Posted on March 26, 2012
Originally published in The El Dorado News-Times on March 27, 2012.
El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc. is aiming to create a nationally recognized theater company in El Dorado to help rebrand the city and turn it into "The Festival City? of the South.
Austin Barrow, president and executive director of EFE, told members of the Arkansas State Highway Commission last week that efforts are well under way to implement an action plan that focuses on branding, marketing, economic development and tourism, all of which would lean heavily on theater production en route to El Dorado becoming home to the "Southern Theater Festival.?
Barrow and Henry Florsheim, president and chief executive officer of the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce, addressed the ASHC members when they met in El Dorado on March 20, the first time the commission has held its business meeting outside Little Rock.
Barrow and Florsheim described then some of the things the community is doing to turn around its economic development fortunes.
Both said the community?s efforts are similar to those the state of Arkansas is undertaking to improve its highway system.
During the ASHC meeting, Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Department of Highways and Transportation, said the federal government is encouraging states to come up with innovative funding to help themselves with needed highway upgrades.
Piggybacking on that statement, Barrow and Florsheim talked about a few ways El Dorado is trying to help itself, including applying the 1-cent economic development sales tax to projects in an accompanying plan and a continuing effort to implement a branding idea that was customized for El Dorado by noted destination developer Roger Brooks.
Brooks and his team from the Seattle-based Destination Development Inc., compiled information from a community survey, fed it through a feasibility process and unveiled the results and new brand idea in October 2010.
Barrow told members of the ASHC on March 20 that EFE is looking to build a solid theater company with year-round productions that will include Shakespeare plays and a Broadway tour in hopes of drawing tourists and focusing a national spotlight on El Dorado.
According to Brooks? 180-page plan, some southern cities that host Shakespeare festivals are Conway, with four productions during its annual summer event, Dallas, Austin, Montgomery, Ala., Knoxville, Tenn., and Nashville.
Barrow told the ASHC that Montogomery comes closest to the type of sustained program, complete with a major theater complex, that El Dorado is looking to achieve.
Montgomery is about an eight-hour drive from El Dorado.
Barrow also noted then that the closest place to El Dorado to see a Broadway tour is St. Louis.
Others in the community are also gearing up "to dovetail into? the city?s new brand idea, Florsheim told highway commissioners. He said South Arkansas Community College is developing an academic program for music, drama and film production.
Community leaders have also pointed to the new El Dorado High School?s performing arts center as a primary component to theater development in El Dorado, citing a 6,500-square-foot auditorium with 450 seats, removable thrust stage, full orchestra pit, lobby concession area, 70-seat black box theater/ drama classroom and the school?s award-winning thespian troupe.
In a recent meeting during which the El Dorado City Council and El Dorado Economic Development Board set priorities for the next three years of the city?s 1-cent economic development sales tax — the tax was enacted in 2007 and sunsets in 2015 — Florsheim and Dr. Barbara Jones, president of SouthArk, urged the council to place entrepreneurship among those priorities.
Jones noted then that "The Festival City? brand will likely produce a spurt of small business ideas and a strong support system is needed to help entrepreneurs bring those ideas to fruition and help the brand thrive in El Dorado.