arts Center was a nifty combination of both.

Almost 22 years later, the facility is bulging at the seams as the demand of current productions has often overwhelmed the center’s ability to host them. Trotter said that when the decision to expand was made, a couple of obstacles were readily apparent.

First, the city was planning to build a three-story parking garage on the lot behind the center, which dominates the corner of Dickson Street and West Avenue in downtown Fayetteville. Second, of course, was how to pay for the $20 million project.

Michael Tingley and his colleagues at Boora Architects in Portland, Ore., solved the first problem after three months of drawing, erasing and drawing again. Tingley said it was a “complicated three-dimensional puzzle” to figure out how the center could expand its backstage storage area, its front lobby and one of its two theaters.

The bond issue helped answer the second question, and members of the council are confident that fundraising will bring in the additional $13 million needed to complete the construction. Trotter said the center expects to raise money through foundation grants and through individual contributions.



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