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El Dorado City Council to revisit $2.2 million MAD funding request

Posted on February 7, 2019

By Tia Lyons
Staff Writer

The El Dorado City Council will tackle a packed agenda when aldermen convene for a regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. today in the Council Chamber of City Hall.

Under unfinished business, the council will revisit a $2.2 million funding request from the Murphy Arts District to cover a cost overage for construction of the MAD playscape and amphitheater.

The funding would be in addition to $13.4 million the city pledged from its El Dorado Works economic development tax to assist with the development of MAD.

Last October, MAD approached the El Dorado Works Board, which administers the economic development tax, with the $2.2 million request.

Austin Barrow, former president and chief operating officer for MAD, said then that MAD had spent the past several months closing out invoices and final expenditures, which included cost overruns, for the completion of the phase one of MAD.

The arts and entertainment district is being developed in two phases.

Barrow provided a breakdown of the overage that included:

• A total of $775,231.47 for the playscape, including $679,046.18 for an increase in overall acreage, which required additional playground equipment; security cameras; a 14-foot tall fence; and lighting.

Barrow said the land acquisition from Union Pacific Railroad for the playscape came with more acreage than initially planned, bumping the size of the play area from 1.5 acres to 2 acres.

The actual cost of the property came to $492,967.55.

An environmental impact study for the railroad property was $59,217.74, and construction costs increased from a loose estimate of $2.2 million to $2.9 million.

• Several change orders for the amphitheater, the largest of which was $282,520 to go from grass to artificial turf, drove up construction costs for the amphitheater from an estimated $6.4 million to $7.8 million.

The purchase price for the property was $680,000.

At the time, Barrow also noted that MAD had based its request for the additional money on the distribution of the El Dorado Works tax, which allots 12 percent of tax revenues to the development of MAD, formerly known as El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc.

The El Dorado City Council later tabled the request, citing a need to work through purchase-lease agreements with MAD for the property on which the playscape and amphitheater sit.

Preliminary estimates of $6.4 million for the amphitheater and parking lot and $2.7 million for the playscape were listed in purchase-lease agreements that MAD signed with the city.

The arrangement calls for MAD to use city tax dollars to acquire the property; pay for construction costs; turn the deeds over to the city; operate and manage the property; and lease the property from the city for a nominal fee.

Former Mayor Frank Hash previously said the property deeds had not yet been turned over to the city.

“Had MAD handed over those deeds prior to that conversation with the city, the city would have no legal means to extend those (additional) funds to MAD,” Barrow said in response Hash’s comments. “Once those funds for the additional expenses are paid, the deeds will be handed over to the city. It will be clean.”

For the past several months, city officials and MAD have been working with the Arkansas Municipal League to sort out the matter.

Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer said the issue is expected to be resolved during the council meeting today.

In other business, the council will also revisit a lease agreement for 40 golf carts at Lions Club Municipal Golf Course.

In 2017, the city council and El Dorado Parks and Playgrounds Commission agreed to directly pay former Lions Club golf professional Mike Hoelzer the monthly payments for the golf carts and a golf ball picker.

Hoelzer leased the carts after working out an arrangement with the city and parks and playgrounds commission.

After the commission and city officials opted not to renew Hoelzer’s employment contract in January 2017, the council offered to pay the lease for 24 months, with the payments going to Hoelzer.

When the council voted on the arrangement, 41 months remained on the lease and payments came to $3,017 per month. The deal includes repairs.

With the 24-month period coming to an end, the city has the choice of continuing the lease with Golf Cars of Louisiana or opting out of the lease.

Also on the council’s agenda is a request by Smith-Creer for council members to schedule town hall meetings in their respective wards to help educate the public about city government and the services offered by various city departments.

The council will also discuss the status of a committee that has been formed to help the community prepare for the 2020 U.S. Census.

“We need to go ahead and move on that because it’ll be here before you know it,” said Smith-Creer, who was tapped to serve on the committee prior to winning the mayoral election in November 2018.

Council members will consider appointments to the El Dorado Historic District Commission — Larry Combs and Carolyn Ellison — and the Water Advisory Board — Spencer Singleton.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at