War Memorial Stadium upgrade grant set at $1.1M

$981,000 allotted for House rooms

By: Michael R. Wickline
Published: Thursday, May 11, 2017
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs a bill on the field at War Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Little Rock placing the stadium under the control of the state Parks and Tourism Department.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs a bill on the field at War Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Little Rock placing the stadium under the control of the state Parks and Tourism Department.

A state council on Wednesday awarded $1.1 million in a conservation and historic preservation grant to the War Memorial Stadium Commission to upgrade its scoreboard and two video boards.

The council also awarded $981,000 to the House of Representatives to restore two committee rooms and adjoining legislative offices.

The Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council made these decisions as it worked for nearly two hours to reach a consensus on awarding $22.1 million in state conservation and historic preservation grants to fund 20 requests submitted by state agencies. The money is for fiscal 2018, starting July 1.

The council listened to about three hours of pitches. State agencies submitted 24 requests totaling $38.8 million. The council often funds projects in phases.

State law directs the council, created in 1987, to award its funds -- from a real estate transfer tax -- for acquisition, management and stewardship of state-owned lands or the preservation of state-owned historic sites, buildings, structures or objects. The council also can award funds for work on objects to be determined of value for recreational or conservation purposes.

The council awarded $19.6 million in fiscal 2017. The amounts distributed have generally followed the ups and downs of the real estate market over the years, according to state officials.

In keeping with tradition, the council decided to award the largest amount of grant funds to the departments of Arkansas Heritage and of Parks and Tourism. The Department of Arkansas Heritage will get $6.85 million of $11.2 million that it requested for various projects, while the Department of Parks and Tourism will receive $6.8 million of the $12 million that it sought for various projects.

In addition, the council voted to provide $1.1 million of the $1.3 million in grant funding requested by the War Memorial Stadium Commission for upgrading the scoreboard and video boards at the stadium. The commission is now part of the Parks and Tourism Department.

"The governor and the Legislature have given us a challenge and that's to become self-sufficient and by doing that we have to increase the level and the size and the number of events that occur at War Memorial Stadium," stadium Manager Jerry Cohen told the resources council.

"We're getting ready to embark on a feasibility study, hopefully beginning next month, and part of the reason I am here today is a large part of that [effort] for attracting larger events is a viable and useful video board and scoreboard," he said. The video board was installed in 2004.

"Our current video board is in almost disrepair. The scoreboard is an analog scoreboard and we would like to replace that with a digital board and, thus, increase the viability to do some more video boards. We also have a video board on the north end of the stadium," Cohen said. "When somebody comes to a ballgame at War Memorial Stadium, they watch the video as much, if not more, than they watch the ballgame on the field. Our sporting events are growing as well and we're really pushing our nontraditional events and we would like to have viable video support in order for those events to come to War Memorial Stadium."

He said this project could help lure outdoor concerts to the stadium.

The council also decided to provide $981,000 of the $1.18 million sought by the House of Representatives to help renovate Rooms 130 and 138 and the adjoining legislative offices on the first floor of the state Capitol.

Last year, the council awarded $824,000 to the House to help renovate Rooms 149 and 151 and nearby legislative offices on the building's first floor.

These committee rooms haven't been improved for a few decades, according to state officials.

"It's the first and sometimes the only exposure the general public has to the democratic process here in Arkansas when they come to engage in political activities over the session and out of session, and ... we should try to put our best foot forward," said House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia.

Lawmakers have received positive feedback from the public about the renovations to Rooms 149 and 151, he told the council.

According to a spreadsheet from the council's meeting, the council also decided to award the following amounts to the following agencies:

• $1.1 million to Henderson State University for renovations to the Caddo Center cafeteria. The project is aimed preserving and renovating the historic cafeteria to house an exhibit hall and an interpretation room to display American Indian artifacts, said Henderson State University President Glen Jones.

• $630,000 to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff for restoration and repairs to Caldwell Hall and the campus bell tower.

• $600,000 to the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith for the Wilhauf House restoration.

• $600,000 to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville for repair and restoration to the historic Arkansas Avenue sandstone wall.

• $600,000 to Arkansas Tech University for renovation of Williamson Hall.

• $550,000 to the University of Arkansas at Monticello for the Hollywood Plantation/Taylor House site.

• $500,000 to South Arkansas Community College for the W.F. and Estelle Williams house restoration project.

• $500,000 to Arkansas Forestry Commission for Hot Springs National Park recharge area acquisitions.

• $400,000 to Southern Arkansas University for the Alexander House educational farmstead and museum.

• $325,000 to the Arkansas School for the Blind for the Works Progress Administration infirmary project.

• $300,000 to the Arkansas School for the Deaf for restoration of Parnell Hall.

• $225,000 to Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas for restoring Lockesburg High School.

• $88,000 to Arkansas State University for the completion of the V.C. Kays House project and $25,000 for preservation and access to the KAIT-TV news film collection.

• $20,000 to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for public records access at the Sequoyah Research Center.

The council decided not provide any funding for requests for $1.5 million from Secretary of State Mark Martin for restoring exterior wood windows at the Capitol, a $319,360 request from the Arkansas Forestry Commission, a $209,000 request from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and a $195,823 request from the Arkansas Archeological Survey.

Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst said the secretary of state's office has received substantial funding from the council over the years and "I'm for taking a year off" to provide funding to the House for renovating two committee rooms and their adjoining offices.

Martin, a Republican from Prairie Grove, told the council, "I understand the challenges you have this year."

Metro on 05/11/2017

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